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a righteousness achieved versus a righteousness received

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Growing up, my family attended a church in our community on a periodic basis.  My memories of the church were of fun games and pleasant friends.  However, the Bible was an enigma and Jesus Christ a faint distant figure.

I thought about God the way I thought about school.  Do your best and you'll be accepted.  Give God your righteousness, and He'll give you His love.  After any given Sunday worship service, I would commit myself (again) to being righteous.  I would pay close attention to my words and actions and try to behave in a more disciplined manner.

Yet, the reality was that - try as a might - I wasn't very righteous.  I would squabble with my siblings over trivial things.  I would break my parents' rules in sneaky ways.  This elicited a sense of foreboding: if God accepted me on the basis of my righteousness, then I wouldn't make the grade.

As a teen, I attended a summer camp which held weekly chapel services.  Most of the messages were about moral self-improvement.  However, one chapel speaker lucidly explained the Gospel.  The Gospel, as he explained, is that we're not able to fix ourselves or be righteous in our own strength.  But God, in love for us, sent His Son Jesus Christ to live the life we should have lived, and die the death that we deserved.  Righteousness isn't something we give to God; it is something He gives to us.  Eternal life isn't something we achieve; it is something we receive as a free gift through faith in Christ.  

This changed everything.  Whereas before I obeyed God out of fear, I now had nothing to fear.  Jesus had borne the wrath my sin deserved on the cross.  I now found in myself a genuine love and gratitude toward God which became my new motivation for obedience.  In a remarkable way, I began to actually change.

One example of how I began to change from the inside out is this.  I had a large case of 1990s alternative music.  Though no one every said this directly, I was internally convicted that the music fostered dark thoughts and self-pity.  I never spoke to an adult about this, but one particular Wednesday morning, I threw all the CDs into the trash receptacle behind our house.  This action did stem from a fear of God's displeasure, but a sincere desire to honor Him in response to His love toward me shown in Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, for me the public high school was about one thing: being cool.  I was very controlled by the approval or disapproval of my peers.  In my high school there was a group of Christians that prayed in front of the library every morning.  For over two years, I observed the group from a distance.  However, I was internally convicted that through I privately believed in Jesus, I needed to make it public.  It was in my third year that I finally joined with the group in prayer.  I remember one of my friends walking by and jeering, "Roberts, who are you talking to?"  Yet, I was no longer controlled by his disapproval.  I was free.  

I've come to see that the way I first related to God - giving to God my righteousness - is the default setting for the human heart.  This posture puts us in control; it makes God our debtor.  Yet, it also elicits deep anxiety because we know that we're not the people that we should be, no matter how hard we try.

On the contrary, the Gospel is at first troubling because it makes us dependent - we have to rely on God showing us undeserved mercy.  Yet, it produces deep joy and peace because we know that we're loved and accepted though Jesus Christ.

How do you relate to God?  Is it on the basis of giving to God your righteousness, or is it on the basis of God giving you His righteousness?  Is eternal life something you achieve, or is it something you receive as a free gift?  

Posted by Matthew Roberts with

The Gospel Never Ceases to Amaze

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Some things, no matter how many times you experience them, no matter how many times you hear or read them, never grow boring, stale, or tiresome.  

For some people it's a place such as the beach or the home where they grew up.  For others it's a piece of music or a work of art.  

In J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy masterpiece, The Return of the King, the hobbit Pippen has this experience over the sound of distant horns.

In one of the most desperate scenes of the book, the armies of Mordor breach the gate of Minas Tirith.  The Lord of the Nazgûl rides in triumph and terror into the city.  Yet at that precise moment, the horns of the Rohirrim, who had come unforeseen to the battlefield, erupt in the distance.  Gondor will be rescued!  The Lord of the Nazgûl is forced to depart and . . . .  

"When the dark shadow at the Gate withdrew Gandalf still sat motionless. But Pippin rose to his feet, as if a great weight had been lifted from him; and he stood listening to the horns, and it seemed to him that they would break his heart with joy. And never in after years could he hear a horn blown in the distance without tears starting in his eyes.  (J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, Book 5, Ch. 6, The Pyre of Denethor)

The braying of distant horns never grew tiresome to Pippen.  It always evoked this poignant moment of joy.

The Gospel produces that same fruit in our hearts.  Romans 1:18 - 3:20 descends in a dreadful description of God's just wrath towards proud, rebellious, and idolatrous humanity. Then there's the wondrous turn in 3:21 which leads to these verses. . . . 

Romans 3:23-25 "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith."

There it is!  God counts to us the perfect righteousness of Christ as a free gift!  We are freely given the gift of forgiveness, passive righteousness, and eternal life though we've doe nothing to deserve it!

This is the theological core of Christianity and how contrary it is to the social fabric of western culture.  The doors of this world open and close based on your cleverness, connections, wealth, or morality.

Yet, this free gift of imputed righteousness isn’t discovered by the clever; it’s discovered by those who know their folly and see the wisdom of God in Christ.   

This free gift of eternal life isn’t accessed by the well-connected; it’s accessed by those who connect themselves to a first-century commoner, Jesus of Nazareth.

This free gift of eternal life with God can’t be bought to the wealthy; it’s freely given to those who know their need and come to God with empty hands.

This fee gift of righteousness isn’t earned by those who conquer their sin; it’s given to those who realize that they need someone else to conquer it.

The Gospel is unparalleled!  It never ceases to amaze.  

Posted by Matthew Roberts with

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