After many years of diverse career experience, I was excitedly counting down the days until my retirement. I eagerly anticipated being in control of my schedule and time while enjoying a slower pace of life. I envisioned more days devoted to serving in ministry at my church and deepening relationships...
In the Bible’s terms, when you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, faith forms the bond of a living union in which Christ becomes yours and you become His. You are “in Christ” and Christ is in you. Here are three gifts that become yours through faith in Christ:
1. Justification (legal): In Christ, God drops all charges against you.
Justification means that God drops all charges against you. The reason, Christian, that you will enter heaven, is not that you are without sin, because none of us ever is. The reason that Christians enter heaven is that God does not charge their sins against them. Why?
God charges our sins to the account of Jesus, in whom these sins were judged, punished, and atoned for through his sacrifice as our sin-bearer on the cross: “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
In Christ your debts have been paid in full, so that they will not and cannot be charged to you on the last day. That is the spectacular truth of justification: “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
Christians enter heaven on the basis of mercy, but also on the basis of justice! A just God cannot demand payment for sins that have been atoned for! A just God will not call in a debt that has already been paid.
Justification is a marvelous legal gift—our confidence before God in life, death and on entering into heaven: My salvation rests on the character of God who is just, and it is sealed by the blood of Christ, my Savior!
2. Forgiveness (relational): In Christ, God reconciles you to Himself.
When God justifies, He also forgives, and reconciles us to Himself in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18). He never does one without the other. This is a spectacular blessing. Think about it: You were an enemy of God; now He makes you His friend!
We looked at this marvelous subject of forgiveness in the last Beatitude: “Blessed are the merciful,” and we saw that God forgives when repentance begins. Why? Forgiveness is relational—it is both given and received.
Love can be one-sided. You can love a person who does not love you back. When Jesus says, “Love your enemies,” it is a one-sided thing. Your enemies certainly don’t love you!
Love can be one-directional, but forgiveness is always relational. Two parties are involved. One forgives; the other is forgiven, and out of this a relationship is restored.
This is the grace of God to you in Jesus Christ: He forgives all your sins. He puts them out of mind, out of sight. To all who are in Christ, he says, “Your sins and your iniquities I will remember no more” (Hebrews 10:17).
The prophet Micah puts it this way: “You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). And as an old preacher once said about this: “God casts our sins into the depth of the sea, and he puts up a sign that says, ‘No Fishing!’”
iii. Cleansing (personal): In Christ, God washes your heart and your life.
My car is filthy and needs to be washed. I’ll get to the carwash on Monday, but by next weekend, the same car will need washing again.
The car picks up dirt from the road, and it needs to be washed on a regular basis. I have never seen a car of which this is not true. Even if your car is a super expensive one, it still needs to be washed.
It’s the same with clothes. You can buy clothes that don’t need to be ironed. But have you ever seen clothes that don’t need to be washed? No! Every week a new pile of dirty clothes is ready to be thrown in the wash.
Every morning I get in the shower. Why do I do that? I haven’t been wading through a swamp or rolling in the mud. I’ve just been asleep for the night, but when I wake up, I’m aware of my need to be washed.
Justification happens once. It is a legal standing before God. Forgiveness or reconciliation with God happens once. It does not need to be repeated. What happens when I sin? In Christ, I am a friend of God, and I do not become His enemy every time I sin.
But cleansing is different. I need this on a continuing basis. However much I progress in the Christian life, I never get beyond the need of it.
Now, I want to remind you of a well-known verse of the Bible that brings together the three priceless gifts of justification, forgiveness and cleansing:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
In Christ, God justifies. In Christ, He forgives. And in Christ, He cleanses.
Christ offers more than forgiveness!
Christ came not only to justify but also to sanctify a people for himself. He came, not only to forgive your sins, but to make you holy, because without holiness no one will see the Lord.
The Bible says that God saves us “according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5).
Christ is able to wash your mind. He is able to regenerate your heart. That means he is able to give you new inclinations, a new disposition, a new interest, new affections, new energy, new life!