A conversation with our Life Group on Wednesday made me think about this devotion I wrote for college aged girls several years ago. It begins with excerpts from my journals. The settling of this truth in my heart has been one of the most life changing.
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July 25, 1997
Dear Father, thank You for Your many blessings in my life. Thank You also for Your conviction is this area: the way I communicate with Johnny. Forgive me Lord for the hurtful and sarcastic words to my husband. I need Your strength to conquer this! This will be a very hard thing for me but thank You that I’m not alone in this and that I can approach the throne with confidence, that I may receive mercy and find grace to help me in this time of need. Help me not give in to my sinful nature but to remember I can call on the name of Jesus to help me find words that are gentle, encouraging, and loving.
April 25, 2005
Father, Johnny and I got into the worst fight we have had in years!! I caused some wounds to Johnny’s heart with my words. We’ve apologized but after fights like that something is changed that only time can heal. You can heal us, God, and that is what I pray for. Come into these bleeding places and heal them. Father, I ask Your forgiveness for not trusting You, for taking “control”, and for fearing. I hurt Johnny deeply and I am so sorry. Is there anything else I can do that will show him……how truly sorry I am, how much I love him?
Two journal entries almost eight years apart but painfully similar. Painful because my journals are filled with pages just like these: my struggle with speaking hurtful words to my husband out of anger. Painful because I remember how defeated I felt each time I made these journal entries. I desperately wanted to “take back” my words. I regretted them almost immediately after I had spoken them. I would ask, “Lord why do I struggle with this?”
Paul expresses well how I feel at these times in Romans 7:15-24.
“Who will save me?” Paul asks.
But look at verse 25 – Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!
YES! I remember what Jesus did for me on the cross and my troubled heart is gladdened. With a broken heart over his own sin David wrote “Restore to me the joy of your salvation…” Psalm 51:12a
Why does my salvation make my heart glad?
Because I know I am forgiven. I know I am forgiven because by faith I have accepted Jesus as my Savior.
But it wasn’t always this way. I spent a large part of my life wondering if I had finally “used up” God’s forgiveness for me. “Will He really forgive me again?” I asked. I accepted Jesus (was saved) at the age of nine but it took years for me to discover the truth of justification by faith alone. For a long time I was confused about justification. I didn’t really understand it; I didn’t totally accept it; whatever the reasons I turned justification by faith into justification by performance. So, on days like July 25, 1997 I would feel condemned because of my angry outburst. If I went long enough without messing up I thought I could “make it up” to God, then I would eventually feel okay again. The problem was that I kept messing up. A cycle of defeat became my reality and I desperately wanted change. I knew this wasn’t how it was supposed to be but felt powerless to do anything. But God revealed the truth to me as I read His Word. One day I finally understood the beautiful Gospel of Jesus Christ. I got the fact that God forgives me because of what Jesus did; He has pardoned all of my sin.
The term justified describes what happens when someone believes in Christ as his or her Savior. From the negative viewpoint, God declares the person to be without guilt; from the positive viewpoint, He declares him or her to be righteous. He cancels the guilt of the person’s sin and credits righteousness to him or her. This legal declaration is valid because Christ died to pay the penalty for our sin and lived a life of perfect righteousness that can be imputed to us.
What a relief! It has nothing to do with what I have done or will do. My good deeds do not justify me more; my bad deeds do not take it away. Jesus’ righteousness is my righteousness, his holiness is my holiness. Nothing can change that. As I write even now a joy fills my heart to overflowing thinking about what happened on the Cross and at the Resurrection.
My problem was that I confused justification with sanctification. Both are gifts bought by the blood of Christ; both are by faith alone. They are inseparable but different. My justification happened in an instant and in that moment God gave me the Holy Spirit to transform me progressively into the image of Christ. That is sanctification: the process by which believers grow in maturity.
Paul writes in Philippians 3:12 “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own”. My justification established my unchanging identity with God – righteous and holy. It is my sanctification that will move me toward that righteousness and holiness. John Piper writes in his book When I Don’t Desire God, “To be sure, our progressive sanctification—our all-too-slow growth in Christ-likeness—matters. It is the necessary evidence that our faith is real. But, oh, what a difference it makes to be assured, in the discouraging darkness of our own imperfection, that we have a perfect righteousness – namely Christ’s.”
That is why my heart is gladdened when I remember my salvation. My sin will continue to discourage and sadden me but I am no longer defeated by it. I rest in who I am in Christ. Like Paul I will press on because Christ has made me his own.
May 2, 2005
Jesus, I don’t know what I would do without you!! Thank you for this desire within me that constantly draws me back to you. Without that desire I would stray too often, too long. I love you so much and I am in awe of who you are and your love for me.