Tag Archives: justification

As if…

I have a recurring dream. I don’t remember if I told you about it or not. But we always need reminders.

In my dream, I committed adultery.

No, it wasn’t a steamy “sex dream”. No, it wasn’t with anyone that I know. The “other party” wasn’t the point of the dream. In my dream there is no face, no name, no memory of the act itself.

For my dream doesn’t begin with the sin. It begins with my wife finding out. I have to see the look on her face. I see the face that I know only as loving and warm and inviting turn into  a face of hurt and hatred and coldness. It is a nightmare of the worst kind. It is knowing that things will never be the same. That I have forfeited the most precious love. That I have lost a treasure that I will never get back.

It spreads to my kids. It spreads to my church. I lose everything. I am fired from my job, my family won’t speak to me, my kids only look at me with disgust…I say in my dream – O, that this were only a dream! O that I could wake up! And I am overwhelmed with despair, because in my dream I am convinced that it is real.

And then I wake up. It takes me a moment to get my bearings, and then I hear her breathing as she sleeps next to me. I cannot describe the relief and the joy when I realize that I am awake. It was all a dream.

CS Lewis once described an island where dreams come true. The sailors, as they sailed the “Dawn Treader” to the island, were excited about it – until they understood. This isn’t a place where your wishes come true, or your day dreams come true. It is where your dreams come true. Terrifying indeed.

In a very real sense, my recurring dream is a true one. We used to know God as a friend. We used to see his face shining on us. And then, in the Garden and in our actual lives, we committed adultery against him. We raged against him in hatred. We refused to acknowledge how good he was to us. We treated him like an enemy. We made for ourselves idols – the pornography of the spiritual realm. And we inherited it all from Adam. God poured out every good thing on us in abundance (he still does, in fact). And we despised him, looked on his gifts with contempt and hatred and pride.

And God is perfectly just. He will by no means clear the guilty.

Is it possible to wake up from this nightmare? Is it possible to be loved again, to live with God as if we had never committed adultery against him? In our living nightmare, we can’t erase it.

If my dream was real, even if my wife would be able to eventually forgive me, there would always be that hurt and anger and hatred that I CAUSED. It would never be the same again. I don’t think she could ever have that same look in her eye again – that look of trust and safety and peace. I think there would always be a memory of what I did.

(I don’t know why anyone ever commits adultery, by the way. How can anyone wish to go through this nightmare! – but that is the power of sin…)

How much greater is our adultery against God! How can we wake up from this nightmare?

Psalm 126 sees the shadow of such a time – when the bondage was over and God’s people awoke from their living nightmare:

1 When the LORD brought back the captivity of Zion, We were like those who dream.
  2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, And our tongue with singing. Then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”
  3 The LORD has done great things for us, And we are glad.
  4 Bring back our captivity, O LORD, As the streams in the South.
  5 Those who sow in tears Shall reap in joy.
  6 He who continually goes forth weeping, Bearing seed for sowing, Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, Bringing his sheaves with him.
  (Ps. 126:1-6)

How can that be? As if…

God sent his only begotten son into the world. He is the well-beloved son, whom God loved perfectly because in the flesh he obeyed in all things. He (as our mediator) never committed adultery. He always loved God perfectly, even when he felt the full weight of God’s wrath on the cross. He always obeyed. Always loved. Always was faithful. And he didn’t do it for himself.

In eternity, he was always with the Father, and was always true, eternal, sovereign God. He did not obey in order to earn God’s favor for himself. He became flesh, born under the law, and obeyed so that you and I might stand before God as if we had never had nor committed any sin. As if…

He took God’s wrath against our sin and gave us his righteousness and now when God sees us, he sees us as we are in Christ. As if…

As if we had never sinned.

As if we had obeyed God perfectly from the womb.

As if we had never fallen in Adam

As if we had never said those hateful things, or thought those ugly thoughts.

As if we had always loved as we ought to have loved.

As if we had never played the whore with other gods, with our affections, with our worship…

And because he loves us as if Christ’s legal record is ours, he sends us his Spirit to dwell in us in love, so that one day our “as if” becomes our reality, when complete victory is ours and we stand before him free from sin and death and misery at last.

And we are delivered from our captivity as if we had awakened from a dream. Can you imagine the laughter and the singing and the joy, when the dawn comes?

Lift up your eyes! Already the light of dawn is breaking through. Already God sees you in Christ and you are greatly loved.

And the devil hates it. He has many “teachers” who will try to convince you that Jesus’ righteousness isn’t enough. That you still need to do something. That your adultery will never be clean and washed away. They will always have one more thing that you need to do. They may speak of the gospel in passing, but they will always turn back at the last minute, like Columbo on the old show, and say, “Oh, Just one more thing. You have to…”

And there it is. Add one more thing. Do one more ritual. Follow one more precept. Keep one more statute.

They will try to rob you of the joy of belonging to Christ.

As if…

Hold onto that joy. In this vale of tears, we stumble in many things. We say sinful things. We lash out.  We offend in many things.

And we ask forgiveness of our loved ones. We weep over sin. We beg again for the gift of the Spirit. And our hope is this:

Even then, it is as if we had never committed nor had any sin. We are washed clean. It is different than God saying, “I pardon you”.  When a judge pardons, he is releasing the penalty that is due the crime. But with a pardon, the crime was committed, even if the penalty is released.

But that isn’t really the gospel. Yes, there is a pardon. Yes, there is forgiveness. But it goes deeper. It goes to the wakening of the dream. We wake up. It is “as if”. Yes, we did it. But in the wisdom of God, he has provided a way for us to be truly clean – as if we had never sinned. He has provided a savior.

Jump! Shout! Rejoice! Lay aside the burdens. Walk out of the false churches that continue to tell you how much better you need to be and crawl to where the gospel is proclaimed. There you will learn the true measure of Christ’s gift.

Wake up, you who sleep – and Christ will give you light!

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Trust

4 Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength: (Isa 26:4)

We have a natural tendency to attempt to add our own works to our salvation. We like to think that there HAS to be something that we contribute to justification.

Popular theologians will sometimes separate initial justification from final justification, trying to preserve the reformation doctrine of sola fide and at the same time bring human effort back into the final judgment. This shows how strong the pull is to revert back to our natural religion.

Our natural religion says that we aren’t as bad as God says we are. That we are at bottom pretty good people who just made a few mistakes along the way. Natural religion also views God as a harsh judge to others, but far more lenient with US and those just like us. The first priest of the natural religion was Cain.

But the Bible doesn’t allow us to fudge on the holiness of God. God as a just judge should rightly cause us to tremble in terror, because we are on the wrong side of that justice, and we all know it.

But Christian doctrine is as opposed to natural religion as east is from west, as oil from water. Christian doctrine places God’s acceptance of us in the righteousness of another – Jesus Christ. It is only His righteousness that can stand before the judgment throne. God does not now and never will accept “good intentions” in the place of perfect righteousness.

Not even a game show host will accept “I was just going to say that” in the place of the correct answer. How much less will a perfect, holy God accept “I was just going to do that” instead of perfect righteousness?

But God has provided that perfect righteousness. It is found in only one place. He sent forth his Son, made of a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem those who were born under the law (Galatians 4:45).

And here is an important implication of this doctrine, which will affect everything that you do:

We are called to trust in the Lord with all of our heart. We have no other place to stand. Doctors fail, with a 100% failure rate – eventually. Politicians never bring change. Horses won’t save us. Princes won’t save us. Knowledge and science won’t bring peace to our souls or stave off death.

The wisdom of the world changes every few years. The opinions of men cannot even settle what kinds of foods are healthy and what are not, how much less can they tell us how to be accepted by the Holy One of Israel?

Men and women, above all, battle a ferocious enemy whose weapons are fear, shame and guilt. He drives humanity to extreme cruelty, extreme despair, extreme illness, extreme mistrust and hatred.

And this enemy is far, far too powerful for us. Where will we turn for salvation? Where will we stand when all around is sinking sand? Where will we find rest? Who will take away our distress?

And here is the kicker: You cannot trust anyone if you are not fully persuaded that they are actually on your side.

Israel mistakenly believed that Assyria was on their side. It cost them their lives and their inheritance. Judah falsely trusted Babylon and Jerusalem was destroyed. Syria, Babylon, Assyria were on their own side, and looked out for their own interests.

How much more damaging is trust in a God who isn’t actually on our side? Can anything be more terrifying than this pronouncement from God?

4 Thus saith the LORD God of Israel; Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands, wherewith ye fight against the king of Babylon, and against the Chaldeans, which besiege you without the walls, and I will assemble them into the midst of this city.
5 And I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and with a strong arm, even in anger, and in fury, and in great wrath.
6 And I will smite the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast: they shall die of a great pestilence.
(Jer 21:4-6)

And these are the words spoken to Israel. How can you trust in the Lord if the Lord Himself is against you?

And here is the problem with all schemes that seek to put even one little work back into the plan of salvation. If I have to prove to God that my faith is genuine, if I have to add one little thing to the perfect work of Christ, if I have to love or desire God as a condition for my salvation – then how on earth am I supposed to trust him? What if I didn’t do enough? What if the law still thunders its curse at me?

What if I fail? What if the water I give isn’t cold enough, or my longing for the face of God is too sporadic and changing, what if my love isn’t worthy of the beauty of the object of my love?

What if my sacrifice isn’t enough? What if my submission isn’t enough?

Did I miss something?

And then I realize that I am not actually SURE that God is on my side, because a holy God cannot dwell with sinful man and the more I examine myself, the more I see just how corrupt I am.

So how can I trust God to do me good if God’s view of me depends upon me – even a little bit.I don’t even like me all that much, how can God?

This is why trust in God is always based on only one thing: the person and work of Jesus Christ. There is no fault found there. There is no failure or mistake, lapse in the perfect Son of God made flesh for us and for our salvation.

I can completely and absolutely and without reservation commit my salvation, my health, my livelihood, my retirement, my daily bread, and the forgiveness of sins into the hands of the one who did not even spare his own son for me and for my salvation. THAT is trust. Even my prayers are made in the name of Jesus, for apart from that name, God isn’t actually on my side and I have no reason to trust that he will hear me.

Because of Jesus our righteousness is perfect, complete and finished – now and forever. And since this is true, we can boldly say,

31 What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
33 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.
34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Rom 8:31-39 KJV)

If our salvation isn’t actually finished and certain, then how can we possibly say this and where will our souls find rest?

Come to Jesus who is able to clothe you perfectly. His garments cover your nakedness and shame. His blood makes you acceptable to God as his dear child. His righteousness has you covered forever. Only when you know this can you actually trust God, and love and joy and peace flow from there.

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How does God see me?

The day is going to come when Jesus will come again and we will all stand before his judgment throne. We will be judged on our works.

This means that we have a problem. To illustrate that problem, take out a blank sheet of paper. On this sheet of paper, write down every sin, mistake, error in judgment, and failure that you have ever committed.

Wait.

Before you start, put down Adam’s sin in the very first spot. When you were conceived, you already had this one on your account.

Now, start with the things that keep you up at night. The kind words you should have said. The ugly words that you did say. The lingering looks over the girl walking by you and the horrible things that went through your mind.

The time you really enjoyed that tiny piece of gossip, destroying someone with your hateful tongue. Maybe the time that you were unthankful to God and doubted his goodness. Add your road rage, your hateful words at the customer that is standing in your way. Add your thoughts of rage against your server or cashier for being an idiot and a moron.

And those are just the things you did and didn’t do. What about who you are as a person? Your first thought isn’t about the glory of God; it is about your own glory. Your first love isn’t the love of God, it is a love for yourself. You don’t wish your neighbor to have success, even if it means you don’t. You want to be first. You don’t want to worship the God who is; your first thought is to worship a god that you like better than the one true God.

Maybe you try really, really hard to love God. Maybe you really want to be a better person, so you have learned to reign in your tongue.

But you still have sleepless nights, don’t you? You know that when Jesus comes again, all of those thoughts will be revealed to the whole universe so that every mouth will be stopped. There won’t be any more excuses. They weren’t indiscretions; they weren’t inappropriate gestures; they were sins, affronts against almighty God and worth his eternal wrath.

And you can’t do anything about it.

Write them down on your piece of paper. Remember that all of the ones that you missed, or excused, or forgot about, God already has written them down. He will never acquit the guilty.

Now think about Jesus. Look at the law. He kept all of that perfectly. Imagine never once failing to act according to perfect love. Imagine loving God with all of your heart and mind and strength, and never once failing. Never saying a cruel word. Never rejoicing in gossip. Never abusing and defiling, even in his mind.

It’s hard to imagine because we have no experience of it. We don’t know what it is like to NOT be corrupted by sin. But we have the law. We have the proverbs – God’s description of wisdom – a character reference of Jesus, the Wisdom of God made flesh.

Imagine perfect righteousness, spotless holiness, and unflagging wisdom written in a book.

Now you have two ledgers. You have the works that you have done and have failed to do. It’s pretty ugly. And you have the works that Jesus did and the sins that he refused. It is beautiful, wise, holy, without blemish. It is clean.

When Jesus stood before Pilate, Pilate declared him innocent. Pilate knew that he had done nothing deserving of death. As the temporal judge, he bore witness to God’s judgment: Jesus committed no sin and had no guile in his mouth. But because of Pilate’s character and the treachery of the Jews, Pilate condemned him to death anyway. But when it came time to write up the charge and nail it to the cross, Pilate had a problem. He didn’t have anything to write.

So he wrote, “The King of the Jews” in order to insult the Jews. He refused to change it.

God says this:

13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;
15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. (Col 2:13-15 KJV)

Even though Pilate had nothing to write on Jesus’ cross, God did. He took that ledger that you just filled out. Your sinful nature, every sin that you committed and every deed of righteousness that you failed to do. God even took the ones that you didn’t add, the ones you didn’t know about, the ones you excused and justified – he took them all and nailed THAT to the cross of Christ.

The charges were against YOU. The condemnation fell on Jesus.

“What thou, my Lord, has suffered

Was all for sinners’ gain

Mine, mine was the transgression,

But thine the deadly pain” (St. Bernard of Clairvaux)

What happened to the other ledger – the one with Jesus’ perfect righteousness? It’s the book that is opened when I stand before God on the judgment day. Every work that he did, every perfection, every spotless act of beauty and wisdom, is put on MY account.

It isn’t how much I loved God in this life. It is how much Jesus loved God.

It isn’t how much I desired God or lived a life of Christian hedonism. It is HIS perfect righteousness, faith, and obedience, put on my account.

It isn’t how much I persevered or how tightly I held on. It isn’t about the strength of my faith or the purity of my faith. It is about the strength and purity of my savior. With my empty hands, I cling to him. With my filthy heart, I cry out for mercy. With my sin-filled tongue, I call to Him.

His righteousness is mine. My sin and filth were put to death on his cross, and that puts to death the bondage and power of the devil. That great exchange will always lead to a changed life, but the changed life will always fall far, far short of the righteous requirements of God. The only thing that will EVER stand before God is the perfect righteousness, holiness and satisfaction of Christ put on my account.

If only I accept it with a believing heart.

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