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Covered in Writing

01 October 2012 by Tom Chantry

The question in the Catechism for Young Children which I insisted on rewriting for use in our church was # 50:

Q. What is justification?
A. It is God's forgiving sinners, and treating them as if they had never sinned.

Sorry, epic fail. It’s almost as bad as the old “just if I had never sinned” pneumonic.

Let’s think about that for a moment. What would it mean for God to treat me merely as one who had never sinned? Does God accept men into His eternal kingdom based upon the mere absence of sin? Or does He reward according to the measure of our righteousness? (Psalm 18:24) Having my sins taken away is a great truth, but it leaves me unfit for heaven, needing yet to supply my own righteousness in order to enter in.

I suppose such a justification might make me a new Adam - capable of moral action, but also capable of sin. Am I so confident that I will succeed where Adam failed? That I will manage to supply sufficient righteousness to stand before God’s holy gaze? Moral neutrality is a horrible specter - a frightfully dangerous condition - and not the goal of Christ’s justifying love.

Perhaps the greatest point of departure for the Enlightenment philosophers was their elevation of the Aristotelian concept of tabula rasa. To Locke and others the infant was a moral blank slate with the freedom to determine his own moral destiny. Scripturally, no man is morally blank: each soul has been covered in writing, either that of wickedness or that of righteousness.

The fallen soul is clogged with wickedness. It does not need erasure - subjection to some sort of moral degaussing - rather it must be overwritten with righteousness. Moreover, a fallible human righteousness such as Adam’s will not suffice. No, what is needed is both the forgiveness of sins and an accounting of the soul as infallibly righteous.

And this, Christian, is the act of God’s free grace unto you: pardoning all your sins, yes, but also accepting and accounting you as righteous in His sight, according to the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, imputed to you by God and received through faith alone.