Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Christians are more than "just forgiven"

Galatians 4:7 "Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God."

A true story about ex-cons
I'll never forget the time in the earlier part of my ministry when I had to do some hospital visitations. On the way into town there was a medium security prison that one would drive by before taking the "big right" in the center of town to access the medical center.  When I would drive into this particular town, I would see men with a worn back-pack, unkempt hair, untucked shirt, tatoos and a thumb looking for a ride.  No doubt I was witnessing those who had just been "released from the prison".

One day when I was waiting at the stop light adjacent to the prison, I spied a small door at the back of the facility.  I noticed a man coming out of the facility with the tell tale back pack - containing all of his worldly belongings.  It dawned on me that these men had "so-called" paid their debt to society.  They were, in the eyes of the law, "just forgiven" or "released". 

You could tell by the way they carried themselves that the so-called free air that they looked to breath was not true freedom. Why?  Those men had no home to go to.  They did not have family and friends waiting for them. Many of these men, some of whom I knew personally, lived from hotel to hotel, scraping and scrawling their way.  They still had a record, a past and a whole host of hidden offenses, hurts, pain and unreformed desires.  Despite being no-longer behind bars - these men were ex-cons - in need of true forgiveness and the victory of knowing Christ by faith.

The Bumper Sticker theology of "just forgiven" is not an adequate picture of true Christian identity
The story above reminds me of so-many Christians that I know (and on occasion what I may think of myself of I'm not careful), that walk around like they are "ex-cons".  I'm sure you have seen those bumper stickers that say "just forgiven".  Everytime I see one of those signs, I want to take a big black marker and write before that phrase "more than". 

Too often Christians today view themselves as having been forgiven of their sins and on their way to heaven, but in the the time being just scrawling by, scraping through from one day to the next, just forgiven.  The problem with such theology is that it tells only half the story.  The Bible describes this view of oneself in terms of a "slave mentality". 

When used in the positive sense, the term "slave" speaks of  Christians as slaves of righteousness, without any rights to their own, bought with a price by the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) Yet when used in the negative sense, the term "slave" speaks of a believer who is not aware of (or momentarily forgotten) who they are and whose they are.  In Galatians Paul is laying out the believer's true identity:

-You are no longer a slave but..
-a son, and if a son....
-then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:7)

Marvelously the Christian is not just merely "forgiven".  In fact, in Christ, the believer does not have a "record", "a past".  The rap sheet is clean since the past of the Christian was nailed to the cross and the Spirit of God united the Christian to Christ's righteousness - making him the "righteousness of God" in Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:21)  We are more than forgiven. 

Justified, adopted, united with Christ by faith - the truth behind "more than just forgiven"
Three biblical terms are used to demonstrate that you and I as Christians are more than "just forgiven".  We are first of all "justified", declared by God the Father to be free the penalty of the law's condemnation, and thus legally "right with Him".  To be justified means "just-as-if-I-never sinned. (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21)  In justification I'm made legally right with God at the moment of saving faith, credited with Christ's righteousness.  In adoption I'm declared relationally right with God at saving faith.  Passages such as Ephesians 1:3; Romans 8:16-17 and Galatians 4:1-7 speak of the incredible truth of adoption. 

Then thirdly, I am positionally connected to Christ by union with Christ - a work done by the Holy Spirit at saving faith.  Union with Christ is what the Spirit of God does in taking all of Christ's righteousness and work and applying it to me.  The second part of union deals with His erasing my past and forever welding my identity to Christ's humanity - as an heir of God and a co-heir of Christ. (compare Romans 6:1-11; 8:16-17; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13; 2 Peter 1:3-4).    

It is in sanctification that I am becoming in experience whom God has declared me to be in position - more than just forgiven
To be positionally "more than just forgiven" is one thing, but what about an accompanying experience?  The Bible reveals that God has given us the Holy Spirit to work in us God's perfect and pleasing will as we simultaneously work out our salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12-13)  The Bible clearly tells you believer that because of the Spirit's ongoing work of sanctification, and your cooperation in that post-conversion work, you are "no longer under condemnation" (Romans 8:1) and "more than a conqueror" (Romans 8:37).  Jesus came to give us "life, life more abundantly" (John 10:10)  May you and I live today as Christians who are more than "just forgiven".   

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