Truth 3: Every believer no matter his level of spiritual maturity is fully accepted by God on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ, not his own righteousness.
To address this third truth in our series, I would like to make the distinction between positional acceptance in Christ and joy in the Lord that comes through a healthy fellowship with God. To say that someone is accepted in Christ and enjoying fully that acceptance is not the same thing. We will address the issue of sin in the believer’s life and how it affects his walk before the Lord in a later post, but rather than getting into that topic now, let us set it to the side and address this truth first. In Ephesians 1:3-6 Paul wrote: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.”
Notice the details of this text quickly. First, notice his audience. Paul describes them as people who are: “blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ,” “those who are chosen in him before the foundation of the world,” “people who are chosen to be holy and without blame before him in love,” and “predestined to adoption as children by Christ.” Paul’s audience is narrowed to those who are in Christ and only those who are in Christ. Paul uses a similar approach when he writes to the church at Corinth, Philippi, Rome, and Colossae. As we read the remainder of Paul’s epistle, it will become clear to us that though his audience is in this position, they are far from sinless persons in their daily conduct. In chapter 4 he writes: “put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” He then proceeds to command them to put away a series of serious sinful practices including lying, stealing, and corrupt communication. I do not make the point to justify these actions or to suggest that these sinful responses are insignificant. I simply make the observation, that Paul is referring to these believers as saints, though their lives are tainted by sin. I think this observation should draw us to ask the following question: Since God is holy and just, and these people are not, how is it possible for God to accept them? The answer is found in the nature of our justification and acceptance before God. In Isaiah 64:6 the prophet writes: “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” Please do not miss the significance of Isaiah’s state. He says “we all.” Isaiah is a faithful prophet of God, and has been functioning in that official position before the nation of Israel for some time. He includes himself in the statement. Also notice the statement “all our righteousness.” He realizes that all our good deeds are on some level tainted by our sinfulness. To get the sense of Isaiah’s statement, consider the following illustration. Let us say that you have just completed university, and for your graduation, people bring gifts to honor you for your hard work and the accomplishment. One friend decides to go to the community landfill, and pulls a shirt from the smelly pile of waste. Technically, you could wear the shirt, and could use it, if you had no other alternative, however my question is, “How would you respond to this “gift?” I think it is safe to say that you would feel insulted by the “gift,” because the “gift” is unacceptable. Our righteousness before we are placed into Christ, and after we are placed into Christ, can never be the means through which God accepts us. This is why Paul wrote in Philippians 3:7-9 “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ…and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ…and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith…” Paul’s attitude toward his righteousness after his conversion, radically changed from his attitude when he was a devout Pharisee keeping the law to the best of his ability. Even the Apostle Paul’s acceptance before God, positionally in Christ, was rooted in one thing, the imputed righteousness of Christ. Paul stated the following way in Romans 3:21-25 “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested…the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe…justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Our standing before the Lord is exclusively rooted in Christ’s righteousness and not our own. May this truth bring humility when we are tempted to lift ourselves up in self-righteous pride and joy and comfort when we stumble in our Christian experience!