The Path to Righteousness
Because the New Covenant is based upon God’s oath, vow, and promise, we must ask ourselves what exactly did God promise? Obviously, if God made a vow, then He will keep it. His promise was more than a statement of intent. It was more than a wish list of what He would like to do, if others would agree to comply with His wishes. God could not promise to do something unless He were actually capable of overcoming all obstacles and coming out victorious in the end.
In other words, the promise of God is not dependent upon the will of man, for such dependency would certainly ensure failure or (at best) partial success. In fact, this was why the Old Covenant failed. It was because it was based upon the will of man. However well intentioned the Israelites were when they vowed obedience to God at Horeb, they worshiped a golden calf just a few weeks later.
From Guilt to Peace with God
Scripture presents us with a very pessimistic view of human nature and man’s ability to keep his vows. The Old Covenant presented Israel with a plan of salvation that was based upon man’s vows. You see, a vow is only good if it is fulfilled. Vows that are broken are not rewarded, but are null and void and bring only condemnation from the law.
Any plan of salvation that depends on the will of man is doomed to failure. I learned this as a child, for the plan of salvation that was presented to me was based upon my own will and ability to keep my promise to God. I soon discovered that regardless of how well-intentioned my promise was, I had no ability to keep my promise. For this reason, I prayed for salvation hundreds of times each year for many years. Night after night I was conscious of my failure to fulfill my vow. My failure told me that I had not been truly sincere enough in my vow the previous night, or else I would not have sinned the next day. True Christians are holy, I was told.
In looking back at it today, I realize that God brought me through this to teach me a foundational truth about the nature of man. It was to show me that although my will had good intentions, it lacked the ability to fulfill its vows. Hence, I believed that I lost my salvation with every sin that I committed daily, because I was an Old Covenant believer without realizing it. That was how the Church had trained me.
But God had mercy on me when I was thirteen. That is when He spoke to my heart and said, “See all those missionaries out there?” (I was a missionary kid.) I said, “Yes.” He replied, “They aren’t perfect either.”
That was when the light of revelation first came to me, and I knew that my salvation was not based upon my own perfection. From that point I never doubted my salvation. More than that, it changed my life and my behavior. I found myself no longer offended when other children sinned against me. I could walk away without fighting to retain my rights. My entire outlook on life changed. It did not mean I was perfect, of course, but I found myself with a whole new empowerment—a God consciousness—that I had not known.
In looking back at it years later, I realized that God had taken the first step to change me from an Old Covenant believer to a New Covenant believer. The simple truth that I did not have to be perfect to be saved was a life-changing revelation to me. It did not give me a license to sin, but somehow it empowered me to walk by the Spirit in a much greater way than I had ever known.
Understanding the Revelation
Seven years later, when I was a student at the University of Minnesota, I had to revisit and review this revelation. I had read a Christian book, written by a well-known holiness author, who insisted that Christians can live holy lives and be perfect. He did not distinguish between the old man and the new man, nor did I understand the difference.
So for the next month I tried to bring every thought into captivity and walk by the Spirit moment by moment. I finally gave up that quest, for I found it impossible. My conclusion was that if people thought they were perfect, it was only because they did not know their own hearts very well. Jer. 17:9 says,
9 The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?
Once again, I turned away from “Christian” teaching and returned to the original revelation of God. But I still was unaware that I was learning the distinction between the Old and the New Covenants.
God then began to show me through other writings a second great truth about the difference between imputed and infused righteousness. This revelation is clearly discussed in Romans 4, where the Greek term logizomai appears 17 times. It is translated imputed, counted, and reckoned in the KJV, but all of these come from a single Greek word, logizomai.
I learned how Martin Luther’s life had changed when he came across the truth of imputed righteousness. Until that time, he had fasted and prayed and sought God’s righteousness for many years. Only when he discovered that the righteousness of Christ had been imputed to him did he find peace with God.
I could identify with him, for I had done the same, though my experience had been mild compared to his. Yet we both had a common revelation from Rom. 4:17, where Paul illustrates the principle with the example of Abraham. God promised Abraham many children when he had none. Paul says God called what is not as though it were. That is the biblical definition of logizomai. God imputes or reckons something to be true, even if it has not yet come to pass.
So also is it with righteousness. Paul continues in Romans 4:22-24,
22 Therefore also it was reckoned to him as righteousness. 23 Now not for his sake alone was it written, that it was reckoned to him, 24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be reckoned, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
Faith is about believing the promises of God which are not yet seen because they have not yet come to pass. If we believe the promise of God, then our faith is reckoned (logizomai) to us as righteousness. Such righteousness is not yet resident in us, because God is calling what is NOT as though it were. In other words, we are declared righteous in the divine court as if it were so today, even though we are not yet perfected.
Such righteousness is our present legal status, rendered by the divine court so that we may walk by the Spirit without hindrance, without being dragged back by guilt and fear. We are declared righteous even while we are yet growing in grace.
In the end, our imputed righteousness will give way to infused righteousness. Christ’s Passover work on the cross gave us imputed righteousness so that we could learn obedience in Pentecost as we are led by the Spirit. Then when Tabernacles is fulfilled, we will be “changed” and transformed fully into His image and be perfected by infused righteousness.
This was the revelation I received during the time that I was attending the University. At last I understood the original revelation from when I was just thirteen. God confirmed from His word why those missionaries were saved, though not yet perfected. They had been imputed righteous by faith. So also was this true in my case, and I found comfort in this.
The Salvation Experience
Many Christians, however, do not understand this, because they were never taught it. In fact, if God had not revealed it to me, I may have gone through life never knowing this. The church taught me that “no sin will enter heaven,” and that if I died with any unconfessed sin in my life, then I would go to hell. That is a terrible burden to put upon people, especially upon children. I suffered under it for some years as a child.
Many Christians suffer needlessly under the Old Covenant, thinking that their salvation is based upon their vow to God, rather than God’s vow to them. Every time they sin, they are overcome with guilt and think they have lost their salvation. Many such people cannot cope with this, and so they block it out of their minds. Some reach the point where they no longer recognize sin or imperfection. Because of their inability to cope with their guilt, they go into denial. Such suppression helps them cope with life, but it does not resolve the core problem, nor does it give them understanding of the divine plan.
The solution is to rest in His word. His word tells us of the promises of God that are based upon His will, not man’s will. Faith in His promise of salvation is what God is seeking. He is seeking for our Amen, indicating agreement, so that we may apply the blood of Jesus to our hearts, according to the law of sacrifice (Lev. 17:1-7).
I have found that some believers quite naturally live by the New Covenant even without understanding what that covenant is. They are able to accept God’s promise to them and are not hindered by guilt. They do not question their salvation, even when they fall short of the glory of God. I praise God for such people, but I was not one of them. It took me years to be able to enter into a position of rest and peace.
When people “get saved,” they are said to make a decision to follow Christ. They “give their heart” to Jesus and ask Him to be their Lord and Savior and “come into their heart.” All of this is very good, and I believe that everyone ought to do so. However, for whatever reason, some do this as an Old Covenant vow, while others subordinate their own vows to God’s New Covenant vow. How each person handles it is not often readily apparent at first, but the results are clearly manifested afterward.
If a person remains full of guilt and fear, it is because he has based his salvation upon his own vow and his ability to keep it. If a person truly breaks free of guilt and fear, it is because he bases his salvation upon the promise of God and upon Christ’s work on the cross, rather than upon his own vow, his own will, and upon his own decision to follow Christ perfectly ever after.
When a person says, “I am saved because I accepted Jesus as my personal Savior,” this can mean different things to different people. If the person means to say that his salvation is based upon his own will and his own decision (or vow) to follow Jesus, he may well be an Old Covenant believer. But if he means that he has come into agreement with the promise of God, then he stands on solid ground.
Because Jesus died as a Sacrifice for sin, the law of sacrifice teaches us the basic principles of salvation. In Lev. 17:1-7 we see that there was a two-step process for sacrifice. First, the sacrifice had to be killed. Second, the blood of the sacrifice had to be applied to the altar. Both steps were necessary. The law says that if step two is not done, then the person was to be “cut off from among his people.” In other words, the sacrificed animal was just another dead animal, so his citizenship in the Kingdom was lost.
Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross was the first step. Applying His blood to the altar of our hearts is the second step. Christ’s death on the cross fulfilled the promise of God and had nothing to do with the will of man. The second step, which is subordinate to the first step and yet is just as necessary as the first, involves the will of man, for it shows agreement with God and makes it applicable to us as individuals.
In other words, no one is “saved” apart from applying the blood of Christ to his heart. The death of the sacrifice by itself cannot save anyone.
What is less understood is how the will of man is unable to thwart the promise of God.