Many of us grow up to become quite decent citizens of our country, and many espouse the Christian faith for a variety of reasons. Within that framework something then happens to knock us for six. A good and trusted friend meets us one day, and says, rather hesitantly, that he has something important to say to us. Our heart begins to beat a little faster, wondering what revelation is about to be unveiled.
“I’m sorry to have to say this, but it’s come to my notice that . . . .” And then he tells us about something that we had not been fully aware of, but (so it seems) everyone else had. Something that we have to put right. Something that demands an apology.
What is our immediate reaction? If you are anything like me, you will quickly build a wall of righteousness around yourself, and try to think of every possible extenuating circumstance to explain the thing away, so as not to lose face. To accept the advice of our friend is not easy. This is because we all live from day to day imagining that we have not been too bad as things go. In fact sometimes we even pat ourselves on the back for our generous manner towards others.
The more we assess ourselves as being “quite decent citizens”, the more difficult it is to accept a word of correction. This is in fact a universal problem, and one that is only remedied by God Himself when we are willing to listen to what He has to say about it.
Of course, the problem is dealt with in depth by Paul in writing to the Romans (chapters 1 to 8). But in this little essay I don’t want to use Pauline language because familiarity sometimes blurs the force of the argument. However, I’ll start by quoting a well-known verse from Romans 3:23. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Let’s take that apart and present it from the meaning of the Greek words. After all, those who first read Paul’s letter would have been in a far better position to know and understand what he was talking about, because they spoke Greek!
The word sin is HAMARTIA, and means to “miss the mark.” This is very useful. We don’t like the word sin, especially when someone points out to us that we have sinned, as in the example quoted above. However, a simple analogy may be useful here. Imagine a field where someone has set up some targets, designed as in archery, with half a dozen concentric circles, the innermost being in red. Then imagine that you have been given a bountiful supply of arrows and a well strung bow. You are instructed to fire these arrows and to hit the bull’s eye, the red circle. Being quite a good shot, you succeed at first, but after a while one of the arrows fails, and lands on the next outer circle. You are out of the game. You have “missed the mark.” This is a very good way of describing sin. Paul is saying that every single human being is in this category. All of us have “missed the mark.” However, some people get perilously close to winning, but sooner or later they fail.
Paul goes on to tell us that the ones who get closest to winning are probably the least able to accept the fact that they have failed as miserably as the one who never succeeds in getting a single bull’s eye. Throughout our lives we are seen by God to be like archers, continually firing our arrows at the target, and missing the mark, some more than others. However, there was one man who never missed once. He came from heaven, and was God’s own Son. More of this in a minute.
The next part of the verse in Romans 3 tells us that we have “come short of the glory of God.” What’s that all about? The word glory in Greek is DOXA, which by its usage throughout the Bible may be equated with the very character of God Himself. We have fallen short of the character of God. Man was originally made in the image of God, and possessed the likeness of God’s character, but Paul tells us that “by one man (i.e. Adam) sin (fallenness) entered the world.” That state of fallenness, that “missing the mark”, passed through to all mankind and resulted in death. The very presence of death in this world is a continual reminder that all of us have “missed the mark.” All except Jesus, who lived a perfect life. All His arrows landed in the bull’s eye.
Now, we are in a position to help ourselves in a wonderful way. Instead of feeling piqued at the very suggestion we may have “sinned”, we should train ourselves to believe what Paul said concerning our universal state of “missing the mark”, and be prepared to act on it, rather than getting upset, and trying our best to justify ourselves every time we make a mistake, or do someone an injury. We are all in the same boat, to use yet another simile. None of us can declare that we are just and righteous. But it takes quite a jolt to our pride to accept this as a fact.
The outcome of this little exercise should be that we learn to treat ourselves as imperfect goods, and be prepared to accept the word of correction given by a trusted friend. Paul tells us that we should in fact treat ourselves as “dead” to the concept of personal righteousness, rather than trying all the time to shore ourselves up, and win brownie points. If we know that in the sight of God there’s no point in trying to achieve righteousness by our actions, then we have reached the place where we can very well call ourselves “dead.”
Becoming a Christian is in fact equivalent to accepting this truth utterly and completely, without struggling to keep “just a little of our own righteousness” to satisfy our pride. Having reached this position, God shows us that His Man, the One who never missed the mark, has a remedy in store. Paul tells us to “put on Christ.” This sounds a bit strange, but in reality it is like accepting a brand new, and wonderfully made, coat, and wearing it all the time. This coat is defined as God’s own righteousness, His character, His glory, and it is given to us when we come to the end of our striving for personal righteousness.
The new coat is made available to all mankind because God’s Son scored 100% in His archery, and then allowed Himself to be killed. In the Old Testament days, the sacrificial lamb had to be perfect, without any form of blemish, and this prefigured the only true sacrifice that had any meaning, namely the death of Jesus on the cross. Because of His death and resurrection, He has provided us with this brand new coat, which is His own righteousness.
If we know that we have God’s righteousness as His free gift of grace, then we shall not be hankering after the spoiled goods of our own righteousness. Walking by faith, accepting the new coat, we shall be satisfied with His righteousness, bright and untarnished, wholly acceptable to God. That is what is meant by “imputed righteousness”, and that is what is meant by our “reckoning ourselves dead.”
This is a wonderful truth that many miss. Even Christians often have to be taught this simple truth. But when one receives his new life, his new coat, from God, he is liberated from human struggle into a beautiful freedom of mind. It is like a jubilee. And as this is Wellspring 50, the truth has been spelled out according to the number 50, the number of jubilee.
Praise God for His bounty, His new coat, His own character bestowed to His own glory. One day we shall be changed completely, and that which now sits beneath the new coat will be changed, so that we may enjoy immortality.