Christians Aren’t “Just Forgiven”

We Christians love our bumper stickers. I’ve never spoken with someone whose life was forever changed by seeing a cliché slapped on the back of a vehicle, yet we just can’t seem to quit the darned things. From the passive-aggressive Christian (“Are you following Jesus this close?” or “Honk if you love Jesus; text if you want to meet him.”) to the cheesy Christian (“C H__ __ C H , What’s missing?”) to the confrontational Christian (you’ve seen the Jesus-fish eating a Darwin-fish) … the possibilities are nearly endless, and usually rather embarrassing.

One of the worst Christian bumper stickers is this: “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” It’s true, of course, that Christians aren’t perfect. But they aren’t just forgiven.

As the Apostle Paul put it, “If we have been united with [Jesus] in a death like his [through baptism], we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom 6:5). In other words, the gospel doesn’t just provide us with a way of escaping the penalty of sin, but a way of escaping the power of sin, too.

Many Christians live their lives nearly unaware of the power God gave them in Christ. They’re looking for so little when it comes to salvation. They want inner peace, or purpose, or a ticket out of hell. And the gospel can provide those things, but it’s so much bigger than that. Union to Christ means that what is true of Jesus is now legally true of us. We have his perfect record. We have his resurrection power. Christianity isn’t about turning over a new leaf at all; it’s about the power of a new life.

This should be encouraging for messed up people like us. The people God uses to change the world aren’t those with a morally clean slate. Peter was a coward. Paul was harsh and abrasive. John was arrogant and vengeful. They were not made of more promising material than you or me. But the new birth turned them into men of incredible power. There is no brokenness or corruption or weakness that the power of Christ’s resurrection cannot remove, heal and redeem.

And how do we tap into that power? Paul shows us the way: “Likewise, you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:11).

“Reckon” is the Greek word logizomai, often translated “count,” “consider” or “credit.” It’s the word Paul uses in Romans 4 to illustrate how God credits us with righteousness, even when we aren’t actually righteous. When God sees our faith in Jesus, he reckons our faith to be righteousness.

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J.D. Greear
J.D. Greear, Ph.D., is the President of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastors the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC. Tagged by Outreach magazine as one of the fastest growing churches in America, the Summit has grown in the past 8 years from 400 to over 5,000 each weekend. The Summit Church is deeply involved in global church planting, having undertaken the mission to plant 1000 churches in the next 40 years. J.D. has authored Breaking the Islam Code and the upcoming Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary.