When I know God and I are “not ok”
Often times, I don’t feel worthy of the title “Christian”. I am plagued by a guilty conscience, I feel myself enslaved to sin, and I am broken by its consequences. I know I have betrayed God. I know I utterly fail to imitate his just and loving character in my human relationships, no matter how hard I try.
When I view God only as a strict and rigid lawmaker, and subsequently, an all-seeing supreme judge, I feel intense guilt for my many violations. I know I am in serious trouble, utterly unable to make myself acceptable to God.
When my conscience is guilty and ashamed before God as judge, I primarily view myself as a condemned sinner.
When God and I “seem ok”, but we aren’t
At other times, I simply dumb down my view of God to justify my sinful indulgences. I don’t want him to interfere with the selfish ways I want to live. I avoid any notion of God’s holiness, commands, and justice. I presume myself justified and acceptable to a reduced, imaginary God: indulgent, soft, permissive, and tolerant.
My inner dialogue of lies goes like this:
“Why can’t I indulge myself? It’s not that big a deal. God is loving and will forgive me. I’m a good person. I deserve some pleasure. Besides, God will buffer me from any consequences.”
When I think I can make myself acceptable to a purely loving God, it doesn’t make me Christian. It only gives me a false sense of being self-justified.
How do I rightly view God and me?
Most of my Christian life I have vacillated between viewing myself as either a condemned sinner or a self-justified, decent person. It makes me wonder: What is the right way to view God and my relationship with him? More importantly, how does he view me? What makes me a Christian in God’s eyes?
Simul Justus et Peccator
This above Latin phrase was coined by Martin Luther, the 16th century catalyst of the Protestant reformation. It calibrates my perspective to God’s word. In just a few words it speaks to me of the essence of what makes me Christian. I need to repeatedly think about this phrase because it holds in healthy tension what makes me Christian.
So, what does ‘Simul Justus et Peccator’ mean? Simultaneously just and a sinner.
Who am I? In short, I am a justified sinner.
What is a justified sinner?
First, what does it mean to be justified?
Well, when Jesus died on the cross, the Bible claims that he took all my sin into himself, in essence became sin for me, and suffered my hellish consequences.
Then Jesus does something astonishing. He offers to credit his righteous life to me. When I place my faith in his offer of exchange, I receive his perfect, sinless record. God declares me morally faultless in his sight.
But the implications are far more expansive and far reaching. Because Jesus rose to conquer sin and death by his resurrection, I also share in the hope of his new resurrection life; sin and death no longer have ultimate power to rule my life or condemn me. Nothing, not even my sin, can now separate me from God’s love. I share in all of his inheritance.
I have this new spiritual life imparted by the Holy Spirit, who is at work within me, to make me more like Jesus. Notice the three tenses that describe the full scope of how I am justified. I have been justified in God’s sight by the substitution of Jesus dying in my place. I am being justified by God day by day in my earthly life as I confess my sin. One day I will be completely justified by God and free to sin no more, when I see Jesus face to face.
Second, what does it mean to be a sinner?
In this present earthly life, even though justified in the eyes of God, I will still never completely live out or experience the holiness God intends for me. His principles and laws are the ideal way for me to live, but they are also there to show how far I still fall short. They reveal my need to rely solely on God’s mercy and grace in Jesus.
Sadly, many of my thoughts, words, and actions continue to violate divine law and offend God. But as I confess my sin and experience the forgiveness of Jesus, he purifies me. God will never hold my record of wrongs against me. Even so, in this life he calls me to confess that I am still a sinner.
Put together, I am a justified sinner
I love Luther’s articulation of this altogether different variety of righteousness. It distinguishes itself from all other human efforts to self-justify, what he calls ‘passive’ righteousness (righteousness: the quality of being morally right or justifiable).
“Christian righteousness. God imputes it to us apart from our works—in other words, it is passive righteousness, as the others are active. For we do nothing for it, and we give nothing for it. We only receive it.
If I tried to fulfill the law myself, I could not trust in what I had accomplished, neither could it stand up to the judgment of God. So… I rest only upon the righteousness of Christ… which I do not produce but receive, God the Father freely giving it to us through Jesus Christ.”
How does the right view of my relationship to God change me?
Only when I renounce both my sin and my own self-effort to make myself righteous before God and receive the forgiveness and perfect work of Jesus, does God make me a Christian. After that, Jesus defends me against all accusations brought against me. God legally acquits me of all charges. In God’s eyes I am justified.
Viewing myself as justified: Seeing myself as justified by Jesus breaks apart the hold that my guilt and shame have over me before God as judge. I am grateful to Jesus; only his work freed me from God’s judgement and condemnation for my sin.
Viewing myself as a sinner: And yet, at the same time, seeing myself as someone who still sins, keeps me humble. When I know and experience the forgiveness of Jesus, it frees me from my striving through self-righteousness, my tendency to prove that I am okay on my own, that my sin isn’t that bad.
Just how bad is my sin? It cost the Son of God his life. And he is the only one who can rid me of my sin once and for all. I experience God’s unconditional agape love.
I see the great cost Jesus was willing to pay to demonstrate his love for me. When I worship and relate to the God of truth and love, Jesus keeps me humble and reliant on him. He is my only mediator between my sinful self and a holy God.
Living in the tension
Only Jesus offers me an utterly unique and right view of my relationship to God while in this life. In Jesus I am a justified sinner. This is the correct way to view myself from God’s perspective.
But I’ve saved the greatest news for last. One day the second word of the phrase ‘justified sinner’ will be dropped. When I am ushered into the presence of Jesus, I will lose my sinner status entirely and will simply be called by God justified, never to sin again.
So here is the crux of my Christian experience in this life: I am a living paradox. I am in the in-between. Christ’s finished work on the cross guarantees my full justification, but in this world I only experience it partially, though God willing, increasingly.
All my attempts to kill sin in this life will pale in comparison to the light of the greater hope that one day my justification will be fully revealed and experienced. When I see Jesus face to face I will never sin again. I will fully experience my justification.
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