Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Our Hope Is Not In Who We Are, But In Who God Is

Here is the antidote to the problem of legalism I described in the last post: Our identity does not come from our being good people. It comes from God being so gracious and full of love that He accepts us and forgives us, cleaning us off and making us able to stand before Him. And He did that by allowing Jesus to suffer in our place and take every ounce of our punishment - past, present, and future - for every wrong, hurtful, selfish, prideful, insensitive, or otherwise sinful thing we ever did or ever will do. It's done. And part of the implicit promise in Christ's death and resurrection is that God will make us like Christ one day - without sin. It doesn't depend on us; it depends only on Him and His faithfulness to keep the promises He has made to us. It's part of the package when you believe in Christ through faith.

This is where Scripture tells us to focus our hope for purity and obedience:

"Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it." 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." Philippians 1:6

"Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen." Jude 24-25

"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." Philippians 2:12-13

"But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me." 1 Corinthians 15:10

"...that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" 1 Corinthians 4:6-7

One of the key reasons that people act like legalists is that they are holding on tightly to a self-image that is based in thinking that, deep down, they really are good people. And in order to believe that you really are good, you have to believe you're capable of doing good things naturally and all on your own initiative. People cling to that because they fear the idea that they aren't really good inside. They think they can never have any hope or joy if that is true. But denying that you have a dishonest heart that desires sin and stubbornly trying to fight temptation on your own is only going to lead to the despair and hopelessness I described in the last post. You will end up with a bad self-image anyway, because you will feel that you must be a very lousy and wretched sort of person if you can't succeed in keeping God's commands.

The joy and freedom of Christianity is found in the realization that God knows you are sinful inside, and He still loves you anyway and still surrendered Christ to death on the cross to spare you any punishment. He loves you so much that He has taken upon Himself not only the punishment for your sin, but also the responsibility for keeping you from sin and teaching you to walk in the way of righteousness and life. Freedom is knowing that you don't have to strive and push yourself and shame yourself anymore to try to be good - you can just put your trust and hope entirely in God's power to work inside of you the right desires and the right actions.

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