I recently had my low self-worth brought to my attention, and it was thrown into the spotlight with this statement: “You feel like you have to work for God’s favor.”
Not only did I disagree, but I was offended. How dare she make that great assumption about my relationship with God? And if I’m being completely honest, that’s probably how I responded. Looking back, I think I was so offended because…it…is…true (ugh, I hate being wrong).
In my early Christian upbringing, I always felt like a relationship with God was completely based on my performance. I was well-behaved, but I wasn’t sure why. I remember in college, the person I was dating at the time (who was agnostic) asked me why I was a Christian. What made God so special to me? My response was literally “It’s how I was brought up.” Friends, this is a crappy reason to believe anything.
Needless to say, my relationship with God has always been a struggle to fight my tendency to “perform.” Even now, understanding what it means to have a relationship with the Lord, I still want to be good enough. And unfortunately for me, I never perform well enough. I am never good enough. When my friend brought this flaw of mine to light, I realized that maybe I DON’T completely understand what a relationship with God is supposed to look like. So now, I dig for Truth.
Scripture leads me to believe that before Christ entered my life, I was spiritually dead. What does this mean?
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned… [Romans 5:12]
Because sin entered the world, and because I was born into sin, I was spiritually dead. This is not a choice I made, but something I was born enslaved to. Sin held my spirit captive, and it was dead.
I think a misconception I had about my sinfulness was that I chose it. And because I *chose it*, I could *not choose it.* I had the power. The ball was in my court. If I *didn’t choose it* enough times, I would be counted righteous before God.
A time came in my life where I realized that was simply untrue. I realized that nothing I chose would make me righteous, and nothing I chose could make me any more unrighteous than I already was. My fate was sealed. I was condemned through the original sin I was born into.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men… [Romans 5:18a]
Enter: Jesus; the game-changer.
…so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. [Romans 5:18b]
Jesus changed it all. His one act of righteousness leads to my justification. Essentially, this means that Jesus makes me right; He makes me virtuous. Jesus is the justifier, which means HE made me righteous. I did nothing.
Finally understanding this changed something for me. I realized that I had not had a salvation that was freely given. I had a “salvation” that I had to work for, one that might be stripped from me depending on my behavior. I had not experienced what Romans 6:23 shares:
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Whoa. Whoa, indeed. When it comes to my salvation, the only thing I bring to the table is sin. I present myself, dirty, broken, and dead; Jesus steps forward in purity and righteousness and perfection. He switches places with me.
He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. [1 John 2:2]
He literally averts God’s attention to Himself. He comes in and takes my place.
A misconception I currently have about my sinfulness is that it still exists. That while Jesus does cover my sin, it is still there. I am still a sinful, nasty human. Jesus just extended His grace to cover it up before God. How wrong am I?
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. [Galatians 2:20-21]
If I am to believe what Scripture says about *becoming a Christian,* then I must believe what Galatians says. I have been crucified with Christ. I have died to sin. The old me is completely gone, dead. It is now Christ who lives in me. My identity is no longer mine, but Christ’s. My soul is now immortal because it is the soul of the living God. I am pure and holy and perfect. This is who I am now. This is my identity.
My flesh lives by faith in the Son of God. My faith rests in His perfection, trusting that He is still perfect and that He is still living in me, because He promises that to me.
My frustration comes flying in because I still sin. This must mean something about my identity. My soul is not His, if I am sinning this much. Why am I so terrible?
Paul speaks to this in Romans 7. He complains desperately that His soul wants to be obedient, but his flesh still fails. This is me. My identity is with Christ, yet my flesh will never match up. Until I do reach eternity, I will always be human. I fall, I make mistakes, and I sin terribly. BUT, my price has been paid. Even the worst of my sins can go no further than the foot of the cross.
While I may always have to fight away the lie of performance, I now know the Truth. Jesus literally did it all. I can stand with open arms and receive His grace. I know that He is working in me until I reach eternity:
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. [Philippians 1:6]
I know that I will still fall short, but I know that sinfulness is no longer my identity. Perfection is my identity. One of my new favorite authors is Henri Nouwen. In his book, “The Inner Voice of Love,” he talks about our path to healing, and it compares well with the journey to righteousness.
When suddenly you seem to lose all you thought you had gained, do not despair. Your healing is not a straight line. You must expect setbacks and regressions. Don’t say to yourself, “All is lost. I have to start all over again.” This is not true. What you have gained, you have gained.
When I fall to sin, even when I fall hard, all is not lost. I walk in God’s righteousness. I may fall off of that path, but I will never lose my place. The road is there, I simply need to keep walking. I thank God for sending perfection not just to stand in front of me, but to take my place completely.