Unless you know where you came from, it’s hard to appreciate where you are now. Nowhere is this truer than in the spiritual realm.
I was sold a cheap salvation.
I regularly heard sermons on the cross, and with some regularity the horrors of Christ’s crucifixion. The sales pitch was strong and the invitation to respond was powerful. I bought-in, as a matter of fact. But what I was sold was still cheap regardless of Christ’s sacrifice.
When the invitation to become a follower of Jesus was issued, I heard two things: 1) Come to Jesus and He will forgive your sins, and 2) when you come to Jesus you will go to heaven when you die.
What an offer! Who wouldn’t want to have their sins forgiven and go to heaven instead of hell?
I didn’t understand that sin could manifest itself as both poor performance and good performance.
The problem with this invitation is that once I accept Christ on these terms, I confess that I only need Him when I sin and when I die. The truth of the matter is, I need Him for more than forgiveness and life insurance. I need Him all the time. And in truth, Christ paid for much, much more than forgiveness and heaven at the cross of Calvary.
The concept of “need” has been hard for me to define in personal terms. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand what sin was, nor did I fail to grasp that I committed sins from time to time. Rather, I didn’t understand that sin could manifest itself as both poor performance and good performance.
That the pimp or the drug runner or the convict needed forgiveness of their sin, I had no confusion. But that I, whose independent acts from God rendered applause, accolades, and recognition needed forgiveness was not at all evident.
I learned early on that wrong behavior resulted in painful consequences. Being a pragmatist, I adopted a well-honed dedication to doing things right in order to avoid the inefficiency and pain of bad choices.
Since it is best and advantageous, not to mention spiritual, I developed a lifestyle of love, joy, peace, patience, and long suffering. I wasn’t depending on the Holy Spirit to live through me. I was simply living a moral, efficient, and compelling life. It was the right thing to do.
A lost person isn’t filled with the Spirit, but a pragmatist can sure appear to be.
This earned me recognition with the Christian crowd and beyond. My behavior was exemplary. My attitudes and outlook were notable and worthy of emulation. Never mind that my approach to life was a counterfeit. My conduct was self-generated, not Spirit-generated.
The Holy Spirit had nothing to do with my handsome behavior—and herein was the divine issue.
I adopted a philosophy and practice of life that looked right but that did not emanate from the life of Christ through me. Don’t be surprised. I’ll bet you know folks who are not even followers of Jesus Christ who behave similarly, doing right things from the wrong motivation. What motivates them? It can’t be a determination to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, i.e. love, joy, peace, patience… (ref. Gal. 5:22ff). A lost person isn’t filled with the Spirit, but a pragmatist can sure appear to be.
Worse yet, while I didn’t understand my spiritual-looking behavior to be sin, neither did I understand the gravity of my separation from God. I understood the basic concept of separation: “All have sinned and fall short” (Rm. 3:23). While problematic and beyond human remedy, this separation was fixed by the salvation sales pitch, i.e. forgiveness and heaven awaiting my earthly demise.
What I failed to fully grasp was that I was not only separated from God because I had failed to live a perfect life, i.e. I had committed sins, to be certain. My separation was a graver problem. I was separated from God because I was born into the wrong family. In spiritual lingo, I was a descendant of Adam instead of God.
It is one thing to correct poor behavior. It’s another problem entirely to change your lineage.
How did we fall so far from God, and more importantly, what is the true nature of our separation?
It is for this reason that Jesus told Nicodemus he had to be born again (Jn. 3:1ff). In other words, he needed a new lineage in order to have eternal life.
The philosopher and writer, Dallas Willard, refers to this hereditary condition as being lost to God. That is, not being where we are supposed to be in relation to Him, and therefore being irretrievably useless to Him.
How does that sit with you, knowing that apart from Christ finding you, you are irretrievably useless to God?
It is not a flattering thought at all. But facts are facts, and the truth is that Christ gave His life for us, not after we became glamorously useful, but while we were irretrievably useless in our lost condition—separated from Him not only by our sinful performances but also by being sin as a person.
The only thing good about being lost is being found.
What happened to us? How did we fall so far from God, and more importantly, what is the true nature of our separation? Like I said earlier, it is difficult to find your way if you have no idea of your bearings. Thus, the importance of this topic.
It is technically accurate to say we are separated from God by sin. But this explanation doesn’t go far enough to tell us in sufficient detail what happened to us.
When the Bible speaks of sin, it references multiple things. For our purposes, we are focused on two aspects of sin: a) poor performance, and b) a bad lineage.
Living a moral life is a whole lot more enticing and efficient than the alternative. But my success or failure is beside the point as far as God is concerned.
I had difficulty defining my performance as sin because it looked good. The Pharisees in the Bible had the same trouble.
The appearance of sinful behavior can be either good or bad, moral or immoral, ethical or not. In other words, behavioral sin is not sin based upon appearance but on motivation.
The default nature of my sinful behavior is to make myself acceptable by emulating, imitating, and replicating the fruit of the Spirit. The operative words here are “make myself.” This works well for me and those around me. Living a moral life is a whole lot more enticing and efficient than the alternative. But my success or failure is beside the point as far as God is concerned. His assessment of sin is based upon motivation, i.e. independent living instead of dependent living on the Holy Spirit. Morality is fine. We all want to live in a moral society. But if I fail to depend on the Holy Spirit to produce morality through me, I operate apart from God’s resource and that independence is by definition, sin.
When the writer of Hebrews penned, “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (12:2a), is this not what he was referring to?
But as I’ve pointed out, while it is wonderful that my sins are forgiven, the problem of sinfulness is much graver than forgiving what I do wrong. Yes, I do wrong things, but the Bible discusses at length in Romans 5 that because my lineage being traced to Adam, I am wrong. Not only do I do wrong things, but I am by nature and heritage wrong. Not only do I need forgiveness for wrong behavior, I need a new family. In summary, I am in desperate need of forgiveness, not just when I commit an action of poor performance, but I am in desperate need of forgiveness for who I am as a descendant of Adam.
This means, the forgiveness that is ours in Christ is relevant to each action, each moment, and each strand of our DNA.
God initiated a divine intervention in Christ Jesus.
Paul uses the phrase, “When Christ who is our life” (see Col. 3:4). Notice, Christ is not a life, or some life, or an aspect of life. He is our life. If Christ is not part and parcel of every action, each moment, and every strand of our DNA, then life is absent. Peter goes so far in his description of life in Christ to say Christians are “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pt. 1:4).
What happened to you?
You fell precipitously in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve committed their treason. As a result, you were lost to God, irretrievably useless to Him as a person with whom He could relate and consider family. This sinful condition resulted in a need for forgiveness of sinful behavior motivated by independence as well as a new heritage anchored by a new father, literally a heavenly Father.
Given the gravity of the problem, God initiated a divine intervention in Christ Jesus. In Christ’s work at Calvary, our sins of performance were forgiven by His blood spilt and our sin as a person was dealt a fatal blow by His body broken. In His resurrection, God raised us up together with Christ and counts us forgiven people in eternal possession of a new lineage. If you think about it, this is why there are two elements remembered at Communion, i.e. the Lord’s Supper. The bread recalling Christ’s victory over our sinfulness as descendants of Adam, the wine recalling Christ’s victory over our sinful performance.
What happened to you?
In Christ Jesus, everything separating you from God has been resolved. You are a forgiven person. You are in God’s family. You relate to Him through the power of the Spirit. Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus, so walk in Him (Col. 2:6).