As a new believer in Christ, I was plagued by a scrupulous conscience. I would keep a pen and notebook in my pocket to list down the sins and transgressions that I become aware of in the course of the school day. At the end of the day, I would confess these specific sins to God one by one, asking forgiveness for each sin. This practice was discouraging as I became more conscious of my weaknesses and failings than of the presence and blessings and attributes of God.
I carried the heavy burden of unforgiven and repeated sins piled up one upon another. I felt condemned, guilty and discouraged. Peace fled, and darkness hovered over my head and took away the joy of my salvation. I was a poor advertisement of the love of God. How can I look so morose and glum when Jesus loved me so much?
On hindsight, I what I lacked was a proper understanding of Christ’s finished work. There was a missing element in the teachings we received from the pulpit. We had teachings about the repentance, regeneration, baptism, baptism of the Spirit, discipleship, the holy life, and getting ready for Jesus’ return, but none about justification by faith. This is a foundational doctrine that should buttress all others. It is an essential cornerstone of Christ’s finished work. If I had received understanding of this teaching, it would have set me free from condemnation and set me on the path of “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17).
Justified by grace through faith
Believers in Christ are justified by the grace of God. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; and they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:23,24). It was not something we earned, deserved or could achieve on our own. Jesus’ death on the cross redeemed or purchased us from our slavery to sin. We now belong to Christ and he has changed our status before God from guilty, to someone who has been declared righteous, and acquitted of all wrong. This declaration of “NOT GUILTY” anticipates the verdict we will one day hear on the Day of Judgement. God lets us enjoy this status now. This means that when God sees us, he sees us as men and women cleared of all guilt of all sins (past, present and future). It is a gift, and we receive it by faith. “We have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law” (Gal2:16).
Rags to riches
To what shall I liken this change in status? I think of a man hopelessly in debt to his creditors to the tune of $6 million. Someone paid up his debt out of sheer grace, and informs him that his debt has been cleared, and he does not owe his creditors any money anymore. What relief! What great joy! What wonder and gratitude fills this man’s soul. No more darkness and depression. Hope fills him. A new like beckons him. This is what has happened to the sinner who believes in Christ: the debt of sin is completely cleared. Zero. But this is only half of the good news of justification. There is much more. The story continues. That generous benefactor not only leaves the man cleared of all debt, he also added $10 million into his zeroed account. Now the man suddenly without deserving or earning or working for it is a multi-millionaire. It is the same with what Christ’s finished work did for us: he not only erased all our sins to zero; he also imputed and gave to us his generous gift of righteousness – his life of total obedience to the Father has been transferred into our once bankrupt account. Our debts of sin were put upon Jesus, and in a mind-boggling and gracious exchange, he put his perfect righteousness upon us. “For our sake he (God) made him (Christ) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him (Christ) we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).
This truth dawned on me and began to permeate my being after I read the book “Pastor Roland Buck: The Man Who Talked to Angels by Sharon White” a few years after I began my torturous journey as a new believer. It brought me great peace, stability and assurance before God. Joy returned and so did gratitude and confidence in God’s love.
Lord, thank you for Your finished work on the cross. For such a gracious and generous exchange. For the peace that passes all understanding and the great joy of Your salvation. Amen.
This is part of a planned series of writings on the topic of “The A to Z of Christ’s Finished Work”. I am writing it alphabet by alphabet. Thus far the others that I have written can be found HERE. Feel free to use it in personal or group discipleship discussions to establish the faith of believers. It can also be used to inspire ideas for pastors to use as a series of messages to strengthen the faith of the congregation.