Tag Archives: judgment

Imputed Righteousness

 

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“How righteous are you?”

That’s a question I ask from time to time. The answers I receive are predictable. “Well, I try. Hopefully I have some righteousness. I know I’ve done a lot of wrong things, but I’ve done some good things, too.” It’s a question that makes believers squirm. We have been trained to think of ourselves as unrighteous. In many churches, believers are told how their sins separate them from God and they have to repent in order to be forgiven. Then they are led in a prayer, asking God for forgiveness. But they know it will never hold. Next week they will have to do it again.

So, how righteous are you?

Do you get a little squirt of righteousness each Sunday and try to live on that for a week? Are you trying to do good things so that the righteousness in you will outweigh the unrighteousness? Are you hoping that no one will see the wickedness in your life and you can just somehow slip into Heaven unnoticed? Or are you expecting a good scolding and some temporary punishment when you get to those pearly gates? Christians have all kinds of strange ideas, and almost all of those ideas come from bad teaching.

Ready for an answer?

“How righteous are you?”

“I am as righteous as Jesus!”

WHOA! How can you say that? Jesus was perfectly righteous. He never did anything wrong. He never sinned. He always did right. Everything Jesus did pleased the Father. How could anyone say that he or she is as righteous as Jesus?

Then out come the verses:

“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God…”
“There is none righteous, no not one…”
“All we like sheep have gone astray…”
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…”

And all of these verses are true, and I believe all of them. But that’s what we were, not what we are. Yes, we have all sinned and fallen short. No debate. It is true that no one, save Jesus, is without sin and righteous on his or her own. No argument on that. If we say that we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves. That’s true also. Those statements are about what used to be and what would still be true if we were apart from Christ.

But we are not apart from Christ. We have been washed and sanctified and justified (1 Cor 6:11). We have been cleansed of all sin (1 John 1:7). We have been forgiven (1 John 2:12). In Jesus, all these things are true of us.

In the Bible, the concept of righteousness is portrayed as an account sheet. Sins are listed as negative, I presume; while good works are listed as positives. We have a couple of problems. There are so many sins that our good works will never catch up. Then, even our good works are so often compromised by our sins. We do things we want to do and in the way we want and for the people we want. So few good works are truly pure, without the stain of sin in themselves. And more, even those few good things we do that are actually close to selfless are not truly our work, but the work of Jesus in us and through us. All of that means that our moral account is in pretty bad shape. Not even close to righteous.

The theological word connected to all of this is “imputed.” To impute something is to give it to another. In the Bible, this particularly refers to moral or spiritual accountability.  And righteousness is imputed, given to us from outside of us.  The only righteousness we have is imputed righteousness.

So the gospel teaches us that Jesus, who was perfectly righteous in Himself, washed away our unrighteousness by His sacrifice for us on the cross and granted to us His own righteousness. So Paul says:

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21

We become the “righteousness of God.” Even about himself, Paul says that his only goal in life is to be found in Christ:

…not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith Philippians 3:9

In other words, if you were to ask Paul how righteous he was, he would tell you about the righteousness of Christ in him. Why? Because there was no other righteousness in him.

So here you go. Apart from Christ, no one is righteous. But those who have come to Him for salvation by faith are not apart from Him. In Him, you have His righteousness. Because He is in you and you are in Him, His righteousness is your righteousness.

How righteous are you? If you belong to Jesus, you are as righteous as He is. That’s the message of grace!

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Is it Legalism?

 

Occasionally I get a challenge on my use of the word “legalism.”  Some say that I don’t use it right, that I am just using it to categorize people in a negative way.  They think it is unfair for me to use the word to describe those who hold to higher standards or certain kinds of behavior.

What these challengers don’t understand is that I have been where they are.  In fact, years ago, I wrote a little pamphlet entitled, “The L Word,” in which I debunked the challenges of those who pointed at my church and called us legalists.  I said that legalism was only properly used in reference to a system teaching that people can be saved by keeping the Law.  Since I always believed that salvation came through Jesus alone, by grace through faith, I could not have been called a legalist.

Have you ever been right and wrong at the same time and about the same thing?  Well, I have been.  The above assessment is technically correct.  Legalism teaches salvation by law.  What I didn’t understand then is that all forms of performance spirituality stem from and return to legalism.

Now, let me give you a little of the theology I believe.  There is one requirement for salvation and it isn’t something we do.  It is receiving, by faith, the gift God has given to us in Jesus.  That’s it.  Just saying yes.

And that’s where some people disagree.  Yes, it’s faith, they say, but it is also obedience.  It is also doing the things God says.  If you don’t do what God says, then you aren’t really saved, they say.  And I reply: that’s legalism.

If my behavior is a requirement for my salvation, then I am under the law and saved by works.  If it is 90% Jesus and only 10% me, then I cannot be saved because I can never measure up even to that.  It doesn’t matter what ratio you bring out, if it isn’t 100% the love of God through Jesus, given freely as a gift to those who will receive, then it’s legalism.

Still, most performance-based people would agree with this.  And that’s where I was.  But then I began to hear people say things like, “Well, real Christians don’t ___.”   Or even, “I have to wonder if so-and-so is still saved.”  And sometimes, “We have no fellowship with people who don’t ___.”  I began to understand that we still had some requirements in addition to Jesus.

If the teaching produces feelings that some are “real” Christians while others are not; or that a person could lose his salvation on the basis of some evil act or the lack of some good act—how is that not legalism?  It is still under the law and not dependent on the grace of God in Jesus.  It’s grace plus whatever rule or standard the teaching promotes.  If you have to speak in tongues or be baptized a certain way or wear certain clothes in order to be a real Christian, then Jesus doesn’t make real Christians.  He only makes potential Christians.  We have to do the rest.  And if you have to avoid smoking or divorce or television or alcohol in order to be a real Christian, then Jesus can’t keep what He has made.  It’s up to us to keep ourselves in the kingdom and keep ourselves saved.

And—listen—if it’s up to us to keep ourselves saved, then we are under law and not under grace.  And those who are under law are legalists.

So what does your church or organization teach?  What do the people around you say, particularly about others who are not like you?  Are some people “real” Christians while others who profess Christ in some other category?  Are some people you talk about in danger of losing their salvation or of never having been saved because of something they do or don’t do?

Legalism is the antithesis of grace.  It pushes the love of God into a side category considering it something like an influence, rather than the answer and hope of the believer.  The cross of Christ is not enough for the legalist, we must do our part.  And the legalist will tell us what our part ought to be.

The truth is that the cross is enough.  The work of our salvation was accomplished by the love of God in Jesus.  That’s the past work, the present work, and the future work.  All that is necessary, He has done.  Our part is to believe and receive.

And about now the objections are being shouted.  “But what about sin?”  “We have to do our part!”  “What about the commands?”  “What about those people?”  Go my blog page and type the word “sin” into the search box.  You can read my many answers to these objections.

My mom and I used to play cribbage and she often said, “No matter how many times you count it, that’s all you get.”  Count it any way you want.  The truth is still the same.  All the challenges and objections and qualifications boil down to a simple fact:

If Jesus is enough, that’s grace.

If Jesus is not enough, that’s legalism.

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I am Blameless

Words of Grace

 

Okay, it’s a new year.  Everything starts off with a clean slate, right?  The past is gone.  The holidays are over.  Now the work and the life begins again.

Wouldn’t it be something to truly start again?  No debts.  No regrets.  No broken and painful relationships.  Just a chance to start over.  Nothing hanging over us from the past.

Of course, there’s one problem.  If we didn’t remember our mistakes, we would simply make them again.  So we have to allow for growth and change.  Who would want to live the same year over and over, making the same foolish decisions and gathering the same regrets?  Not me!

Someone said, “Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions.”  It isn’t the wisdom we want to get rid of as we begin again, it’s the shame.  The condemnation that comes with our regrets seems to drag behind us like a weight.  We find it so hard to move into anything new because of the anchor we pull.

Yet, the Lord says we are blameless.  He has washed away the guilt and shame of our sins.  We do have that clean slate.  In fact, nothing will ever stick to that slate again.  It will always be clean, because His forgiveness is active in us.  He has set us free from the power and the guilt of sin and He has made us clean.

How much condemnation is there for a believer, even one who sins?  Well, the Scripture says “there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  None!  Our slate is clean.

Well, you say, I haven’t kept myself clean and blameless.  I have done wrong things.   Sure, but He has kept you clean and blameless.  He does that for you.  Do you deserve it?  Of course not, but He does it for Himself.  You belong to Him and He takes care of you.

Paul had some hard words for the church in Corinth.  They had compromised and made some foolish and fleshly decisions.  Yet, notice what he says about them.

 I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  1 Corinthians 1:4-9 (NKJV)

 

Why was this true of them, in spite of what they had done?  Because God was faithful.  Not because they were faithful.  God does His work.

So, yes, those who are in Christ are blameless.  That’s God’s assessment, whether you agree or not.  He has done this in you and for you.

Those regrets from the past don’t have to carry any weight in your new year.  Release the anchor that holds you back.  Release even the memories into the hands of the Lord.  He will carry what needs to be carried.  And you can start every day brand new, free and blameless.

 

Through the LORD’S mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!”
The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, To the soul who seeks Him. Lamentations 3:22-25 (NKJV)

I am blameless.

The Lord has forgiven me.

He has washed my regrets away and healed me.

He keeps me close to His heart.

I am blameless.

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Error in the Name of Grace

 

Grace 101

Because the church system neglected or forgot the message of grace and the sufficiency of Christ, those who teach grace are often thought to be bringing a new gospel.  The message meets a certain amount of opposition simply because the people haven’t heard it before.  But, for the same reason, it attracts predators who want to use the freshness and excitement that comes with it.

Jesus used the birds to illustrate this opportunism.  The birds swoop to the new seed and snatch it away from its intended purpose before it has a chance to take root.  They come to feed, to use the seed for themselves, with no regard for the needs of the gardener.

Often, when the grace message is proclaimed, there are those who welcome it with open arms because they see ways to use it for their own agenda.  In the last post I wrote about the anti-law people who see in the message of grace support for their desire to serve certain passions of their flesh.  Today I want to focus on those who use this message to promote their unorthodox teachings.

The grace message teaches that God takes the initiative and does the work of salvation.  This has been used by some in recent days to support their ideas of universal salvation.  They say that, since we can do nothing toward our salvation, then God has done the work for all people in Jesus.  All are saved; all are forgiven; all are reconciled to God, they say, because that was what Jesus did on the cross for all people.  They do not believe that any personal reception or expression of faith can be necessary because Jesus died for all.  They believe hell was an invention of those who wanted to keep people in line under the law.

The error of this is obvious for many people, but the argument is now couched in the language of grace.  Since God loves all people and the sacrifice of Jesus is sufficient for any and all, then salvation has been given as a gift to all, whether they know it or accept it or not, they say.  Many of these people held this view before they learned of the grace message, but now they have changed their vocabulary.

Another very current area in which we find the grace message used is in the advocacy of certain movements which have been challenged by the church.  Homosexual marriage, for example, is said to be acceptable because “we are not under law but under grace.”  Drug use, pornography, and other practices deemed immoral by conservative churches are to be accepted because to reject them would be to operate under law.  Believers find this very confusing and some reject the grace message because it is misused.

We must understand that this is to be expected.  The definition of grace is a Person, not a code or a list.  We do not have standards to which we must measure.  We don’t have a law at all except to love one another and God above all.  We cannot point to commandments that must be obeyed in order for us to experience grace.  Frankly, the door that was opened to allow us into Christ without requiring a change of behavior is the same door that is used to suggest that such behavior is now acceptable.

But accepting a person is different from accepting that person’s behavior.  And living under grace is not the same as license to do whatever we wish in the flesh.  Nor does the truth of the sufficiency of Christ negate the personal responsibility of each individual to accept what Jesus has done.

Just because the truth is misused does not make it less true.

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But what about…

Grace 101

There are times when the preacher goes from preaching to meddling.  Some people might think of this post as meddling.  You might be right.

Jesus told us to treat others in the way we would want to be treated.  I think there’s a reason He said that.  It’s because you will never receive what you are unwilling to give to others.

You see, the hardest part of the path is not what we find in the church or even in our judgment of ourselves.  The part of the path that is least likely to receive the message of grace is our judgment of others.  We see the sins of others more clearly than we see our own.  We sometimes have less patience and forgiveness for others than we would like to experience ourselves.

Often, when I talk with people about grace, the fact that God has dealt with our sins and no longer holds them against us and has done everything necessary for us to be saved, I get a response like this: “That’s nice but what about…?”  The example given is usually some behavior observed in others that is offensive to the person.  Usually it’s something the person doesn’t see in himself.

Can you live with your girlfriend and still be saved?  Can you drink to excess and still be a Christian?  Can you be a part of XYZ church and still go to Heaven?  Can you smoke, cuss, look at porn, cheat on taxes, steal cable TV, lie, drive badly, or have doubts about some facts in the Bible?  If these behaviors won’t keep a person out of Heaven, what will?

It is very difficult for us, even with an understanding of grace, to let go of the judgments we learned.  We have invested in a game that measures success on the basis of doing better than others.  Notice that it is not doing well, not really.  No, we have trouble believing that we can do well, but we sure can do better than some of the people we know.

Listen, I do this.  I suspect we all do.  I know grace teachers who proclaim boldly the love of God and sufficiency of the person and work of Jesus but criticize and complain about other people’s behavior.  I know that there are certain things that trigger my irritation and are hard to ignore when it comes to letting Jesus deal with His people.  After all, they are only accountable to Him, not to me.

Why do we judge?  Some of it comes from the values drilled into us by parents, church, or life.  We see certain behaviors as wrong, simply because we were taught they were wrong.  Some people, according to our prejudices, are unacceptable because of those behaviors.

And some of this comes from the energy and frustration we spend trying to avoid the passions and temptations that come along in our lives.  We work to stay away from sin, and then we become frustrated when we see others who don’t seem to try to avoid it at all.  We are especially tested when we are supposed to understand that Jesus accepts them just as He does us.

But listen: how will we ever really accept the truth about the way the Lord accepts us if we can’t believe that He accepts others the same way?  If He rejects one because of a certain behavior, then why would He not reject us when we do the same thing—or anything else that is sin in His eyes?  We will not receive the joy and peace of knowing the love of God if we don’t see that He accepts all people just as He accepts us.

Yup, that’s meddling.  Lord help me to remember this throughout the day!

(Since I wrote this post, I have received a comment on the previous post that has prompted me to add this paragraph.  When others hurt us, they are accountable to God for their sin.  If they truly belong to Him and He chooses to forgive them, that’s His business because He is their Master and they answer to Him.  But that doesn’t make their actions less evil or sinful.  God is not the Author of evil nor does He condone evil done by the hands of His people.  We can acknowledge this without being legalistic or unforgiving.  It is certainly true that Christians can hurt each other and participate in the work of the evil one as we operate in the flesh.  There are many admonitions against believers hurting each other in Scripture.  If we fail to understand that Christians can do things which are evil, we will misplace the blame for that evil.  Instead, we must allow the Lord to love and forgive as He wills and trust His servants to His hands.  He may discipline or change them, but He will not stop loving those who are His.  And remember, not all who claim His name are His.)

 

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Too Good to be True

Grace 101

Let’s face it.  If we are pointing out enemies of grace, particularly those areas where the path is hard from years of tradition and wrong thinking, we don’t have to go any farther than our own minds.  I define the flesh as the system we developed to handle life.  Perhaps we could broaden that to simply the things we learned and accepted about life from the world, our family, and the devil.  I have written several entries about the flesh, but it is worth pointing it out again here.

Most of us learned that life worked a certain way.  We were told that hard work and integrity paid off in the long run.  We were shown how to manipulate the system to avoid some of both.  And we learned that life had a certain “cause and effect” law that had to be acknowledged.  If you played the game, you had a chance at winning, or maybe just at staying alive.

We learned that behavior and performance were keys to success.  If you didn’t rock the boat and performed well, you would be accepted.  If you met the expectations of your parents, teachers, boss, etc, you would succeed, or at least be left alone.  Everything was about doing.

And, since that was what we already believed about life and ourselves, we opened ourselves to a religion that taught the same thing.  If we were good enough, maybe God would accept us.  We would have to play the game and see.

Then along comes this message from God.  He says that He loves you just as you are and that you could never change enough to please Him because 1) you are too messed up even to know how to change and 2) He will make whatever changes He wants to see in you.  His love isn’t about your performance or behavior.  It’s about His love.

He says He will do whatever it takes to get you to Heaven forever; in fact, He has already done it in Jesus.  He says that all your sins are already washed away and you can’t keep them even if you want to.  He says you are good enough right now to be accepted by Him because He loves you already.  No amount of service or sacrifice, obedience or devotion, will make you more acceptable or more loved.

But that message doesn’t fit with what we thought we already knew.  The ground around our thinking is already hardened by a system of performance and behavior.  We like the message of grace, but it is just too good to be true.  So, in our hearts and minds, we resist.  We want to believe, but we also want the message of grace to fit with our fleshly ideas.

Remember that sin you would like to forget?  Of course you do.  When God tells you that He loves you, does that old sin come to your mind?  Do you miss the joy of His love because you want so badly for that sin to be gone?  God says He doesn’t even remember it.

Maybe that old sin is something you still do.  Does that make it even harder to believe that God doesn’t see it?  Is it hard to believe that there is no sin on your account before God, no matter what you did this morning?  This is the truth about grace that doesn’t fit with the flesh.

“There is a price to pay for doing wrong and there is a reward for doing right.”  That has been hammered into us for so long that we believe it without thinking.  When God says that Jesus paid the price for your wrong and that no amount of right will earn you the love He has for you, it’s hard to accept.

Accept it anyway.  It’s the truth.  That’s grace.

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Judgment!

How will you be judged?  In the end, when you stand before the Almighty God, how will you be judged?  I don’t mean what will the judgment be, but on what basis will you be judged?

Many teachers have said that believers will be judged on their works.  They use Revelation 20:12 as their support:

12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.

But the Scripture that says this also says that those who are with the Lord are alive.  Believers are not the “dead” in this passage.  Believers are always alive in Christ.  Even in this chapter of Revelation (vs 4) believers are said to be alive.  The dead are those who have not come to Jesus.

You see, in the offer of salvation, God does not give better works for judgment.  If you listen to some people, you might get the idea that believers will somehow be able to tip the scales of judgment in their favor because they have done more good works than bad.  But Jesus doesn’t offer better works, He offers life.  And the life He offers is His life.  So believers are not just people with better works.

Some teachers suggest that there will be a time of review for each of us, a time when our lives are laid out for everyone to see and when our sins will be exposed to everyone.  Imagine having every sin, every act and every word and every thought, exposed for all to see!  And these teachers tell us that will be the beginning of Heaven.  We will die and, when the judgment comes, we will suffer through some of the most excruciating humiliation imaginable.  Doesn’t sound like Heaven to me!

No, the only ones who will be judged “according to their works” will be unbelievers.  And even that is because of their own choice.  They reject the new life and identity and forgiveness that Christ offers.

Believers will be judged—are you ready for this?—according to who they are.  Those who are in Christ will be judged as those who are in Christ—pure and spotless and as righteous as He is.  When we stand before the Almighty God, we stand as His children made acceptable in Jesus.

Now, I know someone will say that this opens the door for believers to “go out and sin all they want and still think they are saved.”  Yup.  But I didn’t open that door.  The Lord who loves you and me left that door open.  But do you want to do that?  Really?  No, there is a new life in you and sin is inconsistent with that life.  It isn’t doctrine that keeps us from sin, it is the life of Jesus in us.  And, as I have said so many times before, there are many reasons for believers not to sin—fear of eternal judgment isn’t one of them.

Jesus sees you as who you are in Him.  You belong to Him.  In Him “you were washed . . . you were sanctified . . . you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).  The things you do no longer define who you are in His eyes.

And in the Day of Judgment, His are the only eyes that matter.

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