On Monday I was chewing on a passage John Bunyan wrote in his autobiography “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners”. He spoke in that passage to the weight of eternity and the reality of the nature of afflictions – and how severe his depression for lack of salvation. Today I am drawn again to his insight, but on the other side of salvation:
“One day as I was passing into the field . . . this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he wants [lacks] my righteousness, for that was just before [in front of] him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, ‘The same yesterday, today and, and forever’.
Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away; so that from that time those dreadful scriptures of God left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God.”
– John Bunyan
The entire chapter of Romans 5 speaks to the redeeming nature of Christ’s death on the cross. His life, His righteousness, His death and His resurrection alone are what provide my eternal life. The only way I can be forgiven of my sins and found pure in the eyes of the Lord is to be covered by, to be indwelt by, to be found in Jesus Christ. It is no righteousness of my own that makes me presentable to God. It is the righteousness of Christ.
And Bunyan reflects on this truth, observing the fact that there is nothing I can do to add to my righteousness or take away from it, when I am indeed in Christ. My righteousness, which is given to me by a supernatural work of God through faith, is not my own. It is Christ’s.
“Weak faith does not make Christ less righteous. Nor does strong faith make Christ more righteous.”
This is no license to sin. Peter says, “do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God” (1 Peter 2.7). Paul says, that since grace is multiplied where sin increases do we sin to make grace even more? “May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6.1). By being united to Christ, we die to sin by uniting to Him in His death.
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous…”
– 1 John 2.1
We are to die to sin. But our death to sin does not make us more righteous. And if we do sin, we have an advocate, Jesus Christ, and we are no less righteous before God.
Buyan’s conclusion is the truly beautiful end:
“Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away; so that from that time those dreadful scriptures of God left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God.”
Knowing that sin, obedience and faith does not fundamentally change our standing before God in our justification, completely frees us to love God and serve Him fully out of love and not obligation! That is why the mark of the believer is obedience: because the believer is so overwhelmed with the grace and love that would redeem regardless of himself, that he cannot help but give his life fully and utterly to God. Have your chains of sin, obligation and self righteousness fallen off? Or are you trying to earn your standing? Are you free? Are you obedient out of the abundance of joy and thankfulness for grace over your life?