1 John 2
28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.
1 Corinthians 1
26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
When was the last time you repented? I mean truly repented? I’m not simply talking about going through the motions of a prayer asking for forgiveness but rather a process of repentance cutting so deep into your identity that it kept you up at night. A process of repentance that emotionally and physically exhausted you. A process that took weeks, months, maybe even years of constant struggle in your body and mind where a war was raging. A repentance that was altogether costly with no plan B.
One of the great deceptions of Satan in understanding what it means to abide in Christ and bear His image is to focus on being Jesus as opposed to remaining in Jesus. We like the idea of being Jesus. Healing people, casting out demons, feeding five thousand miraculously, calming storms at will, always having the wisest response… being Jesus kind of feels like being a superhero. Our culture is superhero crazy. As the band Jonah33 put it in the opening lyrics of “Father’s Song”: Trying to catch this phenomenon is like trying to capture a flame. Everyone wants to save the world but no one will take the blame.
Our calling, Church, is not to be righteousness for Christ. We are not His Righteousness. No. Jesus is our Righteousness. He wasn’t sent down by the Father simply to die on a cross to take our sin. He was sent to be born a baby, to live for decades among us in order to be able to qualify through the obeying of the Law of God to be our Savior, the Lamb without blemish. Through the living out of the fulfillment of the Law and all of its demands, He receives the blessing under the covenant of Moses.
And what happens on the cross then, Church? The curse we received under the covenant of Moses is imputed onto Christ (see the post entitled “The Wages Are Death” for more) and the blessing He received under that same covenant—the blessing of righteousness—is through this same transaction imputed to those who are in Christ Jesus.
Too much Christian leadership today separates repentance from image bearing; separates the imputation of our sin to Jesus from the imputation of His Righteousness to His children. In doing this, a false understanding that these two realities are not meant to coexist comes about. And with it comes the lie that repentance is for the infant Christian and image bearing is for the mature Christian. After all, Jesus never needed to repent and so repentance by definition does not bear Christ’s image, right? Image bearing, under this belief, while Spirit empowered is man centered. Those sanctified enough can literally be a perfect man here and now and have the exact mind of Christ. They just need to be perfectly obedient through their lifestyle, actions, and motives.
The problem with this interpretation is quite obvious… to believe one is sanctified to that level and to understand sanctification through that process requires the need for repentance to be a thing of the past. “People sanctified to that level shouldn’t be in need of repentance,” the Devil whispers to itching ears. And how hard for someone who is that perfect to reject boastfulness. The fall of that leader is not far off.
It is true, Church, that we are called to God dependent active sanctification. It is true that through the Spirit we have a striving for and calling to perfect righteousness. We are to be intimately in tune with the mind of Christ. But understand how that sanctification grows in the believer. It happens through the Spirit convicting us to repentance and through Christ’s righteousness. Through the double imputation transaction of us laying down our sin at the cross and at the same time being clothed with His Righteousness.
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” cries out one of the most sanctified Church leaders to ever walk this earth in Romans 7:24. Someone who knew the deep mysteries of the faith to his utter core. Someone who understood that Christian leadership as an under shepherd wasn’t a chance to no longer be a sheep out of some elevated maturity but rather was the calling to become one of the very sheep to the slaughter in order to pass on Christ Crucified.
If Paul is to be of any help in understanding how to abide in Christ while image bearing, a deep understanding of our sinfulness and of His Righteousness is at the very heart of it.
I wonder Church, how many of us have ever repented to a level so costly to our pride and earthly life that there wasn’t anything left to turn back to? Repented in a way that the world knew we weren’t anything other than a sinner saved by grace? If anything, we might just be worse in our born propensity to sin than they are! Maybe the church in America has declined in the past decades because we’ve tried too often to be Jesus and His Righteousness instead of remaining in Jesus through repentance and giving Him the only thing we have—the curse of the Law.
This all might sound really backwards and foreign. I understand. Honestly, I do. You may even feel this is getting close to heresy. And in the American church it probably is. However, I don’t ask you to ponder something I’m not willing to wrestle with myself. I honestly do know what it means to repent when it hurts, when it’s exhausting, when it cuts deep.
When I was yet a teenager I confessed as the first step of repentance to an awful sin I had committed. I wasn’t coerced into the repentance. I did so willingly. I was so exhausted of having the secret sin and trying to fight the Spirit inside me relentlessly pointing to repentance. The repentance came at a great personal cost. I’d have a criminal record. I’d lose friendships. I’d be limited in future employment and lose some rights afforded others. I’d carry around some labels, perhaps for the rest of my life.
But if there is one thing I now know without a shadow of a doubt, it is that a great fear I once had when thinking about Christ’s return and judgement no longer existed. I had an unshakable confidence in my identity as a Christ follower. There was a righteousness wrapped around me from something greater than me that allowed me to live in a victory I never had before; a victory I never earned.
That’s sanctification by the Spirit through His Righteousness, Church. It’s not an obedience of living the Law perfectly. We literally have proven we cannot do that. It’s an obedience in faith to the belief and the living out through repentance that at the cross all of our sins are bore by the Savior and the fullness of His Righteousness is found clothed upon us.
Remain in Christ my brothers and sisters. Remain not by striving to be Christ, but by constantly being at the foot of the cross laying down our curse and receiving His blessing. Through that process we will find ourselves no longer practicing sin but rather practicing righteousness.