RIGHTEOUSNESS LIKE A RAINCOAT
Written by Doug Ponder on October 14, 2016
Just As I You’d Always Obeyed
Forgiveness of sins and justification in Christ always go together. Always. They are a package deal, such that you can’t have one without the other. But saying this is only helpful if we know what justification means. To oversimplify a little, forgiveness is the removal of a negative (sin), while justification is the addition of a positive (the righteousness of Jesus).
Forgiveness means the judge has set you free from the penalty for your crimes.
Justification means the judge gives you the Medal of Honor and adopts you as his heir.
Forgiveness means getting the lowest grade of your class dropped at the end of the semester.
Justification means getting a 100 for your final grade, regardless of how you did in class.
Forgiveness is a “get of out jail free” card.
Justification is getting Park Place and Boardwalk with hotels on both for free.
Forgiveness is “just as if you’d never sinned.”
Justification is “just as if you’d always obeyed.”
Forgiveness says, “You are free to go.”
Justification says, “You are free to come.”
The gospel is the good news that both of these are your gift in Jesus. Your sins are forgiven; they are no longer held against you, and in place of your prior criminal record is the perfect record of Jesus (1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:21; Rom 4:4-5; Phil 3:8-9; 1 Pet 3:18).
How Justification “Works”
God isn’t stupid or forgetful. He knows that faith in Jesus does not magically make you perfect in all your behavior and thoughts and actions and attitudes. But that isn’t what justification does. Justification means that you have been clothed with Jesus’ own righteousness, like a cover letter that sits over your résumé saying, “This candidate is accounted for on my own authority.”
Justification means that Jesus agreed to be treated as we deserve (death, separation, wrath) that we could be treated as he truly deserved (life, love, acceptance, honor, etc.). It means that we are counted righteous because Jesus is righteous—for we are “in him,” having been united forever by faith so that all our debts were absorbed by him and all his assets have been credited to us.
Why Justification Matters
Believing this good news not only changes your status with God, it also changes your view of yourself. Like a raincoat the righteousness of Jesus makes criticism bead up like harmless drops of water. Condemnation cannot penetrate the righteous robes of Christ (Rom 8:1), no matter who it’s coming from.
Condemnation from the Enemy
This is great news, especially since Satan’s main way of attacking God’s people is through accusation. His name literally means “the slanderer,” and he is called “the accuser of the brethren” (Rev 12:10). And this reminds me of a powerful song that explains how Satan preaches only half the truth: we are cursed and gone astray, and we cannot gain salvation. The devil right about this much, but he’s forgotten the refrain: Jesus saves! His accusations cannot touch you anymore. You are clothed in the righteous raincoat of Jesus.
Condemnation from Others
The same is true when the condemnation or criticism comes from others. What a tragedy it is when we act as if the disapproval of others is big while God’s acceptance of us is small! The truth is exactly the opposite: if God has accepted you in Jesus—and he has—then what does it matter if the person down the block approves of all you do? This is not the same as saying, “I don’t care what anyone thinks!”—which, if you’re honest, is what everyone says when they do care about what others think. Instead the gospel teaches us to care more about what God thinks of us than what others think, for his view matters infinitely more than theirs.
Condemnation from Yourself
Finally, all this remains true when it’s your own thoughts that accuse you. We can all be our own worst critic, and we’re the one critic we can never run away from. So what can we do? The apostle John says, “If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts” (1 John 3:20). In other words, your heart may condemn you, but God doesn’t because of Jesus—and he is greater than your heart. Ever heard someone says, “I know God forgives me, but I can’t forgive myself”? This may sound humble on the surface, but it’s actually an elevation our judgment above God’s! God says you are forgiven and accepted and loved, and so you are. You just need to humble yourself and rejoice. You are loved and accepted in Jesus; you’re clothed with his righteousness like raincoat.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is a regular contributor to RE|SOURCE. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.