Archives For righteousness

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.”

AWESOME.

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.


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“i used to have five boys, now i have three :: jesus is not my elmore smith” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.