imputed righteousness: how He could look on us with love

i’m not one who enjoys road trips. the long driving. i never have. but i do enjoy a short two-hour drive up and down i-5 every so often. the monotony of the straight freeway lanes, with curves just subtle enough to remind you you’re driving, provide a welcome break from the busyness of life. and a much-appreciated opportunity to sink deep into my thoughts. some of my favorite thinking time is spent between those dashed white lines, speeding by at a much quicker pace than my thoughts.

it was on a recent drive that a friend and i were talking. we were talking about relationships, and he confessed to me that he often struggles with a fear that leaves him wondering if anyone could really love him. even as a friend. the irony of the conversation is that these aren’t the words you’d expect to hear from this guy. those who know him best would have no problem telling you why he’s such an incredible person to be around. even those who don’t know him as closely could point out things they admire in him. and yet, here he was, pouring out a serious fear of his heart. and so i listened. intently. taking each word at face value, and trying not to allow the bias of my friendship to squelch the point he was making.

and it was then, while listening to him walk through this fear, that i realized he wasn’t alone in thinking this way. i realized that, deep down, i too often wonder how anyone could love me. were they to know the deepest depths of my heart. were they to know those thoughts i hope never move past the far corners of my mind. were they to know how truly self-centered i am.

and it’s no wonder he feels this way. for, even the best of us, on our best days, are still struggling with the same nature. a nature that pleads for us to focus on ourselves. to feed our own desires, and to forget about others.

and i think it’s when we’re most honest with ourselves, when we’re most aware of this truth, i believe it’s at those moments that we sit back and wonder to ourselves, “how could someone else every truly love me?”

better than i deserve

i was grabbing breakfast for lunch with another friend recently. a friend who had moved away, but who had recently returned to visit. it was over our mid-day breakfast, as sunlight poured through the restaurant’s window-lined wall, filling the space with rays of light that danced across each table and conversation, that he asked me a question that has stuck with me ever since.

“so i have a relationship question for you,” he said, focusing a conversation that had previously just been a time of catching up.

“you’re a pretty good-looking guy,” he began, to which i immediately interrupted with laughter. completely unsure of where the conversation was heading.

“well,” he continued, “people always told me how great a guy i was growing up. that i had good looks and a great sense of humor. that i was smart, and that i would find an amazing girl. that she’d be beautiful. and, i mean, i am seeing this girl now, and she’s great, but sometimes i wonder if i could do better, you know? do you ever wonder about that?”

“man, that’s a great question,” i replied, finishing the pancakes i had been chewing. “and you’re certainly not the first guy to think that way,” i continued. “but, i guess i would say, i know that i already have much better than i deserve, you know? i mean, she knows the deepest, darkest parts of my heart. and yet, for some reason, she’s still willing to love me. and that blows my mind. and so, even though those thoughts might come, even though those lies might be whispered in my ear by the evil one, i have to remind myself that i already have far better than i could ever ask for.”

he nodded in agreement. i took a drink of my orange juice, and we carried on.

with God

and i think that fear, that anyone could ever truly love us, is true for our relationship with God, as it is for others.

for those of us who are deeply aware of the pain we’ve caused, of the wrong we’ve done, we struggle with believing God could ever truly love us. for, if we’re so aware of our failures, and if He is all-knowing, then is certainly just as aware of them. and even if our knowledge of Him is only a shallow memory of sunday school lessons from our childhood, we know that He is good, holy and perfect. and if He is perfect, and if He really does desire us to be perfect, or at the very least good, we simply cannot fathom what He would possibly want with us.

and so we rule ourselves out. we don’t even bother approaching Him because we figure the door will be closed in our face. that is the sad reality so many face. and that logic prevents so many from ever knowing a deep, love-filled relationship with their heavenly Father.

trash bags

after listening to my friend pour out his heart on this drive, i gave my best attempt to explain how i thought this worked. how he – and in turn anyone – could be loved by someone else.

i began by telling him that there were many, many things in him that others appreciate. i shared with him the ways in which i see him blessing others lives’. through compassion. through generosity. by caring and by showing others that care in incredible ways.

and then i told him that he’s not the only one who thinks this way. i reminded him that most of us are painfully aware of the ways in which we fall short. but, at the same time, i told him often times it’s only others in our lives who can see through all that badness to the glimmers of goodness in us. like a small treasure hidden in a trash bag filled with rotting food scraps, our friends are the ones who can see through the filth (for often times it’s only our true friends who we allow to see the filth) to the glimmer of goodness. and it’s that glimmer that we hold on to. that we try to bring out in our friends. for that faint glimmer of charity, of compassion, of care, that’s what we strive to bring out even further. out of the darkness and into the light.

and, when we realize we’re all in the same boat, that this is true for all of us, that’s when we allow ourselves to love and to be loved.

cannot look upon us

but what about God? is the same true for Him? does He look upon us, in our darkness, to see a faint glimmer of goodness, and love us for that goodness?

some people will tell you that’s true. some people will tell you He loves them because they’ve done this, or because they do that. but i don’t think that’s the case.

you see, i think we have it right when we feel an overwhelming sense of shame at the idea of God even looking upon us. in our shame. in our guilt. i think all those times we choose our own ways, our own desires, over His desire for our life, i think that all adds up to this horrific scene. so ghastly that He cannot even look upon it, in His righteousness. were we to see the cumulative result of our sin, of our selfishness, of our anger, of our pride, of our thoughts, of our desires, it would be too terrible for even us, in our unrighteousness, to take in. like looking upon someone whose body was completely covered in open, oozing sores, gasping for breath, longing for the cold, healing touch of anything or anyone. it would be a sight that we would be forced to turn our heads from.

and i think it’s those moments, when we’re most aware of the depth of our failings, i think it’s then that we’re closest to the humility God desires from us. that sort of an approach to the Father, i believe, is what He desires from us. not one full of pride, or feeling as though you have every right to approach Him because of some faint glimmer of goodness in your life. rather, i think the proper approach, as we see in His word, is an approach that realizes we don’t deserve to approach Him. and that, if it weren’t for Him and for His work, then the mere act of coming before Him in prayer would not even be possible.

let me try to explain.

given to us

imagine finding out your favorite band is on tour and that they will be playing in your hometown. you’ve always wanted to see them perform live, and now you have the opportunity. you happily buy tickets to the show and store them away where you know they will be safe. but, each day, you take them out and look at them in great anticipation.

the night of the concert you find out, through some dumb luck, that you have been granted backstage passes. you cannot believe it. you are overwhelmed with excitement. for now, not only will you be able to see your favorite band perform, but you will have access to all the benefits that lie behind the curtain. in a way, you will have the opportunity to be treated as an actual member of the band, even though, of course, you are not.

and that, in a way, is how God’s love for us works. for we are treated as Sons and Daughters of His kingdom, even though we have failed to live up to those titles time and time again. even on our best days, we would fall severely short of ever being able to earn that title. and, yet, in our good fortune, or, rather, because of His goodness and His love and His sacrifice, we are granted that title through the laying down of a perfect life. The perfect life. the life of the Father’s true son, Jesus Christ.

for, in Him, through His blood. and through His resurrection. we are not only forgiven for all those times we fail to live in His light, as we should, but through Christ, we are granted His righteousness. His righteousness is given to us. because of Christ, the Father looks on us as He looks on His Son. His righteousness becomes our righteousness. our sin-blemished garments are exchanged for His robes of white. perfect. holy. as He is holy. and as He is perfect.

new clothes

and so, even though His desire for us to be perfect doesn’t change, our fears of ever approaching Him in our unrighteousness become invalid. what once was a very real fear no longer holds us back from coming to Him. for, it is only in Him, and because of Him, that we can approach Him. because now, as a result of His Son, He sees us as perfect. just as He calls us to be.

He is not tricked. this is not some sort of magic trick the Son pulled on the Father to allow us to be loved by a mean, grumpy father. no, it is a Father-ordained sacrifice of the deepest sort. it is a holy and perfect Life laid down, for our sake. Jesus’ death, for us, was very real. His pain. His anguish. His separation from the Father. it was all very real, and it was all for our sake. the great exchange, as it is called. His righteousness, given to us, in exchange for our unrighteousness. in exchange for our trash. in exchange for our garbage. dressed in our unrighteousness, He was so ghastly that the Father could not even look upon Him. for, this once, the Father turned His face away from the Son He had spent all of eternity with, in love. because of us. or, rather, for us.

it is a gift i pray you will never take for granted. and it is a gift i pray you will help share with others. and, when you feel as though your sin is too dark for Him to ever look upon you, that it is so dark that you cannot approach Him, i pray you would be reminded that He is handing you new clothes. His Son’s clothes. and i pray, as you put them on, that you would feel His warmth pouring over you. healing you. and lifting up your head. in the knowledge that where darkness once resided, now only light exists. and that through your new wardrobe, He is making His home in you. and it is that home that allows the Father to look upon you with love.

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