I was reminded recently (via the message given by RC Sproul Jr. at the Ligonier National Conference) that we are often mistaken in the way we express our identity as believers. It is clear that when we do so, we miss a central truth regarding the Gospel. Let me explain.
Dr. Sproul addressed the crowd in Orlando with a confession. He explained that there is a particular teaching that, in light of a clear understanding of the Gospel, he now has to repent for teaching. What has come to distress him is that for years he had taught that God loves you now as much as he ever will. There is nothing we can do to gain more of God’s love. This is often where we stop in our teaching.
While this is definitely true in what it affirms, it is slightly off. The truth of the matter, a central hope of the Gospel, is that God loves us in this way for the very fact that He loves His Son in this way. Now, through the atoning and substitutionary death of Christ, we are now clothed in the imputed righteousness of Christ. When God looks upon us, he doesn’t see filthy rags of our sinfulness, He sees the righteousness of His Son.
What Christ accomplished through Good Friday and Easter Sunday was not simply a doing away of God’s wrath. At the same time, He made it possible for us to know the fullness of God’s Fatherly love. We are now given the privilege of being called children of God.
In hearing this truth again, my heart immediately asked this question: “If this great truth of sonship and adoption is so central, then why are so many Christians trying out this new identifier ‘Christ Follower’?” So often we will hear people say in response to the question “Are you a Christian?” the seemingly provocative reply, “Well, I am a Christ follower.”
Again, while this is certainly true- we follow Christ, it misses the point and could be misleading to the hearer. Are we simply a follower of Jesus like Muslims are followers of Mohammed or Buddhists are followers of the…um…whatever? We don’t simply adhere to another way of life, a certain teacher we follow. We are radically different. We have become children of God.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 1:3-9
We have been born again. We have an inheritance. Two things unique to sonship through Christ, not traits of mere following. Through this (Christ’s atoning death that achieved our adoption) we have a living hope that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading. It is so because Christ has won it.
What is it that caries the Christian through trials and testings? Is it the quality of his followership…or the reality of his sonship?
We need to remember that the power of the Gospel rescues the thief on the cross and the death-row converted not because they follow Christ, but because he has made them His own.