Jesus said… “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
As I write this today I am thinking about three people I am very much looking forward to seeing again.
The first is my good friend and former Seminary professor, Pastor Fran Monseth. He was honestly a father figure in my life, and he loved me and all of our family like we were his own. Fran transferred residence from his earthly shell to the presence of the Lord one year ago today. One year. It’s still hard to believe I can’t call him for advice, can’t pray with him, can’t endure his dry jokes.
Second, I miss my friend Jeremy. He never really leaves my mind, to be honest. We worshipped together, made music together, discussed theology over eggs benedict, laughed and cried and prayed together through his cancer diagnosis and treatment, and through the bone marrow transplant that took his life. Jeremy knew my heart, and I knew his. Jeremy went home to Jesus in June of 2012. There are still days when the tears come, unexpected.
And third, I want to give my Grandma Arona a hug. Grandma went to heaven just this last October. I miss her cinnamon rolls with the peanut butter frosting, and her potato dumplings, and the way she would say “It’s probably not any good” after you had just taken thirds of whatever deliciousness she happened to be serving that evening. I miss hearing her vibrato, as she sang hymns to Jesus. After having lived the last several years of her life in a wheelchair following a stroke, Grandma walked into Jesus’ arms. She’s singing again, too.
We’re drawing near to EASTER now, and our eyes and thoughts are on Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Church is preparing to celebrate. But today, as I remember Pastor Monseth, and Jeremy, and Grandma, the reality and power of the HOPE of RESURRECTION shakes me again. Because Jesus rose FIRST, you see – the firstfruits, He is called – we who know Him as our own carry the assurance with us that death is not an end. Death has lost its sting. Now it is a relocation, a joyful transfer to freedom. And we will rise again.
That’s why I can’t intone the Apostle’s Creed every week in our worship services with my heart and brain disengaged. In fact, the joyful reality of the certain resurrection we look forward to can probably be seen splashed on my face as we agree together what we believe in… “The holy Christian Church, the communion of the saints, the resurrection of the body…”
Really since Jeremy left us, this resurrection we look forward to has become so much more real for many of his loved ones. His friends here below were and are unusually close to him and to each other. We assume he’s working out a housing arrangement with the Lord whereby our mansions are all on the same cul-de-sac. Since Jeremy’s departure, thoughts of resurrection are always swirling through my theology, and it affects my everyday reality. Like Paul, I hang my everything on the hope of resurrection.
Paul said that he had given up everything else in life in order that he might live in relationship with Jesus. And to what end? “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)
For me, this is tangible. Not just theological speculation. Keeping my eyes on the reality of resurrection in Jesus is changing my tastes. Jesus is making my heart new, and refashioning my mind. He puts my mouth out of taste for the poison of sin, and reminds me of the sweetness of knowing Him. Finding my delight in Him leads to LIFE, and a complete and soul-satisfying joy that lasts forever. (Psalm 16:11) And communion with Him. And ongoing relationship with Fran, and Jeremy, and Grandma again.
The Church will celebrate Easter in a few short weeks. Don’t allow your family traditions and familiar ceremony to inoculate you to the wonder of this moment. The resurrection is for YOU. That should astound you. It astounds me. And it means that those loved ones in Jesus who have gone on before us are together now with the Lord, and they will rise again. Death is not final. It’s just a relocation, a renewal, a rebirthing process. Jesus said that everyone who lives and believes in Him shall never die.
Jesus fields a question about what happens to people when they die. It’s a theology question. About other people. Jesus’ answer burns away the arm’s-length safety of the question and reframes it in a way we can’t ignore. Instead of answering “How many will go to heaven when they die?” Jesus requires each of us to ask, “Will I go to heaven when I die?”
Everybody dies. The door to heaven is narrow. We all live on in eternity, but not everyone will be in heaven with God, enjoying His favor forever. If you hope to make it into the Kingdom of God – through the narrow door – you must enter alone before God. We come one at a time.
What about you? Here is the GOOD NEWS. There is a Door. And it’s still open. Right now.
>> This message is found in Luke 13:22-30. You can read it online here.
When you boil your goals and values and priorities down to the very core, and you strip away all the non-essentials, can you identify your ONE THING? Cut through the clutter and see what it is that you’re really living for.
>> Please follow along in Luke10:38-42. You can read it online here.
This is the Thursday night service with all the men at FLY 2013, the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations Youth Convention, held every two years in Estes Park, CO. My wife Amy and I were grateful to both be asked to speak this year. Amy spoke to the girls in the Assembly Hall, and I was with the guys in the Longhouse. This is my message to the guys on July 4, 2013.
The theme of the convention was “Broken,” taken from Isaiah 53. The text we focused on for the evening was Isaiah 53: 10-12.
This July, 1,800+ souls gathered together for a week of worship and Bible study and relational bonding at the YMCA of the Rockies camp up in the mountains of Estes Park, CO. This was FLY 2013, the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations Youth Convention, held every two years. My wife Amy and I were grateful to be asked to speak this year on July 4, for the Thursday evening services. As I spoke to the men and boys in the Longhouse, Amy had an opportunity to speak to the girls in the Assembly Hall just up the hill. The theme of the convention was “Broken,” taken from Isaiah 53. The text we focused on for the evening was Isaiah 53:10-12.
Pastor Monseth has been the dean of our AFLC Seminary for 42 years. He was my Systematic Theology professor and my good friend. He was also the father of some of the best friends I have ever had. When you love much, you grieve hard, and so his absence is felt deeply by our families and by our whole church Association. Fran Monseth died on Good Friday. Late at night, following an emotionally tangled Easter, my brother-in-law, Adam, sent the following tweet:
There it is. GOSPEL! HOPE! The exact minute we concede our loved ones are gone, the power of hope floods in.
For those of us who loved Fran so deeply, we grieve his passing with many tears. I hate it. He was like a second (or third) dad to me, he loved my wife and kiddos like family. And he let us know. His absence will be felt for the rest of our lives. My grief spills down my face, and it has for a week, and it shows no signs of stopping. But then, in every conversation, and in every story… Jesus. The Gospel. HOPE.
I’m straining at the keyboard to shout it to you. Whether you go to church or not. I feel this one to my toes. Jesus makes all the difference. On one side stands anger/confusion/hopelessness/defeat/despair/eventual cynicism and apathy. On the other stands HOPE. With hope comes forgiveness, freedom, purpose, and much joy. God is in the business of proclaiming HOPE in the darkest of places, in the darkest of moments, to the darkest of hearts. I want to be a part of His great story. Like Fran.
Those who ever had a chance to meet Pastor Monseth – or had the great privilege of knowing him well – will speak with conviction that he reflected the character of his greatest love. I’ve heard people say that we become like what we love most. It is natural to worship what we love most. It is natural for a student to become like their teacher. For boys to grow up to be like the dads they love. In this regard Fran reflected the love and character and values of his father, Pastor Fritjof Monseth. Even more, we saw JESUS in him.
I’m struggling to shake off the “churchy” language here – I don’t want my words to blend into the evangelical beige. To say we saw JESUS in Fran has some TEETH. It means real-world lives were changed, because Fran lived DIFFERENTLY than most people – even churchy people. Fran’s faith was bold. He was resolute. He loved God fiercely, and his family joyfully, and his friends deeply. He was full of the truth. He had huge swaths of God’s Word memorized, and his conversations were saturated with scripture. When I had the pressures of life weighing me down, I would talk to Fran, and he cared about it. He cared about our stuff like it was HIS stuff. He would pray with me, asking God to bless and protect and provide for us, with every understanding that his prayers would be answered, because His God is my God. And our God is trustworthy. Without Jesus, I would carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. With Jesus, I can rest. Fran reminded me of that a hundred times.
I was talking to one of the maintenance men on the Seminary campus where I live (and where Fran worked everyday as Professor of Systematic Theology and Seminary Dean), and we noted the consistency with which Fran loved people. I mean ALL people. Recognize the rarity in this. We don’t live like this, even if we believe we should… Or maybe I should just speak for me. I don’t love people the same – with Jesus’ kind of love – regardless of their stature or intellect or smell. I know I shouldn’t, but I tend to categorize people. Lord forgive me.
Fran looked everybody in the eye. His countenance and his words communicated “You matter to me and you matter to God.” This was true for the academicians he could call peers, and it was true for the everyday Joes, and even for the Seminary students who sometimes thought we knew better. Notably, it was just as true for the awkward and the offensive and the marginal people. Fran supernaturally loved people. He was like Jesus.
Do you get this? How remarkable and important this is? Pastor Monseth breathed out Jesus to everybody he had contact with. He affirmed the learned and the weirdos. I want to be that kind of man.
But then he died. He just died. It was a Friday morning. And then by lunch time, no heartbeat.
This is a spark that grows. This is the unique thing that Jesus-lovers experience that the rest of the world doesn’t believe truly exists. This is HOPE: God’s PROVEN power on full display in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and it is the future of those who believe. Like Fran. Jesus promised us in Romans 6 that our sins were put to death with Him on the cross, and in His resurrection WE who believe are (and will be) resurrected to new life in Him.
As Fran’s death approached he was preparing us – those who love him much – in the HOPE that we would need in days like today, the day of his funeral.
On the Sunday before Easter, Palm Sunday, the Monseth family gathered at the family farm in Rogers, MN, to celebrate Easter together. Grandpa Monseth spoke that afternoon to the family about the hope of resurrection. He talked about the death of his dad, Fritjof, and how he grieved it. “But,” he said, “we do not grieve as those who have no hope.” Quoting 1 Thessalonians 4:13, he prepared his family. “When I go to heaven on Friday, I know you will be sad. But the sovereign God loves us. Remember the HOPE we have in Jesus. We’ll spend FOREVER together with Him. You’ll see.” Jesus makes all the difference.
He was preparing us, too, his students at AFLTS. In his last lecture of his 42 year career teaching at our Seminary, Dr. Monseth spoke to us about death and the nature of our transition to heaven as disciples of Jesus. In a profoundly fitting turn, Pastor Monseth ended class on Wednesday, March 27, with Job 19:25-27, which is likely the oldest statement in the Bible about the hope of the resurrection.
“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”
This matters! HOPE! No other religion offers HOPE like the assurance of freedom and life that Jesus gives us. His promises are so clear. I agree with the Apostle Paul, who wrote about this hope in Romans 1:16.
“I have complete confidence in the gospel; it is God’s power to save all who believe…”
ALL who believe. Jesus made all the difference to Fran. This confidence in the Gospel fueled his passion to share it. With everyone. With Doctors and weirdos. Because the smartest and the slowest, the kindest and the cruelest, the polished and the ragamuffins ALL fall short of God’s perfect standard. Every soul needs Jesus. Fran lived the Gospel message – the unshakable HOPE that is stronger than death: JESUS died and rose again to forgive everyone. Salvation and freedom and purpose and meaning and HOPE are universally available to EVERYONE who believes.
So today we gather in the chapel on the beloved campus where Dr. Monseth poured out his Jesus to thousands of students. Not just religious ideology. He gave us Jesus. Through the Spirit and the Word, Pastor Monseth helped usher in the Kingdom of God among us. And I know we will never be able to accommodate all the traffic. And I know the spaces of this campus will be filled to overflowing. But I know this is right, to be right here together to mourn as a family. And I think of the last time we gathered with Pastor Monseth as a family in this chapel, not too many days ago.
We gathered here for Ben and Dre’s new daughter – Fran’s latest grandchild. It was her baptism day. I had the great privilege of holding this new 8 pound life, and welcoming her into the family of God with the water and the Word. Everybody huddled around, and the kids had the best seats, right up in front. Blessings were read over her. And Grandpa Fran’s rich voice, full of love and conviction, rang out his blessing, calling upon Jesus to keep her and strengthen her and use her life for His glory. And in this little girl I see his legacy. Like I do in the family picture above.
Only when I look at these pictures, I see thousands of other souls leaning into the frame. Lives changed forever because Fran lived with the courage and conviction to tell them how they mattered to God, and how their sick souls and selfish hearts needed Jesus. And more than that… how Jesus was available to them. Today. Right now. How many souls will be with Fran in heaven because he loved the somebodies and the nobodies with equal compassion? I imagine a stadium full. Only they’re not cheering for Fran. They’re shouting their praise to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – Fran’s first love. The One he sees today face to face.
I think again of this little girl that Fran loved so dearly. I see her daddy hold her close with such joy and protective, crazy love. And I understand again the metaphor that God has given us. “I love you like that. I hold you close like that. I am your father, and you are my adopted sons and daughters whom I chose to be my own. When you love much, you will grieve hard, and so I will comfort you today.”
Jesus makes all the difference. Without Him we wail into the wind. But Fran knew Jesus. Peace. Purpose. Forgiveness. Freedom. Wholeness. Resurrection. LIFE.
I marvel at the grace of God. I think of Fran’s new granddaughter, and I see how His hand of blessing was surely upon Ben and Dre as they continued his family line. I imagine her growing in her faith, with the tender heart for Jesus that we see in her dad, and the beautiful boldness of her momma, furthering the exponential reach of her Grandpa’s Gospel legacy.
And I think what a wonder it is that in this season of deep grief, in the midst of deep faith, they named her HOPE.
Last night I watched “Blue Like Jazz” for the first time. It would be accurate to say I am a fan of Donald Miller, although I have to qualify that statement. I appreciate the ART of Donald Miller because it is honest and insightful. I do not look to Donald Miller for theological profundity. Likewise I found “Blue Like Jazz” the movie to be beautiful in some ways, because it was honest and insightful, but not because it was theologically profound.
So people are asking me what I thought. I’m conflicted.
Here’s what I like…
“Blue Like Jazz” tells the truth. “Christian” art (a label I am rapidly liking less and less) doesn’t always do that. In fact, much art slapped with a “Christian Art” label tries to paint a picture (in some case, I mean this quite literally) representing a sanitized world, safe for church people to enter without feeling too threatened or having their feathers ruffled out of alignment. Thomas Kinkade is perhaps the poster-boy for this kind of art, which looks one the one hand to be deemed “safe” for Christian consumption, but on the other hand, is actually very dangerous in its “sanitization” of our condition. In a brilliant critique of Kinkade’s work (read the whole article here), Daniel A. Siedell writes:
“The Edenic world Kinkade projects is pretty much the fallen world without the dirtiness of the city and the inconvenience of other people, a weekend getaway in the country. All we need to do to return to Eden is get our lives in order. Kinkade’s much ballyhooed ‘light’ merely adds atmosphere and glow, a pleasant touch to an already charming scene. And because it makes us so comfortable, it is a very dark light indeed.
Kinkade’s work is the meticulously painted smile on the Joker’s disfigured face. It refuses to deal with the fallenness, brokenness, sinfulness of the world. And more troubling, it enables his clientele to escape into an imaginary world where things can be pretty good, as long as we have our faith, our family values, and a visual imagery that re-affirms all this at the office and at home.”
This is a problem. Art has power to disrupt and challenge, but the Christian marketplace comes with its own set of rules designed to protect us from offense. Therefore, “Christian” art is almost never provocative to the degree that it might lead to actual life-change. It sooner leads us to be comfortable, while reaffirming our faith. And we need encouragement, us church people.
But don’t we also need to be disturbed and broken-hearted? God is in the business of redemption through the ongoing process of death and resurrection. The death part… it doesn’t look like a Kinkade painting.
Neither does “Blue Like Jazz” the movie.
In fact, “Blue Like Jazz” shows us the yucky side of churchiness without the transformative power of a life rooted and abiding in Jesus Christ. It shows the carnality and brokenness and narcissism of young adult lives given over to the pursuit of pleasure and identity and meaning when God has been rejected wholesale. The movie is dark and sad and tragic if you consider the eternal ramifications of the sea of lives surrounding young Don Miller. If you are planning to see this and expect it to have the feel-good (albeit disquietingly “safe”) vibe of “Facing the Giants” or “Soul-Surfer,” you might find “Blue Like Jazz” disturbing. Reed College is full of substance abuse and profanity and emptiness and sex. Lots of it. “Blue Like Jazz” isn’t unnecessarily graphic, but neither does it pull many punches.
I’m sick of Kincade. In this, “Blue Like Jazz” was a refreshing change. It shows brokenness. It made me hurt for the broken people, and hunger to be bolder as an image-bearer for Jesus. Broken people need Jesus. I have Jesus.
“Blue Like Jazz” wasn’t written for the “Church” market, so if you are looking for a movie that is, consider yourself warned. Instead, Taylor and Miller seem to be telling a story for spiritually curious people who want to know if God is real when the world is such a mess and the churches in many neighborhoods look more like social clubs for hypocrites than beacons of light and hope.
Here’s what I didn’t like…
“Blue Like Jazz” embraces a metaphor, woven throughout the narrative. “My dad says jazz is like life, because it doesn’t resolve…” Like much of Donald Miller’s theo-philosophical ponderings, neither does “Blue Like Jazz.” And I understand that we are works in process, and that art is often more effective when it leaves some questions unanswered. This leaves room for the consumer to wonder, and think, and search. But it is unsatisfying in a movie that asks out loud, “Where do we find meaning and purpose in life?”
There ARE clear answers to many of the questions Miller and Taylor are asking, but it is cooler to leave them unanswered. It is cooler to leave us to ponder on our own.
** MINOR SPOILER ALERT **
Sure, by the end of the film the young, restless Don Miller comes to some kind of ambiguous belief that God is probably real, and this Jesus stuff… he buys it. But there is little power in his transformation, because it is very hard to see what this transformation actually looks like. Except, of course, for a compulsion not only to ask forgiveness for his own hypocrisy and lack of courage, but also for the many failings of the Church, writ large. That may be cool, and more palatable to the jaded (or wounded) spiritually-curious viewers. But my heart aches for them to hear a better story.
A better story starts with an all-powerful and very present God Almighty, who is not only Sovereign and perfectly Holy, but full of mind-bending LOVE that obliterates our best attempts to understand it. That perfectly pure One created every soul who ever lived to be in a mutually joy-giving relationship with Him. But we, the creatures, spat in His face because we thought we knew better what would satisfy. We died that day. And every day since, man clamors to find identity and meaning and lasting pleasure, but none of it really satisfies us. Reed College exhausts us, and we feel the shame of it.
A better story would speak the truth of the Bible, that JESUS CHRIST came to save SINNERS, even the very worst. That He offers HOPE and JOY that really is lasting and satisfies our longing for identity, meaning, and pleasure free from guilt. This is THE true story the world needs to hear.
I don’t mean to saddle “Blue Like Jazz” the movie with the calling of the Church. God did not call Steve Taylor and Donald Miller to use this movie to make disciples. He calls me to do that, and you, too, if you love Jesus. But I sense a missed opportunity here. That’s all I’m saying.
“Blue Like Jazz” is smartly written, well acted, and cleverly rendered. It works. I see the need for movies and more art in general to explore faith while looking honestly at brokenness, although I remember the words of Paul to focus our minds and hearts on “whatever is true, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8) In order to focus on what is true – on the life-transforming power of the GOSPEL – allow “Blue Like Jazz” to do the work it is intended to do. Let it disturb you and stir compassion in you for the brokenness we live in.
Then get in the Word, read the Gospel, and do something.
This fall I began a long walk through a series of posts called “Pursue Joy.” You can read the introductory post (“God wants to wreck your life”) here. It’s what I believe about life and theology – in a nutshell. So far I’ve hit three out of five pillar ideas in past posts.
First this. God is wildly, passionately, zealously, jealously committed to the glory of His own name. This stands in contrast to the misconception we have growing up in church believing that God’s love and Jesus’ ministry is focused primarily on US.
And then this. Far from being a hyperbolic cosmic ego trip, this truth is the most wildly loving foundation possible for our relationship with Him.
And that leads to this. BECAUSE God is so passionately God-focused, He has made us and redeems us in order that we might find our ultimate fulfillment in the the praise of His glory, at all times, right now and thoughout eternity.
Good times. You are now up to speed.
So God is GOD-focused rather than US focused. And we were created by God to be GOD-focused rather than US-focused. And whether you realize it or not at first blush, this is very very VERY good news for schleps like you and me. Schleps with a ME-focused nature. Wildly better news, in fact, that our little minds can absorb. Today I want to answer the question… “WHY?”
Point #4 in my “pursue joy” framework is this: This is the greatest possible news. This is pure gospel. That we have been created to and saved not unto begrudging servitude, but unto the passionate pursuit of JOY. Not mere pleasure, or happiness which is fleeting, but a pursuit of soul-thrilling JOY that deepens and expands forever into the infinite glory of God.
I talk about JOY a lot. One of the most common press-backs I get from brothers in Christ is what I call the “take up your cross” argument. Their concern is that I am so focused on the “good stuff” (i.e. the JOY stuff) that I am missing the forest for the tree. The cross, in particular. After all wasn’t Jesus a “suffering servant” (ala Isaiah), well acquainted with grief? If we are called to emmulate His life and ministry, isn’t our faith going to be forged in the furnace of suffering?
Yes, it is.
Jesus said we would suffer. We will grieve. We may live with little. We may be called to give up the little we have. We may give up home, comfort, security, and family for the sake of the Gospel. We may die.
But even Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before Him.” (Hebrews 12:2) And to think that lack of comfort or earthly security or even loss of our loved ones equates to lack of JOY is to misunderstand JOY. Joy is bedrock. It is God-given. It grows in tandem with faith, as God proves His love again and again. The path to deep and lasting JOY is often THROUGH the valley of suffering and hardship and uncertainty and sacrifice.
So don’t confuse JOY with comfort or pleasure or even happiness. It is deeper. It is stronger. It is better. It is of greater value.
We should be eager to give up comfort, pleasure, security… if the path of obedience always leads us to deeper joy. And it does. It always does.
John Piper, whom I love, clarified this even more for me today. Watch this…
October 30, 2011.Living Hope Church in St. Michael-Albertville, MN. Sunday night service. This message is taken from Isaiah 43:1-7. It’s a message to Christ followers who are going through extremely difficult circumstances… times the old testament writers would refer to in poetic, idiomatic language… “going through water and fire.” In these desperate times, Isaiah 43 brings us this encouragement:
Don’t be afraid, because God is with you!
VIDEO NOTES: The video here begins a few minutes into my message after I had talked about my dear friends Jeremy and Jenny Erickson. You can see their picture on the screen behind me as the video starts. Jeremy was in the hospital awaiting news of a bone marrow scan that would eventually reveal a pre-leukemia disorder, and Jenny had just received word that her dad had died in a car accident. That is going through water and fire. I had the Ericksons in my mind as I prepared and delivered this message. Ongoing prayers for their family are deeply appreciated.
Also on this video, we decided to include some of our closing song. If you are interested in finding it for use in your own church, it is called “Covenant Song,” written by Aaron Senseman, copyright 2000 Stuntman Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)
We ended our service Sunday night in a prayer huddle around Pastor Bob’s son, Joshua Halvorson, who is a Marine being deployed to Afghanistan this week… through water and fire. We will keep Joshua in our prayers, too.
I’m pausing briefly in my series on the pursuit of joy (check out part one, two, and three) to make this important announcement:
Seth is out of the family. Man, I loved that kid, too. It will be hard to lose him, sure, but he did, after all, leave the dishes half finished. Levi is out, too. He talked back twice yesterday. It’s hard to kick a seven year old out of the house in Autumn, but Seth is going, too, and he’s a pretty resourceful kid. They’ll probably cobble together lunch money with some kind of street performance involving music and dance. They’ll do alright. Too bad they can’t be Skogerboes anymore. If only they had followed the rules…
This is so ridiculous that it hardly works as a metaphor… and that’s exactly why it works as a metaphor. Let me explain…
Today in my Christian Ethics class we confronted a conceptual stumbling block that I’ve had for years concerning Christ’s imputed righteousness. That’s fancy pants seminarian talk for “the righteousness Jesus credits to me because he has forgiven my sins.” I have struggled to correctly understand what this means in relation to my “split personality…” I’m a sinner. And I’m a saint. I’m wretched. And I’m righteous.
This is a mystery. But it is a stone cold reality. Believers in Jesus – followers of Christ – ARE righteous in God’s eyes, because of the finished work of Jesus on the cross on our behalf. In church-ese, he has been made the propitiation for our sins, and his sacrifice on the cross 2000 years ago was the substitutionary atonement for us, redeeming us to relationship with God, and we have been clothed with Christ’s righteousness. That means that HIS righteousness has been imputed (given) to us. WE ARE RIGHTEOUS.
At the same time we live corrupted by sin, and like Paul, we who love the Lord are frustrated and horrified that the things we want to do we can’t do, and the things we DON’T want to do we can’t seem to let go of. WE ARE SINNERS.
For years I have wondered how all of this works together. I have read the passages that explain how Jesus is my Mediator (again with the church talk… so sorry) literally translated my “advocate,” like a defense attorney. Only he’s NEVER LOST a case. He only has ONE LINE OF DEFENSE, and it works every single time. He stands before His Father, the Righteous Judge, and He shows the nail holes in his hands and feet. His blood is the payment. The debt is accounted for. The sin is erased. “And when God looks at me,” I’ve been told, “He doesn’t see my sin at all. He sees Jesus’ righteousness.”
So after He saved me, Jesus is basically my Elmore Smith.
Elmore Smith was a 7’0″ center from Kentucky State University. He played in the National Basketball Association from 1971 to 1979 as a member of the Buffalo Braves, Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, and the Cleveland Cavaliers. While racking up an impressive stack of stats as a point-maker and rebounder, what Smith is best remembered for his shot-blocking, earning him the nickname “Elmore the Rejector”. He led the league in total blocked shots in both 1974 and 1975, and holds the NBA record for most blocked shots in a game since 1973, with 17.
This is how I have seen the work of the Trinity in regards to my sin and in view of Christ’s imputed righteousness in my life: When I sin, I grieve the Holy Spirit (my Counselor) who lives in me and continually reminds me of God’s Word, the refining Law that points me to the cross. In heaven, I have imagined the Father (Righteous Judge), ruling in holiness and unapproachable light, sitting on His throne in perfection and purity, the unattainable standard by which I will be measured in order to gain access to heaven some day.
And then there, before the Throne of the Judge, stands “Jesus the Rejector,” my spiritual Elmore Smith, shot blocking my sins with 100% accuracy, so that the Judge behind Him will never see my imperfection.
It kinda works, right?
But there’s a problem… My sins really do matter. And The Trinity is in perfect communion. And the God-head is ONE. And the Godhead is omniscient (which is church-speak for “KNOWS EVERYTHING, past present, and future.”)
If God the Father knows all that God the Son and God the Spirit know, then it isn’t possible that my sins are “unknown” to Him. So yes, I am righteous… the Bible says that I am. My sins are covered by Jesus’ righteousness imputed to me. But God knows all, and He sees that I sin. How can I sin… and be perfectly righteous?
What really helped clarify this conundrum for me today was the understanding that this imputed righteousness is a righteousness of POSITION. In other words, as a Christ-child, I still sin. I need the cross everyday, and I need to turn to Jesus in repentance daily. He is my Advocate, and His blood has covered my sin… but they are not unknown to the Father. And yet my sins don’t affect my POSITION as a child of God. That is Jesus’ work, not mine.
Just like my kids’ rule-breaking is not unknown to me. Although they may think they get away with it now and again, I know. I always know. And I want them to do what is right. I want them to follow the rules out of love and respect for me… out a a belief that they know I have the BEST in mind for them. But they mess up. They break the rules. They sin.
Do I ask them to take responsibility when they sin? Yes. Do I expect them to turn and go the other way? Yes. But I don’t kick them out of the family.
They are still my beloved kiddos. I will fight for them and direct them and raise them to live healthy, fulfilled lives, and when they mess up, I will forgive. But they will always be my kids.
So it is with the righteousness of Jesus. It is a righteousness of position. It is placement within the family of God. We are His beloved children. When we mess up, He will forgive. Does our sin matter? You bet. Jesus is not my Elmore Smith. God knows it all. But our position is not dependant upon our striving hard enough. Our position is secure in the work Jesus has already done in our place.
Does this smack of “eternal security” to you… or to decipher for the non-church crowd… Does that mean once we’re saved we’re ALWAYS saved no matter how we live? Absolutely not. The Bible is clear that if we rebel hard enough, long enough, our heart for God will become a heart of stone, and we can fall away from the faith that saves. Even children can rebel long enough – hard enough – that they become “dead to the family.” Sometimes legal action is taken to sever family ties. But even without any formal ceremony, family ties can be cut if the child wants out. Sin is a dangerous flirtation with death and darkness. Sin matters. But if we want to be God’s children, and we live in daily repentance for our corrupt nature and misguided behavior, the righteousness of Jesus is ours. Our standing in God’s family remains secure in Him.
Imputed righteousness. There’s your daily dose of “church-ese” decoded for real life.