I should like to preface my words today with a quote from CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity.
Now before I became a Christian I was under the impression that the first thing Christians had to believe was one particular theory as to what the point of this dying was. According to that theory God wanted to punish men for having deserted and joined the Great Rebel, but Christ volunteered to be punished instead, and so God let us off. Now I admit that even this theory does not seem to me quite so immoral and so silly as it used to; but that is not the point I want to make. What I came to see later on was that neither this theory nor any other is Christianity. The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work.
He goes on to say that if you do not find his personal theory or illustration helpful, to feel free to drop it. I found it quite helpful, wonderful actually, and would suggest your read the whole of his chapter, “The Perfect Penitent.” But my point with that is, I have just this night past stumbled upon a (slightly) new (to me) perception of the Atonement and the Christian walk, and I would like to say the same thing of my own illustration of that eternal matter. If it works for you, lovely; if it doesn’t–ah well, it was only words and pictures.
All that being said:
Think of Christ taking on all our sin-guilt. Think of Christ imputing his righteousness to us. Imagine him effacing Adam’s likeness and stamping his image in its place on our very spiritual genome.
Now, further imagine that, in that timeless moment on the cross, Jesus of Nazareth visited every single instance of sin in the whole of time; every rotted flower on the twisted tree he was uprooting.
Now bring it home a bit, and imagine him visiting every single instance of sin, of imperfection before God and the law, that you have ever committed and will ever commit. Diving into your timestream like a bodyguard taking a bullet, slamming you out of the way and stepping into your place at every single point at which you acted out of the twistedness of your spirit.
Imagine him pushing you out of the way, facing your moment of temptation, weakness, and brokenness, facing your nature and nurture and personal demons, and acting in absolute perfection. Replacing that moment of sin with an act of absolute righteousness.
And then imputing to you the righteousness inherent in his act, while taking upon himself the guilt inherent in yours.
Now your life appears before God to be a string of perfect acts and perfect thoughts and perfect decisions; Christ’s perfect thoughts and acts and decisions. (Oh, he also sees the material reality, of course, but such seeming paradoxes don’t seem to bother a mind so much bigger and smarter than ours that stands outside his created space-time continuum as well as throughout it.)
But here we find something interesting, because Christ gives us a further opportunity. That righteousness is on our account, so to speak, but we have been given a marvelous gift: the opportunity to participate in our undeserved righteousness.
Look back on a specific sin you have committed, perhaps one that nags at you particularly. Then think of Christ crucified bursting into that moment, pushing you aside, and acting in your place, doing the perfect thing you were incapable of doing, and remember that that deed, Christ’s deed, is the one that will be counted to your spiritual account.
But now look ahead. Watch for when next you face a moment of temptation, of weakness, of brokenness. The next time you come smack up against your worst nature and nurture and personal demons.
Remember that Christ has come here already. He got there ahead of you, in one sense. He dove into your life, pushed you out of the path of oncoming death, and acted perfectly. Already.
There was a sinful action, maybe an unavoidable sin, sitting right there in your path, but Jesus already dove into your place, right there, right then, in your future and present as well as your past, and did the right thing.
Now here is the wonder, if all that wasn’t wonder enough! Here is our glorious chance: we are permitted to work out our own salvation, with fear and trembling.
He has pushed you out of your own way in some grander Reality than ours, in his very Kingdom. Now let his Kingdom come! Let him dive into your moment of weakness, let him sweep aside your fractures and your fallings-down, and let the reality that God the Father sees in your life become the reality of the material world.
Allow the Kingdom to enter more fully into the space-time continuum through you; allow Christ’s perfect actions not only to cover you in the Eternal Reality beyond time, but to animate your spirit and mind and body within time itself!
Not only will he write over our life in crimson, so to speak, but he will press that pen into our little hand and, holding it, move it so we can form the letters ourselves, our hand growing stronger and more precise under his direction until the letters and words that come so naturally to him might also come naturally to us. That his Nature might become ours.
When you fail, when you fall, remember that your imputed righteousness is complete.
But when next you face temptation, when you would naturally act our of your brokenness, would act outside of the Father’s perfect will, would quite naturally nurse your wrath until morning light, would quite naturally speak when your ought to keep silent, or keep silent when you know you should speak… when you would do the cowardly thing, or the prideful thing, or the impatient thing, or the unloving thing, remember:
Christ has been there. Right there, in that moment, he’s been there. And hasn’t done that.
He’s gone ahead of you, taken your exact temptations and exasperations and pains and torments and tiredness and headaches and habits and histories and peeves and breaking points, all those things that it would be entirely impossible for you to handle with grace and perfection, and he’s already handled them for you. He has already acted with grace and perfection in those myriad shattered moments, and now you can too. He has made them whole.
Let him push you out of the broad way. Let him push you out of the path of your own destruction. Get out of his way, and let him let you take a part in the very perfection he’s attributed to you.