After taking a short break over Christmas, I am eager to post the remaining Sunday School lessons I taught this fall on the topic of our identity in Christ. Here are my 4th and 5th sessions. (It took two weeks to get through all of the Scriptures I had chosen. There was a lot to discuss.)
What is an inheritance? When do you get it? What do you have to do to receive it?
When each of us repented of our sins, surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and accepted Him by faith as our Lord and Savior, at that very moment of salvation, we entered in to all the blessings of the New Covenant we discussed last week. These next two weeks, we will look at the things that became true of each of us “positionally” as born-again believers (i.e., justified, reconciled, forgiven, righteous, holy). These things are true of all believers, not because of what we did, but because of what Jesus did for us, and how God sees us “in Christ”. This will lay an important foundation to where we will go over the remaining weeks of this study as to what new resources we receive as believers (i.e., God’s Holy Spirit, a new nature, the very mind of Christ.)
(Teacher notes: There is so much to see here. In 5:25, he gives the first of many clear indications of what we call eternal security. Jesus says that those who believe have eternal life; they will NOT be condemned. He describes this one-time action that happens to every believer as a crossing over from death to life. That sounds irreversible to me. In 6:37-40, Jesus uses the word “never” to describe what will not ever happen to those who come to Him in faith (which is exactly the same number of those that the Father gives to him). Jesus promises that His followers will never go hungry, never be thirsty, and that He will never drive them away. He reemphasized the fact that those who “choose” to come to Him are those that the Father gave to him. Their destiny is that they will be raised up on the last day. Just so His listeners heard Him clearly, Jesus restates the promise: everyone who believes in Him has eternal life. In 6:44-51, Jesus says the same thing about the Father drawing us to Himself, which results in us coming to faith in Jesus, which brings us everlasting life. It is not about what we do or fail to do. It is about God choosing us, calling us to faith in Jesus Christ, and us believing in Him, which qualifies us to spend eternity with Him. John 10 gives us another glimpse into what is true of those who are Jesus’ sheep. Jesus is clearly the shepherd here. He says that “He call his own sheep by name” (10:3). They follow him (verse 4). Whoever enters through faith in Jesus “will be saved” (verse 9). In 10:24-30, in contrast to the description of Jesus’ sheep, we see that the Jews who did not believe in Jesus were declared to be “not my sheep” (verse 26). Once again, in verses 27-29, Jesus states what is true about those who are His sheep. No one (no, not even ourselves) can “snatch us out of the Father’s hand.”)
2) Read Romans 3:21-26. Where does “righteousness” come from? How does it come to us?
(Teacher notes: Twice in this passage, Paul teaches that the righteousness that both Jew and Gentile have been fruitlessly seeking on their own comes from God. It is not by keeping the Law, which was so important to the Jews, but by God’s grace, which was foreshadowed in the Law and the Prophets. (For example, the narrative of Abram in Gen. 15, which Paul will discuss in the next chapter of Romans.) This righteousness or right standing before God comes only through faith in Jesus Christ. All who believe are freely justified (just as if I’d never sinned) by God’s grace based solely on the atonement that Jesus our Redeemer made for our sins on the cross.)
(Teacher notes: Here, in 4:3-8, Paul uses Abraham and David as examples from the OT to show that the message of redemption found through faith in Jesus does not contradict the OT, but is actually supported by the OT. One does not become righteous (justified) by good works; Paul has already demonstrated that this is impossible. One becomes righteous when in a wicked condition one comes to faith in Christ. This is a free gift. In 5:1-2, Paul explains that our justification (by grace through faith) brings peace between God and us. This is not the “peace of God, that passes all understanding”, which Paul mentions in Phil. 4:7. This is a peace between wicked humans and a holy God. Jesus Christ made peace through His sacrifice on the cross.)
4) Read Romans 8:1-4. Why is there no condemnation now for those who are in Christ Jesus?
(Teacher notes: Everyone who has heard me teach a time or two knows that Rom. 8:1 is a central promise of the gospel. This clear promise that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus is a lens that we can use to help us interpret those warning passages that might appear to say that a Christian can choose to take a path that will result in losing their salvation. We must understand why Paul can make such a dramatic statement; one that once again implies an irreversible change in one’s condition based on their faith in Jesus. Verses 2-4 explain why those who have faith in Christ are not condemned. It is simply because of what Jesus has done, not because of anything we ourselves have done. Jesus set me free from the law of sin that led to spiritual death. We are under a new law now – the “law of the Spirit of life”. The law was powerless to change us; only God could do that through Christ. Jesus death paid the penalty as a once-for-all sin offering, which means that we are now seen as righteous in God’s eyes.)
5) Read 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. What kinds of people were we? What did God do for us in Christ?
(Teacher notes: We talked about the kinds of people each of us were before we came to faith in Week 2, but we did not look at this particular passage. Paul is contrasting the lifestyle of the believer and non-believer in this section, as the church in Corinth did not quite grasp that their conversion should radically change their conduct. In verse 11, he states plainly that many believers used to practice the kind of evil things that are obviously not typical of Christians. But, he says, we were washed, we were sanctified (meaning declared holy, set apart), and we were justified. God redeemed us where we were, but loved us too much to let us stay where we were. By His amazing grace, we were set free from the flesh, the world, and the devil, and brought into a new kingdom that is characterized by righteousness. We did not earn this righteousness by our own efforts. It was given to us by grace through faith in Christ. God supernaturally delivered us from sin and declared us righteous based on what Christ did on our behalf.)
6) Read 2 Corinthians 5:17-21. What does it mean to be reconciled? Who did this work for us?
(Teacher notes: Before we discuss reconciliation, there is another key element in our identity in Christ that we absolutely must understand. In 5:17, we read that we are new creatures in Christ. This great pronouncement that all believers in Christ are a “new creation” echoes what the OT prophets taught about the New Covenant that would be in effect when the Messiah came. (See Jer. 31:31-34 and Ezek. 36:26-28.) Paul then expands a bit on the ramifications of what has taken place in the life of the believer. He states somewhat cryptically, “the old has gone, the new has come!” What could he have meant here? (Some well-meaning teachers have used this verse to condemn any kind of psychological therapy, even Christian counseling. They have misapplied what Paul said about the old being gone to mean that traumatic events from our past should not impact us in any way now, which is just plain hogwash. But I digress.) In context, I think what may have been in Paul’s mind was that what was true of us under the Old Covenant is gone. We are no longer slaves to sin or to the requirements of the Law. The New Covenant is now in effect, which is comprised of freedom from sin and the Law, grace, and being made new in the image of Christ through sanctification in the power of the Holy Spirit. All of this, Paul says, is from God. He then mentions our reconciliation. This is another way to look at the peace we have with God that was mentioned earlier in Rom. 5:1-2. We were enemies of God. Now we are His children (See John 1:12.) Paul states in verse 21 that God brought this reconciliation about through Christ’s work on the cross to make us righteous in His eyes.)
7) Read Ephesians 2:4-10. How did our position change when we became followers of Jesus?
(Teacher notes: In the previous verses just prior to this section (Eph. 2:1-3), Paul describes our condition before we met Christ by faith: we were dead in our sins; we followed the ways of the world, Satan, and the flesh; we were objects of God’s wrath. In verse 4, we see the stark contrast. “But, because of his great love for us”, Paul states, God “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (verse 5). In addition, verse 6 informs us that “God raised us up with Christ.” He concludes in verse 8, “It is by grace we have been saved.” Moreover, Paul clarifies all that he and Jesus had said on this subject previously in verse 9: “This [is] not from ourselves, it is the gift of God.” It is not about what we did for God; it is about what God did for us. Lest anyone think incorrectly that our change in position as righteous means that we do not need to pursue righteousness as a result of this declaration, Paul clarifies in verse 10 that we are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works”. Our good works are merely a natural response to God’s work on our behalf.)
(Teacher notes: Colossians contains a lot of similarities with the book of Ephesians. Here in Col. 1, we see some parallels to what we read in Eph. 2. In verses 9-11, we see Paul’s prayer for the church. What I want you to notice is an echo to what we read earlier regarding the natural connection between faith and conduct. True spiritual maturity and understanding leads to Christlike behavior. In verses 12-14, we again see our new identity in Christ. We were delivered from darkness to light, and brought into the kingdom of God, where Jesus reigns. His New Covenant is one of redemption and forgiveness. Note that the verbs are passive, not active. These are things that were done for us: He qualified us, rescued us, and brought us into a land of promise. I do not want you to miss the clear tie-in to the Exodus, where God’s people were rescued from the dominion of darkness in Egypt, crossed over the Red Sea, and brought to a place where God’s presence would lead them and where His protection and power would give them victory over their enemies. Verses 21-22 reiterate what Paul said in Eph. 2, that we used to be God’s enemies, but He has now reconciled us by Christ’s sacrificial death in order to present us “holy in his sight”. He repeats this theme in 2:13-14, teaching that we were “dead in our sins”, God made us “alive with Christ.” At the moment of salvation, he also “forgave us all our sins”. All of these truths should make us grateful for all He has done for us and freely given to us in Christ. Again, these truths also indicate the irreversible nature of the changes to our identity and new right standing before God.)
(Teacher notes: This section of Hebrews is one of my favorites. In 10:1-4, the writer continues to show the stark contrast between the law, which was “only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves”, with the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In this passage, the focus is on the OT sacrificial system. In itself, it could “never by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect” those who brought the offering. It had no power to truly change the heart of the believer and make them holy. As a result, it could not offer complete cleansing for those who brought the sacrifice, nor could it remove their guilty feelings. Even though this system was indeed set up by God to cover the sin of the believer under Mosaic Law, it was always limited. It could not completely take away their sin. We know that in Christ, all of that is changed. What the OT sacrifices could not do, Jesus does. The clear implication I see is that Jesus’ sacrifice, for those who accept Him, not only brings complete forgiveness, but it also perfects us because it changes us from the inside out. Accepting His forgiveness does offer complete cleansing; knowing this does remove the guilty feelings also. Jesus does indeed take away the penalty, shame, and power of sin from us. Skip to verses 10-23. Here, we see that Jesus one-time sacrifice makes us holy (verses 10 and 12). In verse 14, what I took to be implied in the earlier passage is directly mentioned – Jesus’ sacrifice did make us “perfect” (i.e., holy in God’s eyes). This status also gives us hope of inner transformation (sanctification) ; it says that we are “being made holy”. In verses 16 and 17, the writer of Hebrews then summarizes the promises of the New Covenant as it was described in Jer. 31:33 (which he also quoted in chapter 8 of Hebrews). Two key elements of this new deal that were realized when Jesus appeared reflect inner transformation – “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds”, as well as complete forgiveness – “their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” As a result, in verse 19, “we have confidence” to approach God (because our sins truly are forgiven). With this confidence, in verse 22, we are exhorted to draw near to God “in full assurance of faith”, which is based in part on the fact that our hearts have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus. This cleansing does remove the guilty conscience for all those who have come to Jesus by faith and accept His free gift of forgiveness, as we mentioned earlier in verse 2. I must say again that the radical change in how God sees those who are in Christ (as holy), in addition to the radical changes that occur in the heart of each believer at the moment of salvation, indicate that these things may be irreversible.)
“This is a most wonderful truth. I can rest in the fact that God accomplished this without any dubious ‘book juggling.’ Before the infinite Judge of the universe, according to his own flawless reckoning, I now possess total forgiveness and acceptance. I am justified! I am judicially righteous, positionally righteous. This is the way God sees me.” (Birthright: Christian, Do You Know Who You Are?, David Needham; Multnomah Publishers, 1999; page 57.)
Try something different this week. Rest in the finished work of Christ. There is no need for striving to be perfect, no need to work your way into God’s favor, no need to punish yourself for your mistakes, or think that God is punishing you. Rest. Accept His peace and forgiveness.