By Jady W. Copeland
When Simon tried to buy the power of God with money, the apostle told him that his heart was not right with God. “Right” according to W.E. Vine means “straight, hence, metaphorically, right, is so rendered in Acts 8:21, of the heart.” According to the same scholar “righteousness” means “the character or quality of being right or just; it was formerly spelled ‘rightwiseness,’ which clearly expresses its meaning” (Etpository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Vol. 3, p. 298). God is righteous (Rom. 3:5) meaning he is faithful, truthful and consistent with his nature. God is righteous (right) to the perfect degree. Man can be made righteous (right) by God through the blood of Christ, not of our own merits, but through faith in Christ as the redeemer (Rom. 3:21-26). Man is a sinner, and hence deserves death, but the love of God, the sacrifice of Christ and man’s faithful obedience provides the way mankind can be righteous (or right).
Being right carries the idea of a standard of right and wrong. Under the word “just” Vine says, “In the N.T. it denotes righteous, a state of being right, or right conduct, judged whether by the Divine standard, or according to human standards, of what is right” (Vine, Vol. 2, p. 283). Sometimes we say, “You are right” to which another may respond, “In whose eyes?” Insofar as our relationship to God is concerned, there is only one “right” way and that way is revealed in the Scriptures. You and I may differ on a point, and from my viewpoint, I am right and you are wrong. If we differ, one is wrong. If we are speaking of a scriptural matter, both could be wrong in the eyes of God, for neither may be right. But God is always right. If I differ with God, I am always wrong. “Let God be true.”
As noted earlier, if mankind is right in God’s eyes, God made him that way. Once man becomes a sinner, he can only be just in the sight of God by him pronouncing him righteous. We cannot be saved on meritorious works, but God pronounces us just (right) in our faith (Rom. 4:1-4; 5:1-2). Thus, if we are to be saved (right in God’s sight), it will come when God declares us just in our faith.
Depravity Is Not Inherited
Babies are not born in sin; they did not inherit the sin of Adam or their parents. Ezekiel 18 teaches clearly that one is responsible for his own sin, and will face God for what he does, not what his parents were guilty of; so in the judgment we must stand on our own life. But at some point in life, this person grows up and becomes a sinner. He becomes a sinner when he does wrong (sins) and thereby needs salvation. Since he cannot be saved by “doing good” (regardless of how long he may be a good person), he must have the only remedy that offers salvation – the blood of Christ. Sin separates man from God (Isa. 59:1-2; Rom. 6:23). I saw a bumper sticker that read something like this, “If you and God are separated, who moved?” Well it certainly was not God. Therefore to be reconciled to God, we have to “move back.” God, if he is consistent with his will and nature, cannot move away from his position.
Steps of Salvation
Sometimes we speak of the five steps of salvation. I understand what they mean, but I prefer to go a step further. When a person hears the gospel, he must have the desire to accept it, and to ream he is wrong. One of the big problems today in converting people (at least in my experience) is getting them to realize they are wrong. Until one realizes he is not a Christian, he is not going to “move” away from his present position. I have read a lot of “experts” in personal evangelism, but I have never found an easy way to make one who has been in denominationalism most of his life reafte he is lost. “Faith only” has been preached so long, and it is such an easy way that it makes it very desirable. Add that to the social gospel of our day, and you have a combination that is difficult to overcome. But there is never a place for us to stop trying. Some will still accept the simple gospel.
Note an old approach to God’s plan to save man. Three times the question (or its equivalent) was asked and the answers given. In Acts 16:30 it was asked by a pagan jailor, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” The reply, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved.” Obviously he could not believe (as was necessary for salvation) at that point, for he had not yet heard the word of God, and one cannot have saving faith without hearing the gospel (Rom. 1:16-17). After the word was preached, his faith is evidenced by his desiring baptism. Now note the reading of the American Standard translation of verse 34: “And, he brought them up into his house, and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, with all his house, having believed in God.” Note the tense of the verb: “having believed in God. ” This clearly teaches even from the grammar, that faith was not complete until he had obeyed the command of baptism.
Again the question was asked in Acts 2:37, “Brethren, what shall we do?” We need not bother ourselves as to what they had asked about, for the answer by an inspired man tells us about what they were asking salvation from sin. Do for what? For remission of sins, clearly as Peter’s answer tells us. His reply, “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38). Faith is not specifically mentioned, but the idea is very clear in verse 36. Peter had already told them to believe in that verse. “Know assuredly” means “to believe confidently.” W.E. Vine says of this word, “(b) assuredly, Acts 2:36; the knowledge there enjoined involves freedom from fear of contradiction, with an intimation of the impossibility of escape from the effects” (v. 1, p. 85). Hence Peter preached, the people heard, believed, repented and were baptized.
A third time the question was asked was in Acts 22:10. Here Saul heard the voice as he was on the road to Damascus, and the light blinded him; thus he fell to the ground. The voice told him to so to the city and it would be told him what to do. Again, the answer he received clearly shows what he was asking. I have often thought that if ever there was a good occasion for the Lord to tell a sinner what to do to be saved in a direct manner, this would have been the time. He certainly had Saul’s attention. He was already in conversation with him, and he even had Saul asking the right question for the occasion. How could the Lord refuse to answer him? Because that is not the Lord’s way of saving people. He has never related directly to the masses of the people his plan for salvation. He lets his servants do that, so he told Saul to go to Damascus to find out. Ananias was sent by the Lord to instruct Saul, and after some hesitation, the preacher went to the street where Saul was, still blind and praying. The former persecutor was told to “arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). Why was he not told to have faith? He already had faith (v. 10). Why was he not told to repent? Isn’t that necessary? It was for those on Pentecost. It was here as well, but the evidence showed clearly that he was already penitent. In the original account of Saul’s conversion (Acts 9), we note that Saul had been smitten blind and was praying during those three days (w. 9-11) while waiting for the preacher. This certainly argues for the fact that he was penitent. In addition, in the account in Acts 26 Paul said that he “declared both to them of Damascus first, and at Jerusalem and throughout all the country of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance” (Acts 26:20). Would Paul immediately preach repentance to others when he himself had not done so? So, we note that Saul also heard Christ preached, believed on him, turned from his sins, and was baptized to “wash away” his sins. When faith is this active, God puts it to his account for righteousness and pronounces him righteous. Neither the jailor, the Pentecostians nor Saul of Tarsus deserved salvation. They did not merit it, but they became right -righteous. Why? Because they accepted the generous offer of salvation from God who promised it to all by the blood of Christ (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14).
Do you want to be right in the eyes of God? If so, you will have to be right in the same way these were. You may think you are right, but maybe you are judging yourself by the wrong standard. Re-read the first two paragraphs of this article and see.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 8, pp. 238-239
April 20, 1989