The Reformation of the 16th Century accomplished many great objectives. The finest of these, undoubtedly, was the proper understanding of justification. How can we, sinners one and all, stand righteous in the presence of the most perfect and holy God? The answer is quite easy. We cannot. We need a mediator, a substitute, a sinless person who has endured the penalty and punishment for our evil deeds. According to the Holy Bible that person is Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God.
Romans 5 makes it evident that Christ came as the Second Adam. Adam, the first man, is the Federal Head of all humanity; his original sin is passed down to all those who descend from him via ordinary generation–that means through the natural processes of conception and birth. Actually, conception is the only required condition for a sinful inheritance. You and I might not like this doctrine, but we must accept it as a fact of life.
Enter Jesus, who was not conceived by natural means, hence sin has no claim on him. By fulfilling the Law of God in the minutest detail, with exquisite perfection, Jesus, in his humanity, had the ability to stand before God in perfect righteousness. He could rightly stand in God’s court and claim entrance to heaven by his own merit. Except he didn’t stand before God–he was stretched out on a cross.
This is called substitutionary atonement, a doctrine repugnant to many. But what situation do you find more desirable? 1) You stand before God and he places your life in the balance of his Law and you receive the justice you deserve–eternal condemnation. 2) Jesus stands in your place and by faith you trust that God accepts you as righteous. Not because of your merit, but because of the righteousness of Jesus that is given to your account and received by faith alone. God justifies you in his presence because of the blood atonement of Christ. The term atonement denotes a covering; the blood blots out the stain and guilt of sin.
By the way, these are the only two choices allowed.