Week 1: Connect With God
Day 4: The Effects of Christian Conversion
In the last reading, we looked at how Jesus connects us with God through Christian conversion in John 3. We saw that this event has two contributions: We come to repentance and faith, and God does the supernatural, miraculous work of regeneration. This is what Christians are talking about when they say that they have “been saved,” “accepted Christ,” “been converted,” “been born again,” “become a Christ follower,” “prayed the sinner’s prayer” and so on. It means they’ve turned away from the demands of their depravity, apologized to God for having lived in that depravity, and pledged to trust in Christ’s death and resurrection for them, living under his leadership.
I WILL BE WITH YOU
The focus of this week is on our relationship with God; his desire to “be with us” and for us to connect with him. Even God’s work of regeneration isn’t an end in itself. Redemption is the end game: A right, good and just relationship with us and all things. God promises over and over in the Bible to be with us. But the fact that it’s constantly repeated suggests we often misunderstand how he is doing it. The idea assumes that his presence can still seem like a lack of presence. The most clear single verse on this is probably Isaiah 43:2:
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
Most normal people would ask, “Um, God? Why am I going to be in the middle of a raging river in the first place? Or, why would I ever be walking through a fire? Why promise flame retardant and not fire avoidance? Why promise wading traction and not low waters or competently constructed bridges?”
God’s answer in the Bible seems complex, but he apparently has multiple purposes, including showing who he is to everyone and transforming us in life’s painful processes through faith. We’ll get to that in the next reading.
Right now, it’s important to understand how God is with us actively through the work of Christ, the promises of the Father, and the present work of the Holy Spirit. We have already looked at the components of salvation. Now we need to look at its effects.
Christian conversion has two components and four very important effects. Understanding these four effects is critical because they are the basis of our ongoing relationship with God. They are the main ways he is with us on a regular basis. They are how he relates to us and we relate to him in the new life that comes through his miraculous regenerating work.
We will talk about justification and sanctification the rest of this week, and then talk about the indwelling Spirit and spiritual authority in future weeks.
JUSTIFICATION: YOU ARE ACCEPTED IN CHRIST
Justification is technically a legal word. In the Bible it refers to somebody being declared innocent in court, or being pardoned even though they are guilty. Therefore, justification is “the acceptance of believers as righteous in the sight of God through the righteousness of Jesus Christ accounted to them.”
God, by substituting himself in the person of Christ, counts the guilt and the penalty of our sin against Christ while giving us Christ’s righteousness and standing through our union with him. Without going into the full dynamics of this, we can just note that justification has the profound relational effect of making God’s wholehearted acceptance of us possible. Christ’s death has provided the basis for real forgiveness, or what the Bible calls “expiation,” taking sin away. Justification removes the moral obstacle to God’s relational acceptance of us.
God’s justifying work also includes what the Bible calls “propitiation” (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10). That sounds pretty technical, but it isn’t. The word “propitious,” in a relational context, simply means, “To be favorably disposed toward.” So in reference to our relationship with God, it means that God can like and enjoy us again in a completely morally upright way. The relationship can be completely rehabilitated to the point of fun and enjoyment; of favor and benevolence. This is the result of what is often called “imputation.” We have not just been forgiven in Christ, but we have received his moral standing, his righteousness.
The most important clarification about justification is that it is not earned; it is credited. That is, God’s acceptance of us is something received and is therefore stable, objective, and solid. It doesn’t take its stability from our behavioral goodness or justice. It is as stable as the goodness and justice of Christ because it is the goodness and justice of Christ.
Sadly, very few people, even very few Christians, really understand what this means. How do you know how the holy God feels about you when he doesn’t constantly talk to you like another human being would? Is this God the sort of father who withholds his approval to motivate better performance? No. He is the sort of father who provides for us a perfect ground for his acceptance in order to inspire and enable a beautiful performance motivated by thankfulness and joy, and done for all the right reasons.
The reason why many Christians don’t feel accepted is because the sinful condition still exists in us in such an obvious way. Even worse, when God regenerates us, our sensitivity to our sinful condition increases dramatically. The normal human reaction is that instead of enjoying God’s promise of acceptance in Christ, we are distracted by our increasing ability to recognize how little we deserve that acceptance. This is actually what is supposed to happen.
We need to understand that this isn’t a trade. Good moral performance doesn’t equate to God’s approval. It is a relationship: God forgives us and accepts us so that we can perform out of the motivation of joy and gratitude. Through knowing God, we learn his loves and pursue them for the right reasons, and in the Spirit, he makes it possible for us to do so. That’s what faith and repentance look like day-to-day: learning distinguish faith from your moral performance and really believe that we are accepted in Christ. Regeneration and conversion happens once. Repenting and believing is sometimes moment-by-moment.
There’s more where that came from…
GET THE BOOK
Blueprint starts at High Point Church on September 14! Come for the sermon on “Week 1: Connect with God” at 9am or 10:45am and stay after to get a famous pulled pork potato smothered in cheese at the Annual BBQ.