In Part 1 of this two-part post, we humbly marveled at the glorious exchange of the Gospel as described in 2Cor. 5:21. Christ has no sin but ours. Christians have no righteousness but his. In the least, we know that everyone who receives this truth and trusts in Christ for his or her righteousness is a child of God (Jn 1:12). But does the Gospel accomplish more in us than initial adoption into God’s family? How is the Gospel relevant to Christians who have already believed it? How does simultaneously recognizing our sinfulness and our acceptance in Christ help us to address every obstacle and to grow in every aspect?
The gospel of mercy and grace shows us that our spiritual problem is not merely failing to obey, but is also relying on our obedience to make us fully acceptable to God, to ourselves, and to others. Our acceptability to God is based on the exchange we make with Christ alone. We are mercifully forgiven because our sins were credited to Christ, who was crucified in our place. In Christ, we are not condemned for our sins. AND, we are righteous because Christ’s perfect obedience is credited to us. Any attempt to do good and earn what we have already been graciously given is useless at best.
Every sin comes from a natural tendency to forget the righteousness that Christ gives to us and to strive to make ourselves acceptable. Tim Keller writes, “Pride and disdain can come from basing your identity and acceptance on your performance and thinking you are succeeding. Discouragement and self-loathing also come from basing your identity and acceptance of your performance and thinking you are failing.” Bringing the Gospel to bear on all areas of our thinking, feeling, and behaving is the key to overcoming obstacles and growing as a Christian. Receiving our acceptance in Christ makes it easier to admit our flaws and to be confident that we won’t be rejected. Obedience also becomes easier because it is no longer tied to the burden of obtaining God’s favor.
In my personal life, understanding the Gospel and the doctrine of justification, which is what we have been meditating on in February, has been absolutely vital for the sake of my marriage. Marriage can feel impossible at times because each spouse feels so self-justified in their partner’s failure to meet expectations. My wife and I call it “the death spiral” and it goes something like this.
“I’m so tired of telling you to do ________!”
“I’m sorry! I just forgot, OK? And what are you so angry about? You think you do all the things I ask?”
“Don’t change the subject. I’ve asked you over and over again. I feel like you don’t listen to me.”
“Maybe. But why would I listen to you when you are constantly on my case. I don’t even want to listen when you speak so disrespectfully!”
“Well, I could speak more kindly if I knew you cared enough to help out the first time I asked you!”
“Ugh! This is getting us nowhere! I’m tired of this argument!”
And so the spiral continues and leads to death. The cycle of self-justification, pity, and anger seems unbreakable. But, when one or both of us is overcome by the truth of justification by faith, and the particular truth that God has already accepted me in Christ as having fulfilled all his expectations, escape from the cycle becomes feasible. I no longer need to respond with defensiveness feeling that I have failed my wife. I know that I have! But, I know also that in Christ I am forgiven and accepted even as a failure. I am free to admit that I forgot to help out even though my wife has asked me over and over. I can ask her forgiveness knowing that doing so does not make me less in anyone’s eyes, especially God’s.
Moreover, I pray that my wife and I would be SO overwhelmed and mastered by the truth of justification that we would learn to see each other the way God sees each of us in Christ – perfect and complete. It will be possible for us to say, “For the sake of Christ, I will not think in terms of whether my expectations and hopes are met. I will love and serve and nurture even when I see shortcomings and failures.”
The Gospel saved you once and it saves you still. Walk in the forgiveness (i.e., mercy) and righteousness (i.e., grace) that are already yours in Christ Jesus.