I believe most Christians go through life with a sense of low-grade guilt because they don’t really understand the gospel. The reason I say this is that I myself was this kind of Christian for many years of my adult life because I didn’t either. What changed? You’ll laugh when I tell you: God’s wrath! Yes, it was only when I discovered God’s wrath, as if for the first time after three decades of being a Christian, and a seminary graduate at that, that I finally came to understand just how good the good new is!

A God of wrath doesn’t poll well in our secular age, so it’s sadly not preached much from our pulpits. A God of love is a much easier sell, but the irony is that God’s love outside of the context of God’s wrath is meaningless. It’s easy for we sinful human beings to focus on one aspect of God’s being to the exclusion of all the others, and it’s natural to want God to accept us as we are, warts and all. The problem with “warts and all” is that the Bible calls that sin, and the wages of sin is death. Because God is just, and wrong must be paid for, he cannot overlook our sin. It’s no different than in a court of law. A judge to remain just, and in his job, must apply penalties to those who break the law. We live in a moral universe, so why would we think it should be any different with God?

The beauty of the Gospel, and the reason for the title of this post, is that once we believe in Jesus, and trust him as our Savior, then he is no longer our judge. We are no longer guilty before him because he provides to us the very righteousness he requires of us! This is what Martin Luther, through much pain and struggle, finally figured out, and what changed the course of Western  history. He discovered in Paul’s letter to the Romans, that “The righteous will live by faith.” Faith is a synonym for trust. We no longer have to try to earn God’s favor, which sinners can’t do anyway, but trust his provision (Christ’s righteousness) for that favor. In chapter three of that same letter, Paul expands on the meaning of this:

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. 

Notice the words, “is given.” Paul uses the past participle of the verb give, and a participle typically expresses completed action. Also notice that “this righteousness” is “the righteousness of God.” Here is the bottom line of all bottom lines of existence: God freely gives us what he requires of us. Once we trust him for this, we are no longer his enemy. Paul tells us in Ephesians that we are “by nature children of wrath.” In Colossians he tells us what this means: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” The word enemies is a loaded one because this alienation is informed by a deep-seated hatred of God. We don’t like that he is our judge, jury, and executioner, and we know we are guilty.

Trying to somehow get rid of this guilt drove Luther to despair before he discovered a righteousness by faith. Knowing his own guilt and shame, he did everything he could, including beating himself, to try to purge and pay for his sin. But Jesus already did that for us, and by accepting that Luther understood that our relationship with God, by faith not works, was utterly transformed. He realized that God’s wrath was fully satisfied in Christ for us, so we can have confidence that God in Christ is favorably disposed toward us, always. As I tell my kids, unlike other religions we can know this objectively because of what Paul says, that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

We no longer have to wonder when things go wrong in our lives, that God somehow has it out for us because we know what wretched sinners we are. Yes we are sinners, often wretched, but now instead of judge, God is our Father. This is what makes Christianity so counter intuitive, and unlike any other religion or philosophy on earth. Two verses round out the implications of this, as I call it, radical relational reversal. Jesus says in Matthew 7:11:

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Those words, how . .  much . . more . ., always bring me huge comfort in life’s vicissitudes, and I ground them further in Paul’s often quoted, but not often understood words of Romans 8:28:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

As I’ve often joked with my kids, certainly Paul doesn’t mean ALL. Surely it’s just most; but it’s not. And understand it is God working for our good; our focus is him, not us. And just in case you’re tempted to think you don’t love God very well (none of us do), John tell us that, “We love because he first loved us.” God’s being favorably disposed toward us, always, was all of his initiative, and all of his accomplishment.

Share This