Every believer is saved by works. Did you know that? Right now, some of you are wondering what happened to me. Others of you are contemplating finding a new church to attend. Still others are getting out their Bibles to counter my assertion. But before you do that, let me finish. Every believer is saved by works – just not their own works.
In my devotions I have been slowly making my way through the book of Romans. The other day I was struck again by the importance of something. When we think about salvation, we think about the cross, and the resurrection, and rightly so. But one part of salvation we do not think about enough is the perfect righteousness of Christ. Jesus’ perfect life plays an important part in our salvation.
Romans 5:19 says, “For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.” (ESV) This verse is talking about two individuals. In the context of this passage – Romans 5:12-21 – we learn the first man is Adam. In Adam’s disobedience, the many were made sinners. Adam’s sin had consequences for the whole human race – in Adam all people are born guilty, born under the condemnation and the reign of sin. Of course, Adam’s sin is just one of our problems – we confirm the true impact of Adam’s sin with our own personal sinful choices.
Thankfully the truth of the matter does not end there. Romans 5:19 speaks of a second man – in the context this is Jesus Christ. Like Adam, Jesus’ life had far ranging consequences for people. Just as Adam’s sin brought the condemnation of sin, Jesus’ obedience brought righteousness to many.
Jesus obeyed by fulfilling the law of God perfectly, something no other human could ever do. Every single moment of every day of his life was spent in obedience to the law of God. Every day Jesus earned and fulfilled righteousness. And the most amazing thing is – Jesus did it for us.
I love how author Elyse Fitzpatrick puts it in her book Found in Him:
What was he [Jesus] doing while he played in the dirt as a toddler? While he labored in the carpenter’s shop as an apprentice? When he helped with dinner as a twenty-something? He was being perfected so that he could find you and make you one with him. He loved God and those around him for your sake, in your place. Everything that you’ve left undone, he did for you. Every sin you’ve committed, he joyfully shunned out of love for you. Day after day for thirty years his one desire was to please his Father and live perfectly in your place so that he could bring you to glory. (Found in Him, p. 60-61)
Think about that. Jesus’ perfect obedience fulfilled the law. He did for us what we could never do for ourselves. And so, when he died on the cross, he died in a state of perfect righteousness. When God draws us to Him and saves us, he declares us righteous, legally justifying us in His sight. When he does that, the basis for his decision is not theological myth. He is not making things up. His verdict is based on a righteousness that actually exists – the righteousness of Jesus Christ applied to our lives. God takes Jesus’ perfect righteousness – his works – and applies them to our account through faith. We are saved by works. Praise the Lord, they are not our insufficient and flawed works, but the perfect, righteous and totally sufficient works of Jesus Christ!