In the first article of this four-part series on our identity in Christ, I spoke of some foundations in regards to truth setting us free and our union with Christ. If needed, click on the link to recap with this introductory blog.
So, now let’s get into the first characteristic about our new life in Christ. This first aspect to explore is that we have a new standing in Christ, or we could say a new status or position in Christ. Before we came into Christ, our status was condemned, for Paul makes this clear:
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men. (Romans 5:18)
Yes, this is bad news, no doubt. But, most times the good news is even sweeter when we first realize the bad news about our life. Even if one finds it hard to accept what Augustine called ‘original sin’, that is sin which was passed on to the whole human race through Adam’s transgression, it matters not much, for when we take one look at our own lives we realize how much we have offended a pure and holy God. Our own personal sin helps us realize we are not even close in measuring up to the righteous standards of a holy God.
But now we get into the good news, the gospel. For those of us who are in Christ, our standing has completely changed. Where we once stood condemned, we now stand justified. Ok, what does that word mean? Well, one theologian stated in this way:
‘Justification may be defined as that gracious and judicial act of God whereby he declares believing sinners righteous on the basis of the righteousness of Christ which is credited to them, forgives all their sins, adopts them as his children, and gives them the right to eternal life.’ (Anthony Hoekema, Saved By Grace)
But, let’s be honest, though it is a good definition (and I would add, by a good theologian), it is rather dry. As a friend on mine said, ‘Theology is meant to breathe life, for it has the word Theos [the Greek word for God] in it.’ Thus, maybe we can take a more life-giving route in understanding the word justified.
Simply stated, to be justified means that we have been declared not guilty and righteous. Most people stop at one side of the coin – declared not guilty. But we must look at the other side of the coin that says we have not only had our sins forgiven and, thus, declared not guilty, but we have also had the righteousness of Christ declared in our lives!
Even more, Scripture makes it clear that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
Justification is not something we are working towards, as the Roman Catholic Church has taught. But this is rather a definitive declaration in the lives of the children of God – we are right now declared not guilty and righteous!
As mentioned earlier, most focus on the one aspect of being declared not guilty and forgiven of sin. But we must come to terms that we are also declared righteous. Paul stated it this way:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
The good news, that is the gospel, teaches that we are not only forgiven but we have also become the righteousness of God. Christ took our sin and gave us His righteousness. Therefore, the sons and daughters of God stand completely righteousness at this very moment! God’s people cannot become any more righteous than they are right now through their standing in Christ! That is the full gospel!
Of course, some see this as a possible ‘license to sin’. Yet, for those who walk as if they now have a license to sin, I can only presume that they do not actually understand the power of the gospel and the radical transformation that has taken place in their life. Sure, we will not live a perfect life, but we have been changed within by the Spirit of God and, thus, we have not been given freedom to sin as we please.
In regards to the forgiveness of our sin, I have always loved what Jeremiah stated:
For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:34)
Did you catch that? Jeremiah prophesied something unique that would come in the new covenant: I will remember their sin no more. It’s not that God has a memory problem. It’s that He chooses not to remember. He has completely discarded our sin out of His mind. There is no recollection at all. This is echoed in 1 John 1:9:
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (NASB)
If you have been a Christian for even a little while you will have probably learned that passage in 1 John. Not only is God faithful to forgive our sins, but He is also righteous (or just) to do so. This might be a hard pill to swallow for some, but did you know that, if God did not forgive the sin of His children, He would become unrighteous. ‘Whoa, wait a second now,’ you might say! But, let’s think this through.
Remember, 1 John 1:9 teaches that God is both faithful and righteous to forgive our sins. So think of it this way – For those of us who have put our faith in Christ, we are assured that it was Christ Himself that bore our sin (1 Peter 2:24; etc). If Christ bore our sin and God, then, decided to hold it against us, this would be known as double payment. But God cannot hold our sin against both Christ and us, can He? In reality, either we pay the penalty for our sin or Christ, but not both. And for those who have put their faith in Christ, we rest in the fact that it was Him that paid for our sin. Hence, it would be absolutely unrighteous for God to hold our sin against us. He will remain both faithful and righteous to His promise.
I end with an illustration: If I had a $20 bill that I wanted to give to you, I am sure you would simply be willing take it. And you could go anywhere and use that $20 bill to buy twenty dollars worth of goods. But if that $20 bill were crumpled up in my hand, would you still want it? Of course. You could still use the money to its full. And even if I stomped on that crumpled $20 bill, you would still take it, for it would still be worth its $20 value. The same is true in our own lives. We each have been through and will go through a lot, even sin. But the reality is that no matter what we have gone through (or what we have been ‘trampled’ under), we are still valuable in the eyes of God. This is not because of our own value that we have earned, but this value is based upon the blood of Christ. And that value will never change, for the authority and power of Christ’s blood is unchanging. Again, it is not a license to sin, but is an assurance of who we are in our identity in Christ.
To sum up: Though we stood condemned before God before we came to Christ, we now, because of being joined to Christ, have been justified. We not only have a standing of not guilty, but we also have been declared absolutely righteous in Christ! And in all actual fact, we cannot become more righteous than we are right now in Christ! That is good news, that is gospel.
The next article will be posted soon looking at our identity in Christ and the new heart God has given us.