Here is an important reminder and challenge from Richard Lovelace, from his monumental Dynamics of Spiritual Life:
Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives… Many… have a theoretical commitment to this doctrine, but in their day-to-day existence they rely on their sanctification for their justification… drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity, their past experience of conversion, their recent religious performance or the relative infrequency of their conscious, willful disobedience. Few know enough to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther’s platform: you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance… Christians who are no longer sure that God loves and accepts them in Jesus, apart from their present spiritual achievements, are subconsciously radically insecure persons… Their insecurity shows itself in pride, a fierce, defensive assertion of their own righteousness, and defensive criticism of others. They come naturally to hate other cultural styles and other races in order to bolster their own security and discharge their suppressed anger.
This paragraph, surprisingly, caused somewhat of a stir when I posted it on my Facebook page yesterday. Most appreciated it. Some who expressed appreciation, I wondered if they really understood what Lovelacve was saying. I hope so.
So, how do we respond if we find ourselves among the majority who are not functionally appropriating the justifying work of Christ?
First: Repent. Don’t fear embracing our own weakness in this area. To do so is to fall back into the same pattern that hinders us from appropriating the present benefits of the “justifying work of Christ”. While I would not suggest that this failure necessarily means one is not a Christian, I would say that it is a functional unbelief, and that when I and others function this way we are living as if we are unbelievers.
That may sound odd to some – “Living as if we are unbelievers”. It may seem odd because many of us are prone to define living like a believer or living like an unbeliever in relation to our moral behavior, or perhaps to our spiritual disciplines. Yet genuine Christianity generally first transforms the heart, which in turn shapes our behaviors. Just as it is possible for one who in not truly converted to act in moral ways, and have regular bible study, etc., so it is possible for one who is truly a Child of God to have periods when we go through the motions without consciously believing, or putting our functional faith in, what Jesus has done to make us his own. In such cases, we “act” as if we are unbelievers.
Acting as a functional unbeliever is a tremendous joy stealer. But if we realize we are accepted and loved because of grace, and with that assurance are willing to acknowledge our weakness in this area (among other areas) then we find ourselves set free from fears about our performance. We are free to repent of our functional unbelief.
Second: Believe. In one sense believing is not really second, but rather 1b, to the 1a of repentance. (Truth is that these must be inseparable, so which is 1a and which is 1b is irrelevant.) But we must remind ourselves, every day, moment-by-moment, that we are loved, not because we earned it or deserve it but simply because God loves us. (Romans 5.8) God’s love is rooted in his character, not our goodness; secured by Jesus’ action, not our performance. And as Romans 5.8 tells us, God demonstrates, or proves, his love for us by the fact that he gave us his Son when we were not deserving. And as Paul went on to explain in Romans 8.31-39, if God loves us when we were unlovable, there is nothing that can separate us from him and his love now that we belong to him. The questions I find myself returning to ask myself are these: “Why does God love me? and How do I know?” The answer is because of Jesus. If that is what I believe then I am in in good shape, because that is not only all that is required, that is all there is. My standing with God rests entirely on what Jesus has done. That is what I must remind myself to believe; and supplement that belief by reminding myself of exactly what Jesus did to demonstrate and secure God’s love. I need to preach these things to my heart every day.