Ken Hamrick blogs at SBC Open Forum.
The Church long ago embraced the idea that what happens within substantial reality is not necessary to how God views a man. As this idea gradually worked its way into Christian theology, God’s focus (as perceived) was quietly removed from the lives of men. The importance of how a man lives in reality was replaced with the importance of how God chooses to see him. By a simple prayer of faith, the way that God chooses to see the man could be changed from wrath to redemption, merely by the way that the man chooses to see God. The all-consuming faith lived out by the saints of old is all but forgotten, washed away by a tide of imputational believers. As the focus of God was seen to be on His putative view of us and our putative view of Him, a false separation developed between God and the reality of our lives.
A faith in a legal verdict in the court of heaven, far removed from our reality, is a faith with little power to change our reality. It is no wonder that such a faith is fed to the sheep with the correlating idea that real righteousness is unattainable, and so we should be satisfied—as God is—with our imputed righteousness. Progress in sanctification is taught as a worthy goal, but not one of which the pursuit or the preaching is very fervent. The polar extremes of a failing human righteousness on one side and the perfect righteousness of God on the other are held out as the only alternatives, leaving many in a contented complacency.
Was it only from sin’s penalty that Christ redeemed us, or were we redeemed from sin’s power as well? If this redemption was wrought on a Cross two thousand years ago, and the penalty removed by the Judge’s gavel in the court of heaven, then where and how does any of this impact my life and my actions on a daily basis? I have not seen heaven’s court, nor did I exist when Christ died. Is my faith limited in focus to events far removed from my reality? Does God view me as righteous in some measure because He views me from so far away—and what would He see if He saw me “up close?” I need God right here where I am, and I desperately need His power to overcome sin right here in the reality of my daily life.
Thanks be to God that He did not leave us to wander in the desert of imputation while He merely chose to view His thirsty children as satisfied! Christ is more than the Savior on a Cross. He’s the Living Water welling up within us. The legal verdict in heaven is not far removed from our reality, but is instead focused on the reality of Christ within us and joined to us in spiritual union. He is not in us merely putatively or figuratively, but really! Just as the focus of heaven’s Judge who frees us is on us and on Christ in us, the focus of our faith should be on that saving fact of Christ in us.
Can Christ be seen in me? And if not, then how can I be sure that God sees Christ in me? You see, the vital fact of my salvation is not how God chooses to see me, as if a trip to the altar or the repeating of the sinner’s prayer can separate how God views me from how I am in reality. Either Christ is in me or He is not, and the piercing gaze of God is always according to truth. As I look to Christ within me, “the hope of glory,” I am reassured (or not), knowing full well that if Christ is really within, His presence will be evident in the reality of my life and actions.
We are redeemed because the Redeemer is within us. Our power over sin is Christ Himself within us, living in us and spiritually joined to us. There is a promised land—yet undiscovered by many—between a failed human righteousness and a merely imputed righteousness. It can only be reached through the death of the Cross. Just as the Savior is more than a Person in history, but a Person in us, so also the Cross is more than a means of death in history—it is a means of death in <em>us.</em> Living out the righteousness of Christ in the reality of our own lives is not a condition of our salvation, but it is made possible by our salvation.
Romans 6:1-7 ESV
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.
No man comes to Christ except through the Cross. To embrace what Christ has done for us is to embrace the death that He died. To die to sin and self, and to live for, and in, Christ is the choice of the one who comes to Christ in genuine faith. The baptism in this passage is not one of water, but one of the Spirit. To be spiritually joined to the Son of God is to be immersed into His Spirit by the indwelling Holy Spirit. All those who are immersed into Christ are immersed into His death. Christ brings His experience of that death with Him when He joins with the believer. As the believer willfully identifies with Christ and with His death, he gains power and freedom over self and sin. As the believer embraces the fact that his old self was crucified with Christ, the body of sin is brought to nothing and its power broken, “For one who has died has been set free from sin.”
This experience of identifying with Christ’s death for the mortification of our own self-life is deeply spiritual and not necessarily understood in the details of the believer’s thinking when he comes to Christ. But no one is ever saved without this experience. Matt. 16:24-25, “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’”
It is vitally important to understand that the self-life of the believer, also called the flesh, will not remain forever dead, but must be daily put back on the Cross. The Cross within the believer must be continually attended to, as only through death to sin and self can we live as those who have been raised with Christ to walk in newness of life. As soon as we neglect to take up our Cross, the old man will take over again and failure results. How then can we focus on two opposites, death and life, simultaneously? The answer is in putting our focus and effort in an ever closer identification with Christ who is in us. As we seek to more closely identify with Him, we automatically identify with all that He is and all that He experienced—both His death and resurrection. For the heart to seek Christ alone is to seek its own death and to find life abundant in Him! Such a heart is living out the righteousness of Christ in the reality of life.