The golden key to understanding salvation and life in the Kingdom of God is that no merit is involved. Not my merit. Not the accumulated merit of the Saints or the Church. Not even Jesus' merit. God does not accept us on the basis of merit. There is no transaction of merit paying an assessed valuation for sins which makes an angry, vengeful God into a gentle, merciful one. God does not change. We change!
2 Corinthians 5:14-21 (WEB) says:
14 For the love of Christ constrains us; because we judge thus, that one died for all, therefore all died. 15 He died for all, that those who live should no longer live to themselves, but to him who for their sakes died and rose again. 16 Therefore we know no one after the flesh from now on. Even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more. 17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold,* all things have become new. 18 But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses, and having committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself; not, as is usually taught, reconciling himself to the world.
God is not, and never was, our enemy.
We have been God's enemies, by our own voluntary choice. I have been God's enemy.
We needed, I needed, to be reconciled to him.
When Adam sinned, it wasn't God who turned away from Adam. It wasn't God who sewed fig leaves to cover his nakedness and ran into the bushes to hide from Adam. It was Adam who felt shame and hid. It was Adam who perceived God would be angry and kill him--when, in fact, he had already died by turning away from God. It was Adam who turned away from God. God didn't move.
In repentance, we turn back to God. God doesn't need to be turned back to us. He has always pursued us. He never turned his back to us.
In our sin, it is we who are enraged against God. The Psalmist asks, "Why do the nations so furiously rage together... against the Lord?" Psalm 2:1-2. The question isn't why God is enraged at us. It is why we are enraged at him.
The anger that must be overcome to restore our relationships, with God and each other, isn't God's anger, it is ours.
We believe that, because we turned away from God in anger, upset that he withheld from us the knowledge of evil, he must reciprocate our anger. (The root of our anger against God is still that he withholds things from us, this hasn't changed). We instinctively feel that his justice is outraged at us, just as--or just because--we are outraged by his stinginess. Because we feel he is outraged, a stern, angry God--a God sitting on a cloud in the heavens holding a giant flyswatter, just waiting to crush us--he cannot look at us without destroying us in his anger. Because we fear this, we dare not come to him. We dare mot return to him.
But we are the ones who demand to earn our way back to him. We are the ones who demand merit. He does not.
Jesus came, God became one of us, precisely because no merit is required. God won the victory in the incarnation alone. The crucifixion and resurrection merely confirmed the victory, making it final and complete. God was born one of us--and under totally non-meritorious circumstances, as we view things. He was born to two peasants, peasants who were at the very time of his birth demonstrating their subjection to a foreign conqueror by traveling far from their home to be registered and pay taxes in a census. He was born in a stable, not a palace. He was not born a king. Indeed, his claim to ancient royal blood, coupled with the announcement of the Magi that a king had been born, made the current puppet-king his mortal enemy, even as a baby. but, worst of all, he was born under the cloud of apparent illegitimacy. It took faith on the part of his mother, Mary, to receive the news that she was going to have a baby without being intimate with a man--the first and only time this has ever happened. It took Joseph, his stepfather, great faith to believe this and marry Mary, not divorce her or have her stoned.
The people of his hometown, Nazareth, could, no doubt, count nine months on their fingers; they, too, must have recognized that Jesus was conceived before Mary and Joseph were married. Their disrespect for Jesus continued into his ministry. When he announced to the synagogue in Nazareth that he was the one anointed to proclaim the day of God's favor, as Isaiah had prophesied, their response was "Isn't this Joseph's son?" They took such offense at him that they attempted to kill him (Luke 4:16-30; Matthew 13:53-58). Through the millennia since, few have believed who Jesus really is. A humble, illegitimate child of peasants who was called to be a prophet and moral teacher we can believe. But the Son of God, God making himself one of us, no!--that is too hard to believe!
It is too hard to believe because it intrudes on our lives too much. It deprives us of our feeling that we must earn our way to God, that we can do it our own way, on our own merits. It takes merit completely out of the equation. God came down to our level. All he asks is trust, joining him in a relationship, following him. We can boast of nothing. He demands, and we have, no merit.
Jesus died--yes, to bear our sins--but not to bear the weight of sins that God placed between us and himself. Our guilt was our own guilt, our shame was our own shame, the thing that we placed between ourselves and God. God, knowing Adam had sinned, still came to the garden to call Adam to walk and talk with him, as they had done previously. God did not come to the garden to kill Adam, to extract the price of Adam's sin. Adam had already paid that price--when he turned his back on God, the source of life, at that instant he died. And so it is with us--we are already dead in our trespasses and sins, by which we turned our backs on God--and God, having become a man and been put to death by our sins, now comes to walk with us, to restore us. Jesus did not have to pay for our sins as a debt we owed to an enraged God. Rather, he had to bear the weight of our sins to show that our guilt and shame for them never stood between us and God. He reconciled us to God by showing that God does not count our sins against us. Our shame kept us away from God because it led to fear, fear in which is no love; it lead us to fear God, certain that he would prefer killing us to looking at us. What we consciously ignored was that we were already dead, and could only find life by returning to God. We feared it made God vengeful toward us. This was why Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves and ran for the bushes, to hide from God and each other--even though God didn't tell them they were naked, they felt naked and ashamed, and ran away in fear. But it was God's plan all along to restore them. Our shame moves God to compassion, not wrath. It is only our continued rebellion, refusing his compassion, that brings reluctant wrath.
Jesus' "merit" doesn't pay the "price" God demands for our sins. God demands no "price."
God only wants us to return to him, to learn to live with him again, without the fear our sin initiated. In Christ, he is reconciling the world to himself, not counting their sins against them--our sins against us--my sins against me--not because Jesus paid the price for them, but because their price never was counted. They were not demerits. They never had to be counteracted or outweighed by merits.
The one and only sin that ever "counted" was the sin of turning away from God, to go our own way, to go my own way.
Jesus overcame this sin of going our own way, by never turning away to go his own way. He did only what he saw his Father doing. He was perfectly obedient even unto death, his death on the Cross, to save even those who had killed him in their rebellion against the Father. "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." He showed us the way to be restored to the Father by himself becoming that Way.
He demonstrated that this is all that is needed, all that the Father ever asked, by raising from the dead.
Because Jesus rose from the dead, we also have power to overcome death--the death that flowed immediately from our rebellion--by joining Jesus in his obedience, his death to himself, to return to the life that is in God.
He has shown us the way into a new life, a life beyond death, a life that is at peace with God. We must receive his life and follow him, living in the Spirit as he did. That is all.
No "merit" is involved. God doesn't look at our "merit." This is the key to freedom.