Two of the most heart-grabbing events in our human experience are death and birth. When a friend or loved one dies we attend the funeral, coming alongside of the family to grieve with them. When someone close to us has a baby we likewise come to rejoice with them. In both events the arrow that is shot through our hearts is life. Life intersects differently with our minds and emotions depending upon if it is birth or death; but it is life or the absence of it that brings the reaction.
The Bible uses both of these concepts to describe the Christian experience. Prior to conversion we were dead spiritually (Eph. 2.1). This spiritual death was characterized by separation from God and expressed in terms of evil deeds (Col. 1.21; Titus 3.3). Once converted, we are brought to life (Rom. 6.4, 13; Eph. 2.4-10). This life is characterized by communion with God and expressed in terms of obedience to God’s Word and loving loyalty to him (1 Jn. 3.1-10).
How would you define justification? I’ve heard some say that justification means that God treats me “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned.
Is this a helpful way to explain it?
In one sense there is truth here. God does treat those who are justified as if they have never sinned. We have peace with God (Rom. 5:1-2) rather than judgment from God. However, this just doesn’t go far enough. It leaves us short of what the Bible teaches and conveys an insufficient understanding of justification.
Justification is the instantaneous and irreversible divine declaration of the unrighteous as positionally righteous, based upon the merit of Christ’s obedience, applied by grace and received through faith (Rom. 3.24-28; 4.1-5; 5.1-2). God declares the unjust to be just based upon Christ’s work for them.
To simply say that justification is “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned is to stop far short of what the Bible says. It does not take us far enough.
Justification by faith alone is the declarative act by God the judge that we are forever wrapped in the everlasting righteousness of Christ! His record is now your record. His merit is yours. God treats you as righteous because he treated Christ as unrighteous—for our sake (2 Cor. 5:21).
If, however, God merely treats us ‘just-as-if-I’d” never sinned then we’d be morally neutral. We would be back in the garden with untested holiness like Adam before he sinned. This is a far cry from being clothed in the everlasting righteousness of the last Adam. Not only has God taken away the debt of our …
There is an essential internal dialog of the heart when we sin. There is a point when the fog of our heart’s deception must be cut through with the promise and power of Christ. M’Cheyne exposes the contrast here via his own personal narrative as informed by Scripture.
I feel, when I have sinned, an immediate reluctance to go to Christ. I am ashamed to go. I feel as if it would do no good to go, as if it were making Christ a minister of sin, to go straight from the swine-trough to the best robe, and a thousand other excuses; but I am persuaded they are all lies, direct from hell.
John argues the opposite way: ‘If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father.’ I am sure there is neither peace nor safety from deeper sin, but in going directly to the Lord Jesus Christ. This is God’s way of peace and holiness. It is folly to the world and the beclouded heart, but it is the way.”
—Robert Murray M’Cheyne, quoted by Andrew Bonar, Robert Murray M’Cheyne (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1960), 176
Every man desires to be considered a “good man”. If God has given a man 75 years of life and he looks back at it, nothing would give him more joy than to know that it wasn’t in vain. Further, the church is in desperate need of good men. The reason of course is that good men honor God and multiply themselves. Good men make more good men.
But, what do they look like?
The grace of God is sufficient.
I know this but sometimes it is hard to believe it. I operate under the false assumption that I have to augment God’s wisdom, power, and presence with my own (wisdom, power and ability). Every now and then God does the spiritual equivalent of a quick crossover over dribble and a two-handed dunk in the lane. He surprises me and reminds me that he is awesome. He is awesome in power, wisdom and love. I just stand up and cheer as I watch the false idol (that I created) writhing in pain from the broken ankles (it’s March Madness, you have to expect basketball illustrations).
God did this recently. I talked with a brother who has endured an astoundingly heavy trial. As I talked to him he boasted in the God of the Word and the Word of God. The best part was, I know it wasn’t fake. I had talked to him awhile ago and he was laid low by the affliction. Now he was truly encouraged.
Very helpful quote here from Mike Cosper in his new and helpful book Rhythms of Grace:
To our imaginations, it’s probably strange (at the least) or gross (at the worst) to envision anyone perpetually exalting himself. We live in a world full of bluster and bragging, where Nicki Minaj boasts “I’m the best,” LeBron James tattoos “Chosen 1″ across his shoulders, and everyone from pastors to porn stars are self-celebrating on Twitter and Facebook. The idea that God would be associated with anything like that behavior is disconcerting.
But God’s own self-adoration is nothing like ours. Unlike our own self-congratulatory spirit, God’s view of himself is unmistaken and unexaggerated.
As hymn writer Fredrick Lehman said:
Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made, Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade, To write the love of God above, Would drain the ocean dry. Nor could the scroll contain the whole, Though stretched from sky to sky. God’s glory and perfection are inexhaustible. We can’t say enough about how glorious he truly is. The greatest gift he can give us is a revelation of himself. Exalting anything else would be cruel.
God calls Christians to love one another. Half of Jesus’ summary of the law was to love your neighbor as yourself (Mt. 22.39). While we know this truth like the back of our hand we also know the difficulty of doing it.
Why is it so hard? It is hard because sin complicates things. My sin makes me unloving and unlovely and others’ sin makes them unloving and unlovely.
So what do we do?
The book is small enough to read over your lunch hour but will need to be digested over a lifetime. Keller walks uses 1 Corinthians as lenses to understanding how the gospel had gripped and transformed the Apostle Paul. The result: gospel humility. Or, in other words: self-forgetfulness.
The book is more like a sermon that gets after you. With probing application that pulls the gospel-train into town, Keller helps show pride and chase it away with gospel.
Christians typically bounce off of two extremes:
Undervaluing the work of Christ by clinging to our own merit
Undervaluing the work of Christ by wallowing in our guilt
This is as dangerous as it is insane (and unbelieving).
Sometimes I find myself bouncing off of these opposing and perilous walls within the same day.
I’m reading a bit of Herman Bavinck this morning in preparation for a class with some men in our church. I have been particularly encouraged by his section on God’s goodness. Below is an adaptation of some of his thoughts on the grace of God as an expression of the goodness of God.
The Grace of God is..
God’s goodness is much more glorious when it is shown to those who only deserve evil.
The etymology of the word indicates a bowing and inclination towards another. In other words, the favor that one receives or gives to another.
Used with reference to God, however, its object is never creatures in general, nor the Gentiles, but only his people.
The voluntary, unrestrained, and unmerited favor that he shows to sinners and that, instead of the verdict of death, brings them righteousness and life.
As such it is a virtue and attribute of God (Rom. 5.15; 1 Pet. 5.10), demonstrated in the sending his Son, who is full of grace (John 1.14; 1 Pet. 1.13), and additionally in the bestowal of all sorts of spiritual and material benefits, all of which are the gifts of grace and are themselves called “grace” (Rom. 5.20; 6.1; Eph. 1.7; 2.5,8; Phil. 1.2; Col. 1.2; Titus 3.7; etc), thus radically excluding all merit on the part of humans (Jn. 1.17; Rom. 4.4, 16; 6.14, 23; 11.5ff; Eph. 2.8; Gal. 5.3-4).”
Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1 p. 214