It is an answer to the greatest personal question ever asked by a human soul—the question: “How shall I be right with God; how do I stand in God’s sight; with what favor does He look upon me?” There are those, it must be admitted, who never raise that question; there are those who are concerned with the question of their standing before men, but never with the question of their standing before God; there are those who are interested in what “people say,” but not in the question what God says. Such men, however, are not those who move the world; they are apt to go with the current; they are apt to do as others do; they are not the heroes who change the destinies of the race. The beginning of true nobility comes when a man ceases to be interested in the judgment of men, and becomes interested in the judgment of God.
But if we can gain that much insight, if we have become interested in the judgment of God, how shall we stand in that judgment? How shall we become right with God? The most obvious answer is: “By obeying the law of God, by being what God wants us to be.” There is absolutely nothing wrong in theory about that answer; the only trouble is that for us it does not work. If we had obeyed the law of God, if we were what God wants us to be, all would no doubt be well; we could approach the judgment seat of God and rely simply upon His just recognition of the facts. But, alas, we have not obeyed God’s law, but have transgressed it in thought, word and deed; and far from being what God wants us to be, we are stained and soiled with sin. The stain is not merely on the surface; it is not a thing that can easily be wiped off; but it permeates the recesses of our souls. And the clearer be our understanding of God’s law, the deeper becomes our despair. Some men seek a refuge from condemnation in a low view of the law of God; they limit the law to external commands, and by obeying those commands they hope to buy God’s favor. But the moment a man gains a vision of the law as it is—especially as it is revealed in the words and example of Jesus—at that moment he knows that he is undone. If our being right with God depends upon anything that is in us, we are without hope.
Another way, however, has been opened into God’s presence; and the opening of that way is set forth in the gospel. We deserved eternal death; we deserved exclusion from the household of God; but the Lord Jesus took upon Himself all the guilt of our sins and died instead of us on the cross. Henceforth the law’s demands have been satisfied for us by Christ, its terror for us is gone, and clothed no longer in our righteousness but in the righteousness of Christ we stand without fear, as Christ would stand without fear, before the judgment seat of God. Men say that that is an intricate theory; but surely the adjective is misplaced. It is mysterious, but it is not intricate; it is wonderful, but it is so simple that a child can understand.*
*Machen, J. G. (1925). What Is Faith? (163–165). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.