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Declared Righteousness: A Trip to 2004 with James Linton

Join me on a trip back in time. I am standing on stage. I am preaching a sermon from Ephesians 2.

“Take a look at this picture of me. It isn’t a bad picture. I don’t look like such a bad guy. I look like many of you…”

I am pointing out that I am a regular guy. You won’t look at that picture and think that I’m psycho. However, I make it clear that looks are deceiving.

“I may look like a good guy,” I go on, “but I am not. You see, I can test it with the Ten Commandments…”

I’d learned what I am saying now from Ray Comfort. The Ten Commandments are a good starting place to see our weakness in light of God.

“Thou shall not lie,” I say, “I have broken that one. That makes me a liar,” as I spray my face with black spray paint. “Thou shall not commit adultery,” I continue, pointing out that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully commits adultery in his heart.

More black spray paint.

This goes on for about ten minutes as I summarize what it means that we are “dead in our transgressions and sins.”  My picture is covered in black spray paint. I drive my point home, “I am a lying, thieving, adulterous murderer. I cannot stand before God. I am a dead man walking.”

I’m pointing out the need here. You see, I know that people have to be confronted with their need for a savior before they can turn to Him. They need to see that they are nothing without him. I’m not going to leave it here, though. After all, the gospel is supposed to be good news.

“By grace you have been saved, through faith. This is not of yourself,” I read. I am nearing the climax of my sermon. I am getting ready to turn to one of my favorite texts from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Church, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might be come the righteousness of God.”

About the time I read that text, I tear the picture of myself down. Underneath it, there is a picture of Jesus.

I interpret the text.

“Although I am evil and a lying, thieving, adulterous murderer, God doesn’t see me this way any longer. God chooses to look at me and see Jesus’ righteousness instead. So even though I am filthy, God sees me as clean. Even though I am unworthy, God sees me as worthy. This is the good news. Although we were dead in our sins, God chooses to see us as righteous because of the work of Jesus.”

The great Reformer, Martin Luther, had a name for the idea I preached in my sermon. He called it, “imputation.” Luther believed that when we become Christians, God chooses to apply Christ’s righteousness to us. We are then, “simultaneously saint and sinner.” What that means is that although we are evil, we are forgiven and God sees us as saints. We can be a sinner and a saint at the same time, because God chooses to look at sinners as saints.

All this is true. When we become Christians, God sees us as righteous even in spite of our great sin.

I am thankful for Luther and his emphasis on a declaration from God. It is what gives me peace that when I act like an idiot, God still sees me as righteous on the basis of the work of Christ.

The problem is that it is incomplete.

In the next post, I’ll share with you why I think justification means a lot more than “God declaring me righteous.” Then, in a future post (or two), I’ll level with you about why I think this matters. For me, this is not a case of theological hair-splitting. It has everything to do with the self-identity of those who find themselves in Christ.

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One Response

  1. I’m very much looking forward to the subsequent posts.

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