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Posts Tagged ‘justification’

“The Debt” is a solid film that not only was insanely intense but it moved me and got to me a bit. The acting was fantastic – the doctor made me loathe him, Sam Worthington (David) made me empathize with him, Jessica Chastain (Rachel) seemed very tortured internally, and I believed Stephan’s hardness both in the past and the present. The twists were superb. I appreciated seeing the ending first and then being drawn into how the pieces come together. The key theme: every sin has consequences but sometimes the lie about the sin is worse.

Beware: lots of spoilers ahead! I cannot get to the heart of this film without digging into all of it.

The Lie

As is likely with most folks who saw this film, I did not anticipate that the doctor would escape. I thought they would torture and kill him and then lie about that. I thought Stephan would carry out some form of justice and then they would lie about the circumstance. I never had a thought in my head that the doctor would get away and they would be left empty-handed. Once he got away, the choice was obvious: face and accept failure and admit their mistakes, or cling to their reputations and tell a lie. Tell a lie and become heroes, keep their careers and live a sham. They choose what many of us would: to perpetuate the lie. They choose to live a façade and seek the praise of men.

For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. (Romans 10:3 ESV)

This hit home with me because I’ve been convicted lately of how much of an idol my own reputation is. After reading “Jesus + Nothiing = Everything” by Tullian Tchividjian, I had to ask myself the question: What do I cling to that I would rather die than have God take away? God likes to answer that question and through an interaction with my wife, I realized that I cling to my reputation. How I am perceived in the eyes of others is vastly important to me. My own name is much more valuable to me than God’s name. This is wrong and will not lead me to freedom and does not lead to joy in Him. But, wow, is it difficult to kill. This is the choice they made and the shame eventually crushes David, breaks Rachel, and Stephan has to sear his conscience for the rest of his life. David knows the path to freedom: speak the truth. But he will come forward without the consent of Rachel and takes another path in killing himself.

The lie is what is at the center of the film but the lie and the escape of the doctor is triggered and set in motion by one seemingly inconsequential act of sin.

One Night Sets it All in Motion

You know what exactly what night that is if you’ve seen it. David and Rachel obviously have affections for each other but David exercises restraint. In one moment, he chooses not to yield to emotion. However, Rachel, initially rejected by David, seeking relief from the pain and intensity of pursuing the war criminal doctor in communist East Berlin, yields to the lust driven seduction of Stephan. That night changes absolutely everything. For one fleeting and regretful night of pleasure, Rachel gets pregnant and truly cuts off the potential for something better with David. This then leads right into the doctor’s hands and gives him an avenue to break David and Rachel with his words, with David eventually giving way to anger and brutalizing the doctor.

David’s anger wasn’t just about the doctor’s killing but, of course, over Rachel. Sometimes, Satan doesn’t need to speak lies to us to bring hurt and further temptation, he merely needs to tell us the truth. We know what happens next. The shards of the plate on the floor. David needing to be calmed by Stephan leaving Rachel vulnerable. The escape. The lie then leads to more shame, more pain, and living a life outside of grace and freedom.

Choose the Cross over Sin, Choose the Cross Again over Shame

We are not very different than David, Rachel, and Stephan. We are faced with the same temptations and daily choices: confess sin or hide it? Run to the cross for relief or trust in the fleeting damaging pleasure of sin?

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:18-21 ESV)

Jesus died and suffered on the cross to bring you to him, to crush the power and temptation of sin, and to bring about your justification. In Christ, we are free! There is now no condemnation! We have nothing to hide! We need not cling to our own façade and reputation – Jesus is our reputation. He is our righteousness. We will fail. We will sin. We will err. He died for it all. Many times, we lie or choose sin simply because of a mistake we made that is not even sin itself! Jesus came to free you from that to walk in the light, to be yourself, to know Him and be satisfied in him. Freedom is not found in the dark but in the light, in Christ.

But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:21-23 ESV)

I’m thankful for the film, “The Debt,” in how it so powerfully illustrates the consequence of sin and the shame and torture that lies lead to. Thank God for sending his son to bring us freedom. May he work in us to give us a deeper understanding of our justification and his deep, deep love for us, that we would not hide but come to him more and more.

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Most people in the pew are simply not acquainted with the doctrine of justification. Often, it is not a part of the diet of preaching and church life, much less a dominant theme in the Christian subculture. With either stern rigor or happy tips for better living, “fundamentalists” and “progressives” alike smother the gospel in moralism, through constant exhortations to personal transformation that keep the sheep looking to themselves rather than looking outside of themselves to Christ… – Michael Horton, “Does Justification Still Matter?”

“First Things First” by Tullian Tchividjian is an immensely helpful article when it comes to the significance of our understanding of our justification. The article springs out of a friendly discussion between Tchividjian and Kevin DeYoung about the importance of justification in relation to making an effort to grow in godliness. DeYoung argues that justification is critical but that we still need to “make every effort” and work hard to grow spiritually. Tchividjian agrees that hard work is necessary but argues that understanding our justification is a key “effort” that needs to happen if we want to grow:

What is indisputable is the fact that unbelief is the force that gives birth to all of our bad behavior and every moral failure. It is the root. “The sin underneath all sins”, said Martin Luther, “is the lie that we cannot trust the love and grace of Jesus and that we must take matters into our own hands.” Therefore, since justification is where the guillotine for unbelief and self-salvation is located–declaring that we are already righteous for Christ’s sake–we dare not assume it, brush over it, or move past it. It must never become the backdrop. It must remain front and center–getting the most attention.

Justification: We Don’t Get It

Justification is much too often assumed and not enjoyed. I’ve seen this in my own life. I think I have always understood my forgiveness (though certainly not the depth of it!) in Christ but justification not half as well. I think I really started thinking about it more after I sat through a message by Tim Keller 2 years ago. Most of the time I think we act like convicted felons recently released from prison. Our slate has been wiped clean but now we better find a job and make a new life. We may have been exonerated but there’s always that mark on us. We better earn our way from this point forward.

Justification: We’d Rather Earn It

We may never say that out loud but we live that way. Our flesh, especially in a “Meritocracy” like America, is prone to be works and guilt driven rather than walking in grace and in our justification. We have more control that way. It’s more focused on us. It’s less messy. It feels safer. I’d much rather say, “Look at all that I’m doing for God! I am a beast in the kingdom!” than, “I am nothing but for the grace of God and I have everything through that grace, completely undeserved.” We accepted the gospel and turned to Christ but now we want rules and simple obedience. However, it doesn’t work.

The greatest danger facing the church is not that we take the commands of God lightly. To be sure, that is a bonafide danger but it’s a surface danger. The deep, under the surface danger (which produces the surface danger) is that we take the announcement of God in the gospel too lightly. The only people who take the commands of God lightly are those who take the gospel lightly–who don’t revel in and rejoice over what J. Gresham Machen called the “triumphant indicative.” Beholding necessarily leads to becoming. Or to put it another way, this wonderful and neglected view of justification by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone that I am championing does not deny the impulse toward holiness. Rather it produces it!

Justification: The Power to Rest is the Power to Grow

Later, Tchividjian goes on about the law versus the gospel…

The law now serves us by showing us how to love God and others and when we fail to keep it, the gospel brings comfort by reminding us that God’s infinite approval doesn’t depend on our keeping of the law but on Christ’s keeping of the law on our behalf. And guess what? This makes me want to obey him more, not less! As Spurgeon wrote, “When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so, and sought my good.”

Therefore, it’s the gospel (what Jesus has done) that alone can give God-honoring animation to our obedience. The power to obey comes from being moved and motivated by the completed work of Jesus for us. The fuel to do good flows from what’s already been done. So again, while the law directs us, only the gospel can drive us.

Don’t read those thoughts lightly. Motivation by works and by rules is motivation by fear and guilt. As a parent, I think about the limits of that motivation. Fear and guilt only go so far and I’d rather not have it that way. I’m convicted by how much I default to threats and the use of discipline but I don’t want it that way. I want my kids to be motivated to obey my wife and I out of a trust and love for us (and for God), understanding how much we care for them. I want my kids to believe that we have good for them and will provide it at the best time possible.

Fear gets us only to do just enough not to face wrath. Love empowers us to creativity and the second mile. This is what God desires in us. If God desired us to be primarily stirred up by fear of his wrath, Jesus would not have come to us as a humble, poor carpenter who consistently called attention not to his miracles but to his coming death and ransom for sin. He certainly would not be the one who told us that he plans to show us the extent of his kindness towards us for all of eternity.

When we start establishing our own justification, instead of trusting in our already completed justification in Christ, we dissolve into fear and away from love and grace. We also make it about ourselves and not God. At that point, what exactly are we growing in and why? Is life about our own perfection or knowing Jesus?

It’s very important to remember that the focus of the Bible is not the work of the redeemed but the work of the Redeemer. When the Christian faith becomes defined by who we are and what we do and not by who Christ is and what he did for us, we miss the gospel–and we, ironically, become more disobedient.

As Tim Keller has said, “The Bible is not fundamentally about us. It’s fundamentally about Jesus. The Bible’s purpose is not so much to show you how to live a good life. The Bible’s purpose is to consistently and constantly show you how God’s grace breaks into your life against your will and saves you from the sin and brokenness otherwise you would never be able to overcome.”

Read the whole discussion:

Make Every Effort (by Kevin DeYoung)

Work Hard! But in Which Direction? (by Tullian Tchividjian)

Gospel-Driven Effort (by Kevin DeYoung)

First Things First (by Tullian Tchividjian)

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I read the article, “You Have An ‘A’”, earlier today by Tullian Tchividjian and simply had to highlight it here. The story he tells is such an incredibly powerful and simply illustration of what we particularly celebrate this week:

She (the head of the English department) looked up and saw me standing there by my daughter and could tell that Robin was about to cry. There were some students standing around and, because the teacher didn’t want Robin to be embarrassed, she dismissed the students saying, “I want to talk to these people alone.” As soon as the students left and the door was closed, Robin began to cry. I said, “I’m here to get my daughter out of that English  class. It’s too difficult for her. The problem with my daughter is that she’s too conscientious. So, can you put her into a regular English class?” The teacher said, “Mr. Brown, I understand.” Then she looked at Robin and said, “Can I talk to Robin for a minute?” I said, “Sure.” She said, “Robin, I know how you feel. What if I promised you and A no  matter what you did in the class? If I gave you an A before you even started, would you be willing to take the class?” My daughter is not dumb! She started sniffling and said, “Well, I think I could do that.” The teacher said, “I’m going to give  you and A in the class. You already have an A, so you can go to class.”

Later the teacher explained to Steve what she had done. She explained how she took away the threat of a bad grade so that Robin could learn English. Robin ended up making straight A‘s on her own in that class.

Isn’t that the truth of the gospel? Jesus fulfills our need for holiness, strips away the need to focus on our performance, the fear of failing, and enables us to walk in grace and live the life He calls us to. Listen to Mr. Tchividjian’s final thoughts:

That’s how God deals with us. Because we are, right now, under the completely sufficient imputed righteousness of Christ, Christians already have an A. The threat of failure, judgment, and condemnation has been removed. We’re in–forever! Nothing we do will make our grade better and nothing we do will make our grade worse. We’ve been set free.

Knowing that God’s love for you and approval of you will never be determined by your performance for Jesus but Jesus’ performance for you will actually make you perform more and better, not less and worse.

When you think about the cross tomorrow on Good Friday and celebrate his resurrection on Sunday, don’t just think about what Jesus paid for in your sin but think about the adoption and justification he also purchased: We already have an A! We’re in! Forever! He approves of you! When we truly understand this, it won’t cause us to be lazy or to try to take advantage of this grace but to enjoy it! In the story above, Robin did not kick back and check out of her class but was motivated by the freedom her professor gave her and did not want to throw away what she had been given! That is how we should be!

    No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor 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. (Romans 8:37-39 ESV)

You can read the full article here: “You Have An ‘A’”

I also commend this short but paradigm shifting message by Mr. Tchividjian:

Giving Thought to Gospel ‘Math’: Why Jesus + Nothing = Everything

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