The most important truth of the Christian life for me, the one that has had the most enduring impact is learning through time and experience, that Christ is my righteousness. In a dry and struggling time in my Christian journey, I decided no matter how I felt, I was going to read the Bible and get on my knees and pray every morning. That was somewhere in the 2010-2012 range. That made all the difference in the trajectory of my Christian life. It is not for nothing that Jesus tells us to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,” and all the other stuff we might want will be added as well. Somewhere as I began doing that, I rediscovered a verse where Paul communicates what Christ is to us in a way I seemed to have missed for over three decades as a Christian (I Corinthians 1:30).

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.

It’s not that I didn’t understand the theology behind this, having studied it all in depth in seminary and beyond, but for whatever reason in my lived experience, the deeper meaning of imputation wasn’t mind blowing enough to me. That’s a strange theological phrase (I made it up just now so I want credit when it’s used!), but being blown away is central to the dynamic of the exhilarating Christian experience I now live. If it’s going to be real for us, it is because we constantly marvel at it.

Philosophy Begins in Wonder
Going from experience and theology to philosophy might seem like a strange connection, but not as the Ancient Greeks Plato and Aristotle understood it. This phrase, philosophy begins in wonder, was a primary motivation of their lives. To them, because they didn’t have the revelation of God in Scripture or Christ (having lived BC), the most important thing to them was philosophy because it was about understand truth and the nature of things. Philosophy in Greek means the love (philos) of wisdom (Sophia).

Both men started their philosophies in observation of nature and human nature, which leads to wonder. How could it not! Especially nature. It also assumes human ignorance, and revelation, although being pagans they wouldn’t have a category for that Jewish and Christian concept. To wonder is to cause to be astonished in admiration and amazement of something. We can’t help but wonder when we see a beautiful sunrise or sunset, a full moon, a newborn baby, or marvelous work of art or music. God, the master artist and engineer, made it that way; it’s called creation. But given we live and swim in the suffocating atmosphere of secularism, wonder doesn’t come easy. It’s beaten out of us in a life focused on the mundane, the here, the now. So Plato and Aristotle said we have to be taught how to wonder, to learn how it’s done to make it an habitual part of our lives. It is the same in our relationship to God in Christ.

Coming out of my dry and struggling period, I realized being aware of the depth of my sin, and my shame for it, was a blessing. Putting it crassly, the job of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin, as Jesus explains to his disciples prior to his crucifixion (John 17):

8 When he comes, he will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

There is a theological tsunami for good in those verses revealed in the gospel we cannot explore here, but the word convict is central to the flourishing of good in our lives and in this world. The Greek word means to expose, convict, reprove. It’s extended meaning is to convince with solid, compelling evidence, especially to expose (prove wrong, connect).

Given we are born rank sinners, haters and enemies of God, and deeply evil, this shouldn’t be a tough job for the Holy Spirit, but we’re duplicitous self-delusional little buggers. We’re very good at denial, especially self-denial. We’re also living in a spiritual war we can’t conceive, and Satan is good at feeding our ego, so becoming fully aware of the true nature of our sinful state isn’t easy. In fact, it can be quite painful, which is why I Corinthians 1:30 is so important. For me it was life changing.

A Life Altering Relationship with God Also Begins in Wonder
I learned through this process that grace is a difficult thing to wrap our minds around, and sinners that we are, we easily tend to disfigure it into something it is not. On one side of the divide we can turn it into a license to sin, as if obedience is somehow optional when we’re under God’s grace. On the other is believing we have to merit his grace, which is a contradiction in terms; you can’t merit what cannot be merited. Often we go like ping pong balls between the two. For me, I subconsciously thought if I do certain things, and don’t do other things, God will like me just a little bit more.

The revelation that changed everything was that this was a lie. God can’t love me any more or less than he loves me in Christ. Nothing I do or don’t do, have done or haven’t done, can change that. At the same time what I do or don’t do matters very much, but more on that below.

The reality of God’s total acceptance of me finally hit home when I heard a pastor I know say, God’s wrath was fully satisfied in Christ. I knew this. I went to seminary and studied this. What was different? Life! After more than three decades buffeted by the headwinds of existence in a fallen world among fallen people in a fallen body, things looked different. Everything had a different shade of meaning to it, a different texture, a different feeling. It was kind of like Dorothy in Kansas before the storm, everything was in black and white. Then the tornado comes, blows the house off the ground, and it eventually lands in the technicolor land of Oz. In the gospel land of Oz, however, the man behind the current is the living God!

You might wonder how exactly this works. Unfortunately there’s no step-by-step gospel manual because it’s a relationship with a real person, but one who happens to be invisible and communicates to us primarily through a book, and also somehow through His presence living in us. It starts, though, with acknowledgment of our sin. We call that repentance, and because we are naturally adept at sinning, both sin and repentance are daily features of the Christian life. And going back to what I said above, if we’re not reading Scripture and praying daily, how in the world are we going to repent.

The word repent in Greek, metanoeó-μετανοέω , means to change one’s mind or purpose. It requires deep thinking and assessment of our lives and actions. The extended meaning is literally to think differently afterwards. After what? Giving thought, or contemplating our actions and how they reflect our sinful selves, and determining by the grace of God we will not be that kind of person anymore. Because we are not very good at not being sinners, we repent daily. Then we put on Christ’s righteousness, and revel in God’s acceptance of us in spite of who we are. That is called love, and as Paul describes it in I Corinthians 13, keeping no record of wrongs.

As this process and dynamic became habitual in my life (I start my daily morning prayers with praise, repentance, and thanksgiving), everything looked and felt different, as I mentioned above. At various times, be it at church services or reading or talking to someone, I get emotional, as in tears emotional. These times come when I seem to grasp that Christianity and God are real, that what we believe is true, and not some made up stuff by a rag tag bunch of first century Jews. In other words, as Paul declares, they were not liars. If it is real, and we really grasp what it means as sinners to have a relationship with our infinitely holy almighty Creator God, how could we not get emotional! As I said, we’ll be continually blown away as we realize He really does love us even though He ought to condemn us.

The Christian Life of Wonder Leads to Obedience
This love will then naturally flow out into love and service to others. That’s the entire point of the gospel, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. I’ve always thought God commanding love is a strange thing because I subconsciously fell for love being an emotion, and emotions can’t be commanded. But biblical love is a verb, or actions born of decisions to love God and others, and ourselves. If we truly love we will act, and one of the most important of those actions is forgiveness. John tells us in his first epistle that we can love because God first loved us, and God loved us in Christ on the cross in the ultimate act of sacrifice imaginable, the Creator himself becoming one of us to die for us to pay the penalty we deserved. It’s absurd! Which is one of the many reasons I believe it’s true. And If He loved us so absurdly, so to speak, how could we not love others!

We can read I Corinthians 13 and contemplate what that means in relationship with others. There are many directions and exhortations in the epistles to help us put the puzzle pieces of love and service together. We must never, though, be under any illusion that loving others, or ourselves for that matter, will be easy. It’s the hardest thing we’ll ever do because we are absolutely self-centered, but it is also the most rewarding. We also, if we claim the name of Christ, have no choice. It is the perpetual imperative of the Christian life: Thou shalt love, whether thou likes it or not! But that shouldn’t be all that difficult if we really buy into God’s promises of blessing for obedience to Him. I got a glimpse of this last time I was making my way through the Old Testament, and came upon these, sorry, mind-blowing verses in Jeremiah 23 that perfectly connect with I Corinthians 1:30:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
Yahweh our righteousness.

I changed the capitalized version of The Lord in my NIV to Yahweh because anytime you see that in the Old Testament it is the name of Israel’s personal covenant God. And putting two-and-two together, this means that Jesus is Yahweh! We know and are taught this because we are Christians and thus Trinitarians, but if we’re to lead a Christian life of obedience that is honoring to our Savior God, it will begin in the wonder and marvel of God himself coming to rescue us from the wages of sin, death. And that isn’t just eternal death with a resurrected body, but living that eternal life here and now, spreading salvation through love and service to all those we meet.

As I said, knowing we will benefit by our obedience gives us the motivation to do it, or at least try, and God will give us the ability. Yes, it’s mostly baby steps, three forward, two back, but we can by his grace and Holy Spirit in us (convicting us), make progress. What makes these verses so beautiful in this regard is the promise of blessing we see in them.

The Lord through Jeremiah is not speaking about physical land or places. God’s covenant promises to Abraham and the Patriarchs were never about a mere plot of land in the Middle East. They were always for the entire earth, and the peoples who inhabit them. Because our King Jesus is now sitting at the right hand of God with all authority in heaven and on earth, he reigns wisely in our lives and in the world. He is in control of all things, as Paul says in Romans 8:28, for our good which is His glory. We, His church, are now Judah and Israel who are living in safety.

The guide to living in safety is His law-word, and our obedience to it. When we stray, as we always will as sinners, He guides us back through loving discipline as a father lovingly disciplines his children. His wrath fully satisfied, He can no longer punish us, so nothing He does to or for us is in anger. We must believe in the message of the entirety of Scripture that the love of God lavished on us in Christ can never fail because He himself in Christ is our righteousness.



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