I’ve concluded over these four plus decades as a Christian talking and listening to many Christians, that no matter what tradition they come from or their theological convictions, they are all Calvinists. What I mean by that is they all realize, every single one of them, they can’t save themselves from their sins; it is God alone who has saved them and is saving them. It’s just too obvious to any honest person who has a real relationship with Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, that they are sinners, hopeless, pathetic sinners in need of a Savior who actually saves, not a Savior who just makes salvation possible or theoretical. That is Calvinism. There is no need to try to figure out God’s sovereignty and free will. They’re both true and well beyond our ability to comprehend. Every Christian knows, every one of us, that “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost,” (Luke 19:10), and that he was given the name Jesus “because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). He will not try, he will.

This has become even more clear to me reading through the Old Testament again, now into Jeremiah. The message God is communicating loud and clear is the inability of God’s people to save themselves, the premise of the entire Calvinist theological system. Over and over God commands, and his people do the opposite. They are pathetic. As I wrote recently, the stories of the people of Israel have to be of God and true because no ancient people make themselves look so horribly bad unless it was true. And before we get all judgmental and feeling superior, those stories are about us! And deep down every true Christian knows it. The reason is because at Pentecost Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). His job is to reveal to us the guilt of our sin and that we can’t save ourselves, that we need a Savior. I’ve never met a true Christian in my life who thinks they are their own Savior. I’m not too concerned about how they think that all works, unless they’re interested in my opinion. I just know if Jesus is their Savior, if they realize they can’t save themselves from their own sin, we’re on the same team.

From the very beginning when God promised the seed or offspring of the woman would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3), the plan was for God to save his people from their sins, not make salvation possible for all people. Since He saved me, raised me from the dead when I was at the bottom of the spiritual ocean, I trust His salvation. I couldn’t choose Him, He chose me. Therefore, my confidence is wholly in Him. No matter how wretched I am, I know He has saved me from my sins, all of them, past, present, and future. I am Israel! I like them get to the end of the story in Malachi, and then silence. Until the messenger comes and points to the One, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Isaiah points forward to Jesus as God our Savior in Isaiah 7. The Lord is telling King Ahaz to trust him to save them from their geopolitical enemy, and to ask Him for a sign. Ahaz refuses to “put the Lord to the test,” and the Lord rebukes him saying, alright then, I’ll give you a sign whether you ask for it or not!

14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

When you read these few verses about this son they seem completely out of place, but God is always interspersing prophetic utterances about a spiritual salvation to come with geopolitical Israel. The name given to this son the virgin conceives means “God with us,” and we now know this was the Messiah Jesus who was God himself in human flesh. Jews would never, ever have interpreted the name that way. The Messiah had God with him, along side him in battle like any king—he would never be God himself. That’s why Jews don’t make up Jesus of Nazareth, the word made flesh.

Then in a brutal passage in Isaiah 63, verses 1-6, the Lord is proclaiming himself coming in judgment “mighty to save.” A salvation of wrath drenched in blood is a very strange salvation, as He says, “the day of vengeance.” That doesn’t make any sense until you realize in Christian hindsight that the spiritual salvation to come includes both judgment, wrath, and righteousness. Here the Lord tells us only He can pull that one off:

I looked, but there was no one to help,
I was appalled that no one gave support;
so my own arm achieved salvation for me,
and my own wrath sustained me.

Notice the past tense. In the eternal sovereign council of the Triune God this salvation has already been accomplished. His prophetic words through His prophets are as good as already done.

Then in Jeremiah 23 we get a glimpse into the full picture of the nature of this salvation when we read of a Righteous Branch. The Lord condemns “the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of” his pasture, and says He in effect will become their shepherd, of course pointing forward to Jesus, the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. Then we read:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The Lord Our Righteousness.

No Jew could conceive that Yahweh himself would be the atonement, or propitiation, for our sins, even though Isaiah 53 gives a very strong hint of just that. And it isn’t only that he will pay the penalty for our sins, i.e., death, and take God’s wrath for us, but that he will be “our righteousness.” What does that mean?

I heard Tim Killer say many times, Jesus died the death we should have died, and He lived the life we should have lived. Jesus not only died for us, but He also lived for us. Just as our sin was imputed to Christ on the cross, his perfect sinless life was imputed to us as well. This is why the Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 1:

30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, sanctification and redemption.

This became the most important verse in my life after more than three decades as a Christian when I finally realized I am Israel! No matter how hard I try, no matter what I do, I can’t pull it off. I fail over and over and over again. I am, I know it’s shocking, a sinner! And being a sinner I sin, also shocking. Sinning is what sinners do. But we are born that way, all of us. Isn’t it obvious? This is what makes “The Lord Our Righteousness” so powerful.

Here is the realization I came to: I can never be more acceptable to God than I am in Christ my righteousness no matter what I do or don’t do. I used to think, sort of, that God would like me a little bit more if I did this or didn’t do that. Nope! And I found that the gratitude that flows out of this grace, this unmerited favor, makes me want to be more righteous! I’m just not very good at it, but I keep trying. So I repent daily, and thank God that I don’t have to save myself.


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