"Notes" to the Belgic Confession - Rev. C. Bouwman
RIGHTEOUSNESS BEFORE GOD
Concerning the confession that our righteousness before God consists in the forgiveness of our sins as obtained by Jesus Christ, deBres writes in Article 23, "This (ie, the fact that Christ's obedience is imputed to us) is sufficient to cover all our iniquities and to give us confidence in drawing near to God, freeing our conscience of fear, terror, and dread, so that we do not follow the example of our first father, Adam, who trembling tried to hide and covered himself with fig leaves." Knowing that deBres was raised as a Roman Catholic helps one to appreciate a confession such as this. According to Roman Catholic theology, if one sins, he needs to make amends to God, and one approaches God by the following means:
1) One must have a broken heart and acknowledge his wrongdoings;
2) One must confess his sins with the mouth;
3) One must make amends for his wrongs by doing good works.
This system left the sinner with no comfort. For, how does one know whether his heart is sufficiently broken and contrite, if he has confessed adequately, or if he has performed enough good works to make amends? What haunted Luther so badly before his conversion from Roman Catholicism was, 'how can I be just before God?' A theology such as this brings much uncertainty. Granted, we call this a Roman Catholic theology, but, to what extent do these thoughts, questions and doubts live in our hearts? Do we not catch ourselves asking: am I really forgiven, are my sins not too great for forgiveness, have I confessed my sins adequately, is my humility deep enough? We too at times feel that God is far away, that He does not hear us, that we are not forgiven. It is clear from the last paragraph of Article 23 that deBres too battled with such questions.
DeBres could confess that justification is sufficient for the covering and forgiveness of my sins, ie, it is sufficient that God declares that Christ's substitutionary work covers my sins and iniquities. This knowledge gives confidence, says deBres. Imagine if we had to justify ourselves! "For indeed, if we had to appear before God, relying -be it ever so little- on ourselves or some other creature, (woe be to us!) we would be consumed."
Hebrews 10:11,12 &18 speak of Christ's completed work of forgiveness. "And every(OT) priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this man (Christ), after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down at the right hand of God.... Now where there is remission of (sins), there is no longer an offering for sin." Christ paid for sin. His perfect satisfaction paid for my sins, His righteousness covered my unrighteousness, and His holiness covered my unholiness.
Is there then still a need for God's child, on account of his sins, to run away from God?! Not at all! DeBres records the consequence of God's declaration that we are justified in Christ: we have received "confidence in drawing near to God, freeing our conscience of fear, terror and dread ..." This is scriptural, for in Hebrews 10:19-22 we read, "Therefore brethren, having boldness to enter the Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, his flesh, and having a high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith..." Nothing at all may stop us any longer from coming into God's presence! We may pray with boldness.
Has God not established
His covenant with me? Has He not given me faith? I may, must, then
hold on to His unfailing Word of promise: God's work of justification, His
declaration of my righteousness through the blood of Jesus Christ, is true
concerning myself. God has declared me, a guilty sinner, forgiven, justified,
innocent before Him. I am graciously returned from Satan's side to God's side.
Hence I am able to pray to Him freely - despite my continuing sinfulness.
I need not doubt that God will hear my prayer. God has made me His child,
justified me, and so there is no room for fear. Instead, I may live with Him
in peace, confident of His love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.