Monday, November 16, 2015

The Key that Unlocked Grace

    When I first began embracing the doctrines of grace and studying theology for myself, I was attending the same church I do now, a traditional, conservative Baptist church. The turning point when I began to change from my formulaic thinking was a particular concept that has become the cornerstone of my disagreement with most of the messages I see and hear about grace today. With this concept comes most of my beliefs about my standing with God and my opposition of anything related to works salvation or works righteousness.

    The idea is the imputed righteousness of Christ. Let me start this off with a question. When was the last time you heard a sermon on this topic? Okay, step closer. When was the last time you heard this phrase even mentioned in church? One more step closer. Do you even know what it means? If you don't, you, my friend, are in for a treat tonight!

     We hear salvation described very frequently when we're kids as "Jesus died to take the punishment for our sins." And while the phrase is strictly true, it sadly leaves us with an incomplete view of what salvation is and means. We realize we're sinners, and we realize that I'm no longer in danger of hell. But we still miss a pivotal point.

     But the problem is here. We understand that our sin forces us to have a deficit with God, but when the atonement is presented as simply payment, then it doesn't fully communicate grace. We leave with the idea that salvation deletes by debt and brings me to zero in God's eyes, no longer in debt, but neutral rather than righteous.

     This was my understanding of salvation for years. It was also why I misunderstood the idea of God's grace for so long. My view of salvation was that my salvation in Christ paid my debt, and what happened next was on my shoulders. Now I'm free to do right or wrong, and that is where my standing with God comes in. Since I'm neutral, now God is proportionately pleased or displeased by my actions; when I do good, God adds it to the good side of the balance, when I sin, He adds it to the bad side. His favor depends on which side wins out. Sure, I knew my salvation wasn't dependent on it, but God's favor was.

     But that definition alone is a crystal clear example of merited favor, favor dependent on my actions, which is exactly the opposite of true grace. And that's one reason why this concept is so pivotal to understanding radical grace. To understand how far reaching and how all-encompassing grace truly is, we have to understand just how far it goes in my salvation.

     The clearest passage about this doctrine is 2 Cor. 5:21, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." Let's look at this passage a little more closely.

     Paul is speaking of our salvation found in Christ and what exactly Christ was doing on the cross in fairly clear, illuminating language. Jesus wasn't just "taking the punishment for our sins." He was literally becoming sin on the cross. The nature of Christ became sin. Christ was being punished for sin that He had not committed but were now committed to His charge, willingly.

     And the corollary holds. If Christ became literal sin, the rest of the passage that speaks of us becoming the righteousness of Christ is also just as true. We aren't made figuratively righteous. We aren't just made pretty much righteous, or righteous enough. We are made righteous, pronounced innocent before God, because we have been given righteousness not our own.

     A believer after salvation is not just a sinner brought to a balance of neutral in God's eyes, or simply another person who is a sinner but is no longer going to hell because Jesus died "for our punishment." That view is incomplete. It leaves us clear of hell, but short of heaven. We are, in fact, made righteous while still sinners. We still sin, and those sins, past, present, and future, are thrown onto a holy Jesus Christ who has been made sin for us.

     When I first heard this idea, I didn't believe it was true. It was simply to radical. It was too far out for me to accept. It took me a couple months to actually come to grips with the idea that this was what the Bible taught. In Christ, I am perfect. In Christ, I am sinless. In Christ, I am viewed with as much favor as is possible. I can be no more despised if I sin or more cherished if I don't; my status with God is certain and set, based on the unchangeable nature of Christ's blood and His sacrifice alone.

     It's a beautiful thought, one that thrusts the praise for my salvation forever out of my hands and into the hands of the One who has so wonderfully redeemed me. It is His righteousness I stand clothed in, not mine. It is His goodness that grants me audience with God, not mine. It was His blood that was shed, not mine. It was His intercession before God's throne, then and now, that continually grants me growth in grace, not mine.

     My sin is His. His righteousness is mine. Can you understand now why grace has been called a scandal by so many? Can you see now why so many deny these teachings, claiming that if believers only knew them, there would be no striving for holiness? But how wrong they are!

     A heart chasing holiness out of love, pure, changeless love is more beautiful and more steadfast by far than a heart chasing holiness out of fear of judgment or hope for reward. In the first, Christ remains the center, the star of the redemptive play and our continuing sanctification; in the second, the emphasis drifts from Christ as Savior to us as perfectors.

     That is the scandal of grace. That is the very doctrine that will forever make some believers scream from the sidelines "License!" when they should be calling "Freedom!" Not freedom to sin, but freedom from the bondage of sin! Freedom to approach our Father unashamed! Freedom to embrace my standing with God, no longer as the hard Judge of every motive and intention of my heart but as the Father who offered His very Son for my redemption.

     This is what grace is. It's not license. It's not "grace abused". It's true freedom. It's freedom that is found in the person and finished work of Christ on my behalf, a freedom that's both undeserved and forever unmerited. No work of mine could earn it then; no work of mine after can make me deserving. I stand forever in the debt of a relentlessly merciful God.

     When I got this concept in my head, my journey toward an understanding of grace was sure. Yeah, there was uncertainty and certainly plot twists, but I had had a taste of life! I had a taste of what it meant to "rest in Christ", to stop striving to earn my way further into Christ's favor.

      I am His.

      He is mine.

      That is enough.


  1. Excellent post :) Reminds me of Hebrews 10:11-16 as well:

    "And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

    "Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

    "The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:

    "'This is the covenant I will make with them
    after that time, says the Lord.
    I will put my laws in their hearts,
    and I will write them on their minds.'"

    When you take the time to actually think about what that means, it's pretty amazing :'D

    1. I love Hebrews! Awesome passage that I wish I'd thought of before so I could cover it in my post! :) Maybe I'll have to write another one... ha, ha. Thanks for reading!