The phone call came late one night from a son in trouble. “Dad, I need some money!” After a brief discussion, I did what any Dad would do: I wire- transferred cash from my account to his. Later, he thanked me as we talked about the situation over a cup of coffee. We discussed how he got in the predicament (poor budgeting skills) and I helped him address those issues. He confessed that it was hard for him to admit that he needed help, but he was grateful nonetheless.
In a similar way it is hard for us to admit that we need God’s help. But we too have failed. We have all sinned, fallen short of God’s good, righteous requirements. What happened with my son and me illustrates in part what God has done for us. But instead of cash, He transfers righteousness to us. Then He comes alongside us in the Person of the Holy Spirit to help us continue to act righteously .
But what exactly is righteousness and how do we get it? Peter promised to follow Jesus to the death. Later he denied knowing Jesus and, when faced with the awful truth that he had abandoned Jesus in the time of testing, he wept bitterly. (Matthew 26: 31-35, 69-75)
It can be devastating to realize our weakness and inability to obey God. Words like “gratitude,” “righteousness” and “faithfulness” can seem like oppressive reminders of our sins. But despite our failures to love and obey God, we can relate confidently to God because he makes us righteous.
Like Peter, we also continue to struggle with sin even after we have committed ourselves to follow Christ. And just as Peter learned, it is vital we understand that God will never abandon us. God is committed to bringing about righteousness in our lives. He does this in several stages.
Initially, God Declares Us Righteous: Justification
Justification is a legal term that means we have been forgiven. In addition it means that we have been declared righteous—morally perfect. (Romans 4:6-8) It is a “once-for-all- time” act that God accomplishes on our behalf. This does not mean we are habitually righteous in every thing we do, but it describes our legal standing with God. You can think of it as being given a new citizenship in God’s Kingdom, a citizenship that cannot change no matter where you live. You may not have a passport to prove it, but God recognizes you as His and accepts you freely.
God is committed to bringing about righteousness in our lives.
Being justified means that Christ’s righteousness has been added to our “righteousness account” in the same way my money was transferred to my son’s account. The result is that God now sees us as righteous on the basis of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Corinthians 5:21) The Apostle Paul describes this as a “right standing” with God that “is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Philippians 3:9)
This legal status before God is really a completely new relationship with Him. We are no longer enemies of God; we are now at peace with Him. (Romans 5:1) In fact, we have immediate acceptance from God because sin is no longer a barrier between Him and His people. Romans 8:1 tells us “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” No matter what the circumstances, God will not abandon us nor revoke our status as being righteous.
Progressively, God Makes Us Righteous: Sanctification
But what about our sins? What about the times when we, like Peter, turn away from God? Before Peter was tested, Jesus prayed that when Peter turned back to God, he would encourage his fellow believers. It is interesting to note that Jesus knew Peter would fall away, but He also expected Peter to return to Him and grow in righteousness.
Likewise, God has a plan for our lives that allows for the ups and downs in our lives and also includes our becoming holy or Christlike. (II Corinthians 3:18) This process, called sanctification, begins when we are justified by God through faith in Christ and continues throughout our lives as we experience and grow in faith.
The Apostle Paul describes this sanctification process in his letter to the Philippian church:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)
The process of sanctification involves pressing on, persevering in the heavenward path God has set us upon. Notice that sanctification is not only dependent on God, but on us as well. Paul also tells the Philippian believers they are to continue to “work out their salvation” even as God works in them. (Philippians 2:12-13) Practically speaking, our sanctification involves our active participation with God, a lifelong perseverance to grow in Christlikeness.
Does this mean that by trying hard we can justify ourselves? By no means! Remember we are justified (declared “not-guilty”) by trusting Christ. Paul explains: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith— and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast”. But he goes on to state, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
(Ephesians 2:8-10) God is the one who declares us righteous and He is the one who is at work in our lives to help us produce good works of righteousness. He has declared us righteous, legally .
Then He helps us be righteous, actually. What an amazing God we follow!
Finally, God Makes Us Perfectly Righteous: Glorification
God’s work in our lives makes us citizens of His Kingdom and prepares us to be eternal residents of that Kingdom. One day, we will enter His Kingdom fully as citizens of heaven. To this end, we await the return of Christ, “who will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20-21)
When Jesus returns, we will experience the resurrection and be completely transformed to be like Him, (except, of course, for His deity). In that day, God will glorify us, which is the completion of the good work of salvation that He began with our justification and continued with our sanctification. (Philippians 1:6)
As you can see, the word “salvation” actually covers an amazing experience. Our salvation is rooted in a single, irreversible act of justification. It continues with our actively growing to become more what God wants us to be. One day this relationship will reach its full maturity when we are changed into morally perfect worshippers of God, forever.
Because of God’s salvation, sin is no longer a barrier between God and us. We should not be discouraged when our growth in holiness is slow, because God is at work in us and will never abandon this good work He has begun. In confidence and security, we can always come to Him.
We can relate confidently to God because He makes us righteous.
- God brings about righteousness in the believer’s life in several stages.
- God declares us righteous, giving us immediate acceptance (justification).
- Sanctification is the process of becoming holy or Christlike.
- We must cooperate with God and persevere in our sanctification.
- Christ will return and complete what God has begun in us (glorification).
God is at work in us and will never abandon this good work He has begun!
- List the things in your life that you feel create a barrier between you and God. Meditate on how this lesson addresses these barriers (Romans 8:1, 5:1)
- How can the principles in this lesson be helpful when you are discouraged about your spiritual growth?
- Based on this lesson, what are some of the reasons a Christian can have hope?
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