Monday, 10 August 2015

Forgiveness and the righteousness of Christ

Last week, we went to visit some friends.  We had a lovely time, chatting, eating food, drinking prosecco.  We talked about all kinds of things, we laughed, we put the world, the church and various celebrities right.  At one point we talked about forgiveness.  One of our friends asked, in the midst of our discussion a couple of questions to see how we approached them.

"What does 'I am the righteousness of God in Christ' really mean? Not 'I am righteous in Christ' but 'I am THE righteousness of God...'"

I can't remember what I said in response to this.  Probably something deeply pious like, "Because scripture tells us so!"

Then he asked,

"Do you believe that Jesus' work on the cross means that all our sins, past, present and future are already forgiven...once for all?"

To which I replied, "Yes, of course!"

"Why then," he continued, "Do we need to ask for forgiveness every time we sin, if it's already forgiven?"

Difficult question.  It's like when someone says, "So, how can there be one God but three persons?" You respond, except really your mouth is moving saying things, but your brain has gone off for a little siesta because it just can't cope with the pressure.  We talked about grace and I rambled on about marbles in a jar and other deeply meaningful concepts, I can't really remember what else, but I went away determined to come to a SOLID.THEOLOGICAL.CONCLUSION.  [Yes, I do think in capital letters when I am DETERMINED] This was serious business.

So I sat down at home, I read Romans.  Oh Romans, totally messes with my brain.  I read it, and know it's true, I can spout off those truths, but inside me it's a jumble of words that just WILL NOT find their correct places.  I have Romanslexia.

I then read what the Got Questions website's entry on forgiveness said, which talked about sin, Adam, Jesus and relationship.  I wrote it all down.  Then, for fairness, having got the Reformed perspective, I got the Catholic perspective.  Various sites seemed to be keen to emphasise confessing to a priest, and I went down a bit of a rabbit hole there as various sites were keen to put forward the historical Christian case for confessing to a priest.  So, four hours later I'm reading Irenaeus' second century letter, Against Heresies, and wondering what "craftily-constructed plausibilities" are, and planning to use that in a sentence to make myself look clever.

I then have a sudden internal meltdown where I want to throw my Bible out of the window because I JUST.DON'T.GET.IT!  I set off to learn about forgiveness and I end up wondering if really I should be Catholic and how do I avoid crafty plausibilities, how can I ever be a Bible teacher if I can't even answer a simple question...and have I ever repented enough before communion????

Bah! Rabbit holes.

So I then decide that in order to cope with life again I need a spiritual lobotomy, I will believe that I am saved because of Jesus and daily ask for forgiveness for my mistakes....and leave it at that!  It's all I can cope with.

However, God had other plans.  Yesterday, at church, I was in the middle of really enjoying the time of worship when suddenly a picture came into my mind.   On the left was a circle, like a bubble.  The bubble was dark and right in the middle of the bubble was SIN - the sin was me - and outside the bubble was GOD.  There was a real feeling of loneliness and separation.  I could feel it.

Then on the right was another 'bubble'.  Right in the centre of the bubble was God, but it was God the FATHER, and there were people there, and I was part of it.  I could sense FAMILY, and acceptance.  And these people, every time they sinned, they went straight to Father without fear or despair and asked His forgiveness. Every time Father said, "I'll never forsake you, you are my child and I love you."

I bet you're wondering when my next exhibition at the Tate is aren't you?

You know when you know something in your head, but it suddenly drops into your heart?  I call it the spiritual penny dropping.

If you remember, the first thing we discussed with our friends was, what does "I am the righteousness of God in Christ" really mean.  This is from 2 Corinthians 5:20-21:   '...we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.'

So, before Jesus (in the first bubble) we WERE sin, not just that we did sinful things, but we were actually sin - totally corrupted.  Call it 'being in Adam', call it 'total depravity', call it 'original sin' it what you like depending on your denominational bent, we WERE SIN.  Sin was the centre of our world because we were sin.  Outside of this bubble is God, we were separated from God, because sin and righteousness are polar opposites and can never join.

In this bubble, because of the righteous law of God, we were judged guilty, because we were guilty, every inch of us - guilty to the core.  The only way to protect ourselves from judgement would be to work to please God and to make offering to Him to cover our sinfulness, this would be needed to be done every day, because we could not escape sin.

We could, by great effort, do good things.  Every person on this planet can do good things.  But doing good things doesn't make us good right down to our souls.  We cannot work our way to righteousness.

But, God, though He was separated from us, and despite the fact that He hated what we had become as a human race in Adam, still longed to be reconciled to us.  Though God is utterly RIGHTEOUS He is also utterly LOVE - and love always reaches out a hand of mercy.  So He sent His Son.

Jesus (Who knew no sin and being God was utterly righteous) BECAME SIN.  He didn't just take on our sins, that wouldn't be enough because we were sin.  So Jesus became sin - so that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ.  That old person died - the one who was steeped in sin - and a new person is born - one who is made righteous in Christ.

Now we are righteous, but we can still do bad things. Remember, before Christ changed us we were sin but we could do good things (and bad). Now we are righteous, but we can still do sinful things.  However, now, because we are made righteous in Christ we cannot be sin any more.  We are new creations!  Born of incorruptible seed (1 Peter 1:23).

So, because of Jesus we are in the second 'bubble', God is now in the centre.  He is our Father, and the best, most patient, most loving, most accepting father ever.  Now, when we sin, when we do bad, we go to Abba Father, Daddy Father, and we say, "Forgive us".  We don't go in fear of rejection, because He will NEVER forsake us, we go like little children saying, "I made a mistake, Daddy fix it please". "I made a mistake Father, get me back on the right road again".

But why do we still have to ask for forgiveness if we are forgiven once for all?  This is where I get vague.  I can say that scripture tells me to confess my sins and God will cleanse and forgive me (1 John 1:9); I can say that I need to have Godly sorrow (2 Cor 7:10); I can also say that sin grieves and quenches God's Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30; 1 Thess 5:19).  But true as all these things are, my heart reaction is that when I have wronged someone I am in relationship with, someone that I love, I ask their forgiveness simply because I am sorry.  This is the sense that I got from the picture, and God's response to His children is one of absolute loving acceptance - like the father in the prodigal son story.

It's all grace:  the Greek word is 'charis' and it means 'favour, inclining towards in order to bless and be near'.  God is inclining towards us all the time, even if we incline away for a short while.  When we ask for forgiveness we are inclining towards God again.

I know, on this earth, I will never fully live like Jesus.  But in God's eyes, He looks at me and sees the righteousness of Jesus, a righteousness freely offered to everyone simply because we believe!  But He wants me to walk in it too - you are righteous, so act like it (LOL) and it's a fantastic journey learning to take one step in front of another.

In safety.  In family.  Under grace.

Whether this will make sense when written down, I don't know, but I feel an understanding I never had before, an understanding that needs to be deepened.  Maybe I'm cured of Romanslexia now?  I'll read it again and let you know.


  1. Romanslexia...that's funny. I find Paul in general to be difficult to understand and sometimes I find him rather black and white...basically, it feels like Paul has no grace at times. He does, but's hard to see. At least to me. To me he very much feels like a "follow the rules" kind of guy.

    Lots of information here. Too much to sift through in one reading. I'm sure I'll be thinking about it on and off. Not sure if I'll have any comments though.

    Thanks for sharing. :)

    1. Romans is so clear in some bits but chapters 5-8 get me really confused. I understand each chapter in isolation but together really confuses me!