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Many folks in evangelicalism who routinely ‘share their faith,’ go about telling their story.  They talk about how Jesus has saved them from this or that sinful behavior or thought pattern.  Some folks’ sin of choice involves alcohol, some are sidelined by homosexual behavior, others by drugs, anger, or nicotine.  Whatever they wrestled with before, they have the victory over now…all thanks to Jesus.

Here’s the problem: even if we are to grant that God has wrought such life-change through sanctification, this is still not the Gospel. Such life-change is potentially a fruit of the Gospel, but the Gospel and its fruit must never be confounded.  Someone recently asked me to summarize the Gospel.  Here’s what I answered:

That Christ, acting outside of me, apart from my will, died for me in history and that he rose again, giving me his righteousness which covers me like a robe would. His righteousness is always and always will be alien to (outside of) me.

This sort of righteousness makes possible the sanctification that, as Christ’s redeemed people, we long for continuously.  But it is never innately ours.  It is forever His.  As an aside, if this concept sounds new and strange to you and you happen to attend a church which sings “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand,” then I suggest you refrain from singing the verse which states, “Dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne,” for this doctrine of alien, imputed righteousness is exactly what the lyricist is articulating.  You’ll never stand before God in your own righteousness…at least, not if you are going to spend eternity with Him as one of His people.  If you are a goat, well then, you’ll stand before Christ in only your own righteousness.  And that won’t be pleasant at all.

I have chosen, perhaps, an even more appropriate hymn than the last one.  Practicinghuman raised an interesting point in their comment, one that I am pondering carefully.  So I submit the hymn, “Jesus Lives, And So Shall I.”

Jesus lives, and so shall I
Death, thy sting is gone forever
He who, for me, chose to die
Lives, the bands of death to sever
He shall raise me with the just
Jesus is my hope and trust

Jesus lives and reigns supreme
And, His kingdom still remaining
I shall also be with Him
Ever living, ever reigning
God has promised; be it must:
Jesus is my hope and trust

Jesus lives and God extends
Grace to each returning sinner
Rebels He receives as friends
And exalts to highest honor
God is true as He is just
Jesus is my hope and trust

Jesus lives and by His grace
Victory o’er my passions giving
I will cleanse my heart and ways
Ever to His glory living
The weak He raises from the dust
Jesus is my hope and trust

Jesus lives and I am sure
Naught shall e’er from Jesus sever
Satan’s wiles and Satan’s power
Pain or pleasure, ye shall never!
Christian armor cannot rust:
Jesus is my hope and trust

Jesus lives and death is now
But my entrance into glory
Courage! then my soul, for thou
Hast a crown of life before thee
Thou shalt find thy hopes were just:
Jesus is the Christian’s trust

A couple of observations about the above hymn: first, the fourth verse speaks of us killing sin on the basis of the first three verses, which detail the Gospel of God having accepted sinners as friends and honoring them.  Do we kill sin? Yes. Why? Because of Christ’s imputed righteousness, not because we’ve been or are being perfected by his grace.

Second, the fifth verse reminded me of Romans 8:35-39, ESV:

35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Then, the lyricist weaves in a comment about the armor of God from Ephesians that really is genius: “Christian armor cannot rust.”  Loved that line.

Folks, this is the message the Church is to proclaim.  Not simply remind people…but proclaim. Forcefully.  Dare I even use the word the biblical authors use? Preach. This is the message we’re to preach.

Here’s the beauty of doing just that:  even if I fall away into grievous sin, even if I renounce my faith: if I’ve testified to the faithfulness of Christ’s saving work on my behalf and not MY faithfulness in receiving that gift, then my testimony points to a valid faithfulness in Christ.  If I’ve told people about how I’ve renounced homosexual acts because of Jesus, then what happens when I do one…or am caught doing one?  My testimony is worthless because it was about my faithfulness rather than Christ’s.  But, if I testify to God’s faithfulness is loving me despite my being a rebel and dying for me and rising again for my justification, then no matter how awful my life turns out and no matter how hard I struggle and win or lose against my sin, then the testimony I’ve given of Christ’s faithfulness still remains.

Even when we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.