"The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less. I don't need to notice myself - how I'm doing, how I'm being regarded - so often."
-- Tim Keller, The Reason for God
I have a new life, and it all started with this: I have nothing to prove.
This, I believe, is the essence of justification. I am justified. Before the judgment seat of God, the case is closed, I don't have to prove anything to anyone, to myself, or even to God, because Jesus' atonement is sufficient to declare me not guilty. I don't have to prove I am a good person, or a smart one. Because I'm not. I've known this fact for quite some time, but for some reason I kept trying to prove that I was good. I thought, well, I'm forgiven, I trust Jesus for my salvation, I have the Holy Spirit inside me, so now with God's help I can finally be the good person He wants me to be. I knew all of these verses:
Rom 4:4-5 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,
Mat 11:28-30 "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Gal 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Col 2:6-7 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
2Co 12:9-10 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
I knew these verses, and I understood them, partially. I knew that my sanctification was by faith, just as I had first accepted Christ, not by my effort. I knew I was supposed to be able to rest in God's work. But it didn't penetrate my heart. I was endlessly frustrated with myself. I am my own worst critic. Every time I failed I would feel horrible about myself and beg God to change me. Not that asking Him to change me was wrong, but the guilt, the guilt! It followed me around constantly! I knew I was supposed to be free of it, and that just made me feel more guilty!
I combated the guilt with truth - that sin was paid for, Jesus died for that too, I'm forgiven - but the relief was only temporary. The guilt was always there, waiting to pounce. I had a profound dislike of myself. I hate my sin. I hate my flawed nature. Therefore, I hate my self.
The problem was that my identity was still based on being a good person. I wanted to be good with all of my heart. And whenever that identity was threatened, boy howdy, I had an internal meltdown! Or question my intelligence, and my insecurity skyrocketed.
So how did this idea of having nothing to prove finally penetrate my deceived heart? I realized that my identity cannot be based on my ability to follow Jesus. My worth isn't based on my ability to be moral or having true knowledge of God. My forgiveness isn't based on or inhibited by my tendency for legalism and self-righteousness. That's what finally broke down the wall - I realized I was not just forgiven for every sinful act I have ever or will ever commit. I'm forgiven for the flawed nature that I hate in myself that leads me to those sins. Jesus paid the price to fix my broken soul. And not only fix, but give me new life in Him. This is what it means to have my identity in Christ! When I trust fully in what He did on the cross to cover my worst flaws, I have nothing to prove. I am free from trying to be moral - and I can't do it anyway! I knew I couldn't, but I kept trying to justify my identity. Now I can lay that down and just rest. I am justified. I have nothing to prove.
What about obedience? What about spiritual growth? I think I finally have the right motivation to obey, which will grow me in ways I never could before. If I know I have nothing to prove, my only motivation for obeying is love. My motivation is thankfulness and gratitude. Knowledge of being able to rest and not justify myself will lead me to greater, truer obedience and growth, because I will obey out of a right heart, not to make myself better.
And the incredible gift I've received: the guilt is gone! The weight is lifted, I feel like I can breathe. For the first time I genuinely feel forgiven. I feel clean.
How precious is Your blood, Lord!
Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
And the song that has been constantly running through my inner ear:
All this guilt disturbs my peace, I find no release.
Who can save me from my crime? I'm helpless.
Behold I fall before Your face in need of grace.
You speak to me in a gentle voice and in Your mercies I rejoice!
For only Your blood is enough to cover my sin,
Only Your blood is enough to cover me!