The Gospel is that God treats us not as our sin deserves but that He treats
Jesus as our sin deserves and that He treats us as Jesus’ righteousness
deserves. If we could really grasp this it would most certainly revolu-
tionize our lives. One key to Christian maturity is to consistently adopt this paradigm. At the same time, this is profoundly challenging. Some Christians actually claim that this solution to our problem of identity is so wonderful that it resolves all questions of self-acceptance on the spot. However it is not an automatic solution. Our common struggle due to residual indwelling sin in head and heart makes retention of the awareness of our acceptance and worth elusive.
In view of this struggle we need to learn how to re-evangelize ourselves or to preach the Gospel to ourselves. Because the Gospel is so alien and counterintuitive to our human nature it can easily and quickly lose its influence upon how we see ourselves in relation to God and others. Therefore we must proactively soak ourselves in the Gospel. We must lay hold of the promises of God and as Luther would say, “beat it (the Gospel) into our heads”. Since even our regenerate hearts still have a propensity toward self deception the issue of acceptance and worth vacillates. God consistently says that in Christ we are loved, adored, delighted in and fully and finally accepted and are forever under His favor. Yet at the same time our failures and sins, coldness and hardness leave us with strong feelings of condemnation and alienation. Whose verdict do I accept—my own (1 Corinthians 4:3-4) or the Father’s (Romans 8:1)? Is it God’s verdict, my own or others that I accept at the end of the day?
If we accept God’s verdict it means that our attitude toward ourselves should be the same as God’s attitude toward us. If God says He loves (Romans 5:8ff) and has forgiven (Ephesians 1:7) and accepted us (Ephesians 1:6) who are we to deny it? Ground zero for the Christian is starting the day with confidence that God accepts us. It frees us to serve Him without fear. Duty becomes delight. We put on a “grace face”. As a compass points north we also get our Gospel bearings. We have nothing to prove. We can rest in God’s approval.
On the other hand, any attempt to find any compelling reason why God must forgive, love and accept me is an evasion and an undermining of the fundamental truth of the Gospel, that our acceptability to God is determined by what Jesus alone has done, not what we have done for ourselves. We must come to the place where we submit to His righteousness and let go of our own (far more difficult than it appears) and accept our acceptance in Him. We need to do nothing to add to it, complete it or actualize, just passively receive it as a pure gift with naked faith.
The core of the challenge is whether we will live by faith (Christ reliance) or do what comes naturally, i.e. live by unbelief (self reliance). Our hearts are deceitful and have a hard time accepting the unfavorable evaluation of Scripture regarding our fallen nature. We don’t like to be called sinners and our pride reacts with hostility at the truth of our absolute need to be at the mercy of anyone. Unbelief says, “It’s not that bad, I can handle it, others may struggle but I’m not a loser, a failure, a weak person needing a crutch.” Our desire to save ourselves either by
obeying the standards or rejecting and rebelling against the standards and establishing our own is always present. Self justification is always rearing its ugly head undermining our joy!
The danger of regression is a problem Paul addressed in Galatia. In Galatians 3:1-5 Paul corrects their perspective on living the Christian life by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul tells them he came to Galatia and preached Christ and Him crucified graphically and clearly. Having begun in the Spirit are they now being matured through returning to the flesh, i.e. reliance upon the Law? Again pride rears its ugly head and rejects the liberating grace of the Gospel. It is just too humiliating to receive free, unearned favor. Our mind drifts back to the notion that our acceptability to God is contingent upon our sincerity, efforts and our latest “successful” performance. We have an obsessive drive to discover some inner reason that God loves me so that I can bolster my confidence. We find it far easier to believe that God loves us because we somehow deserve it, Deuteronomy 7:6-8 to the contrary. God loves us for one and one reason only, He loves us. To look for tangible and certain reasons that God should love us is to fall into a subtle trap. Our foundation for acceptance never has been and never will be something in us, that is quicksand, but rather upon the solid rock of the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
There are at least three ways Christians look to self as the basis of confidence and status before the face of God. The first way is to look within our spiritual experiences of God to see how we measure up. How does my level of experience compare with others? Are my prayers being answered? Do I have spiritual power? What is my spiritual pulse rate? How strong am I in the face of temptation? Does supernatural experience mean that God approves of me? Looking within for a basis of confidence is deadly. It will result in pride (if I believe I am better and doing well) or despair (if I am failing and inferior). Neither pride nor despair is the fruit of the Spirit. A second way is to trust in our victory over some besetting sin that belittles us. Somehow God must approve of us because we have moved out of Romans 7 and are now living in Romans 8. God was disgusted with us when we struggled but He is pleased now that we have “the victory”. As I read the Bible, struggle with indwelling residual sin is normative for the Christian life not abnormal. The struggle drives us outside of ourselves to find rest and joy in what Jesus has done for us. We do make progress, but progress is measured not by needing Jesus less but by needing Jesus more. The third way we look to self is our fulfillment or success in life. Are we experiencing the abundant life Jesus promised in John 10:12? Is our life meaningful? Is our marriage working? Are our kids turning out positively? As we look for evidence of acceptance in our level of life fulfillment we are doing what C.S. Lewis referred to as a gardener pulling up plants every day checking the roots to determine the health of the plants. Our obsession with how well we are doing is sick introversion and introspection. It is rearview mirrorism—looking back to see my progress rather than looking outside myself and resting in Him. This is what Paul meant when he said, “For me to life is Christ”.
As we learn to take God at His word against our natural inclinations moment by moment for our Christian identity and self acceptance, the true foundation of holiness will grow. Learn to preach the Gospel to yourself. Try it, nothing else has worked to this point. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. By believing the Gospel we will be changed.