Last Friday morning I met my friend Bill at Panera Bread. As I was about to sit down in the booth I’d selected to wait for him I overhead two men in an adjacent booth talking about Ephesians 4:24. I said, “Sorry to interrupt, but I was just reading that verse this morning.”
One of the two men, who was upper middle aged said, “Let me ask you something. Have you ever lied?” I said, “Yes.”
He said, “That makes you a liar. But if you learn to lie less that makes you less of a liar.”
I replied, “I love you brother, but if I lie that does not mean I am a liar, it means I am a saint who has lied. The structure of Ephesians teaches us that we live rooted in our identity in Christ in the heavens, chapters 1 – 3; then we walk out our lives on earth based on that identity, chapters 4 – 6:9; then we stand against the enemy in 6:10. We are not sinners in Christ but saints in Christ. Our identity is that of saints in Christ.”
Our interchange continued amicably for a couple of minutes while the younger man, in his twenties or early thirties, listened. Then, not wanting to further intrude upon their time, I sat down and shortly afterward Bill arrived.
How will we ever be faithful witnesses to a dying world if we are obsessed with sin and blind to who Jesus Christ is in our lives? How can we preach and teach the Gospel if we only teach one half of the Gospel? Forgiveness of sins without deliverance from sin is cruel and perpetuates a consciousness of sin. Forgiveness of sins without a knowledge that we are now “in Christ” and that we have died to the Law and are now married to a new Husband is heartbreaking. The Old Covenant perpetuated consciousness of sins with its continual sacrifices, the Gospel focuses on our one and totally complete Sacrifice, Jesus Christ, and we are to rejoice in Him and to be transformed into His image as we become who we already are in Him – putting on the new man of Ephesians 4:24.
We learn to put on the new and take off the old as we realize that the old is no longer who we are but that we now abide in the Vine; Paul wrote Ephesians to saints (1:1) and not to sinners. The goal of life is not to “manage sin” but to live in Christ – frankly to be without sin is no big deal, but to be in Christ and bear His image is everything. Scandalous? I suppose – but the Cross is scandalous, the Cross insists that we stop looking at ourselves in never-ending sin management and rather that we behold our Lord Jesus and live in Him and unto Him.
If Justification means that God looks at me as if I’ve never sinned and as if I’ve always been righteous – and if Christians are taught to live in perpetual awareness and analysis of sin, if Christians are taught that the best they can be are “less of a liar today than I was yesterday” – then we are not really teaching Biblical Justification – because we are not living in the light of the glorious and scandalous Good News that we are free, free, free and forgiven, forgiven, forgiven and that we have died in Christ, been buried in Christ, and that in Christ we have been raised to newness of life. God’s people are wearing the clothes and minds of Egypt, eating the food of Egypt – we may have been led through the Red Sea but we are still building with earth and straw – making monuments to men, thinking as men, and not as the sons and daughters of the living God who has wrought an inexpressible deliverance for His children.
No wonder fear and anxiety permeate the church as it does the surrounding culture. No wonder God’s people are shackled in their witness. No wonder there is so little sense of holiness. No wonder transformation has been reduced to therapy. The veil of the temple was rent when Jesus died, but we insist on sewing it up each day…what is worse, what is so much worse…is that we teach others how to use a needle and thread to sew it up too.