The Gospel Coalition

I'm learning that the more I see of the gospel, the more I see how little I see it. For every inch gained in gospel understanding, I gain a foot in seeing how little I grasp it. I peer over the ledge of grace and see a new hundred-foot drop, which enables me to see also that the cliff extends another mile beyond that.

There is an entire psychological substructure that, due to the Fall, is a near-constant emission of relational leveraging, fear-stuffing, nervousness, score-keeping, neurotic controlling, anxiety-festering silliness that is not something I say or even think so much as something I breathe. You can smell this on people, though some of us are good at hiding it. And I'm seeing more and more, bit by bit, that if you trace this fountain of scurrying haste, in all its various manifestations, down to the root, you don't find childhood difficulties or a Myers-Briggs diagnosis or Freudian impulses. You find gospel deficit. All the worry and dysfunction and resentment is the natural fruit of living in a mental universe of Law. The gospel really is what brings rest, wholeness, flourishing, shalom---that existential calm that for brief, gospel-sane moments settles over you and lets you see for a moment that in Christ you truly are invincible. The verdict really is in; nothing can touch you.

From another angle: Living by law, which we all believe we're not really doing (those silly Galatians!) is deep and subtle and pervasive. More pervasive than the occasional moments of self-conscious works-righteousness would indicate. Those moments of self-knowledge are indeed gifts of grace and not to be ignored. But they are only the visible tip of an invisible iceberg. They are surface symptoms. Law-ish-ness (in Gal 3:10 Paul uses the phrase, literally, "those who are of works of law") is by its very nature undetectable because it's natural, not unnatural, to us. Feels normal.

But the gospel calls us to believe the unbelievable: The radiant sun of divine favor is shining down on me, and while the clouds of my sin and failure may darken my feelings of that favor, the favor cannot be lessened any more than a tiny, wispy cloud can threaten the existence of the sun. The sun is shining. It cannot stop. Clouds, no clouds---sin, no sin---the sun is shining on me. Because of Another.

The Lord looks on his children with utterly unflappable affection. At one level, I believe, there is a dimension of affection in the fatherly heart of God that kicks into gear precisely when his children fail. I am not saying the more we sin, the more he loves us. But on analogy with human fatherhood, which I know from the inside as a father of three, I can say a latent part of my heart is engaged when I see my son sin. Perhaps it is also true of the Lord. We read the most amazing things in the Old Testament prophets, the doom and gloom guys of the Bible, as they struggle to find language to portray Yahweh's hesed, his covenant love. His compassion "grows warm and tender"---remember, it was on the heels of recounting Israel's spiritual fornication (not faithfulness) that we read that in Hosea.

Be Who You Are


How strange the gospel is. In one sense I am not restored. How painfully obvious. Sin clings, weaknesses and failings abound. Anxiety, anger, idolatry. But in another sense, a deeper sense, I am restored. Perfectly, already. Simul justus et peccator. Deeper Magic from before the dawn of time. It really is true.

According to the sweep of New Testament teaching, the latter now defines me. That is the fundamental reality defining my existence. New birth, new life. Eternal life, as John says---the life of the Age to Come, of the New Realm---has already begun for me. The eschaton longed for in the prophets is here. And by faith, not by sight, I have been swept up into it. Justified: my end-time judgment has already happened and the verdict is acquittal, because I am in Christ, in whose cross the end-time judgment of condemnation was borne. In the middle of history rather than the end. The restored Dane Ortlund therefore trumps, outstrips, swallows up, the unrestored Dane Ortlund. Not the other way around.

As a Christian I'm in the process of bringing my sense of self, my Identity with a capital 'I', the ego, my swirling internal world of fretful panicky-ness arising out of that gospel deficit, into alignment with the more fundamental truth. Richard Hays argues in The Moral Vision of the New Testament that the essence of the New Testament ethic is "Be who you now are." There it is. You are this new being, fundamentally, as one united to Christ. So wake up tomorrow and do whatever you have to---with a Bible, singing, prayer, meditation, a friend, listening to a sermon, a walk around the block---do whatever you must to start your day in gospel alignment. William Hulme, the Lutheran professor and counselor, says in Pastoral Care and Counseling (Augsburg, 1981) that the gospel allows us to bring our subjective guilt feelings in line with our objective guilt eradication.

I am a sinner. I sin. Not just in the past but in the present. But in Christ I'm not a sinner but cleansed, whole. And as I step out into my day in soul-calm because of that free gift of cleansing, I find that actually, strangely, startlingly---I begin to live out practically what I already am positionally. I delight to love others. It takes effort and requires the sobering of suffering. But love cannot help but be kindled by gospel rest.

How can you possibly stiff-arm this? Repent of your small thoughts of God's love, your resistance to swallowing Christ's atoning work whole. Repent and let him love you.


Comments:

Mike

October 29, 2012 at 09:28 PM

Thank you for sharing your thoughts Dane. This is a fantastic post reminding me of a fantastic Savior.

StephenT

July 22, 2012 at 06:10 PM

There is so much to agree with in this post. One nagging, subtle, missing piece to consider. "In Christ I'm not a Sinner", this is true. "In Christ I am dead and burried" is an important part of the reason. Jesus is not in the "Sense of Alignment" business. He's in the death and resurrection business. And in that context, which does bleed from this post some, let me agree with an AMEN that we are called to be who we are.

But we talk so little about our identifying with His death any more, and being crucified with Him. We think the I with a capital "I" just gets transformed as if by "Deeper Magic", or as though it was by some third substance that gets passed from Him to me. When we don't face the death in us that needs to occur, we run the risk of taking this entire experience and hoisting it under the flag of what Martin Luther called a Theology of Glory, instead of a Theology of the Cross.

[...] Read the whole thing. [...]

[...] worth the time to read his full article…In Christ Im Not a Sinner The Gospel Coalition Blog. Like this:LikeBe the first to like [...]

Colton

July 17, 2012 at 11:21 PM

Dane,

Thank you for making the Gospel so clear! I NEED it every single day!! Even as I read your post, I needed the Gospel. Even as I walk away, I need to remember the Gospel. The Gospel makes my shoulders drop, the tension slip away, and that tight spring in my soul unwind. I can breath easy again and rejoice! All praise and glory be to our Worthy Lord and Savior Jesus Christ the Righteous! I long to preach the Gospel so clearly!

Grace and peace,
Colton

July 17, 2012 « post-it note discipleship

July 17, 2012 at 08:57 AM

[...] New birth, new life. Eternal life, as John says—the life of the Age to Come, of the New Realm—has already begun for me. The eschaton longed for in the prophets is here. And by faith, not by sight, I have been swept up into it. Justified: my end-time judgment has already happened and the verdict is acquittal, because I am in Christ, in whose cross the end-time judgment of condemnation was borne. In the middle of history rather than the end. The restored [insert your name] therefore trumps, outstrips, swallows up, the unrestored [insert your name] . Not the other way around. – Dane Ortlund, from his article In Christ, I’m Not A Sinner [...]

Mario Russo

July 17, 2012 at 05:12 PM

Great post!

We have a whole website that is dedicated to this very topic. It is called "The Identity Shift."

http://theidentityshift.com/

We've are also producing short videos, two of them that are available on our youtube channel.

http://www.youtube.com/theidentityshift

Check us out!

J

July 17, 2012 at 01:12 PM

Yes! Great job Dane! We are justified becasue we are in Christ, not the other way around. And being "in" Christ justifies and sanctifies simultaneously. This is the gospel accomplished: The person and work of Christ. This is the gospel applied: our union to him.

Ryan

July 17, 2012 at 01:05 PM

Dane,
This is deep, and hope-filled, and brings healing to my weary pastoral soul.

Thank you so much.

Ryan

Steve Martin

July 16, 2012 at 12:21 PM

Romans 6 says that "we are to consider ourselves dead to sin".

Why?

Because of the cross and the concrete event in our lives that has brought the cross to bear in loud lives, in our real time history...our baptism.

Luma

July 16, 2012 at 11:46 AM

What a soul feeding! Thank you, Dr. Ortlund.

I am teaching Galatians right now to a group of women and one thing that is obvious is how difficult it is for all of us to really and truly down-to-the-bone believe that Jesus loves us, sins and all. We have talked a lot about all the different ways we try to "supplement" our faith to either earn or to make sure we are staying-in that love and approval of God.

Todd Van Voorst

July 16, 2012 at 11:09 AM

Thank you for this. It is such an encouragement and joy to refresh my soul in the love of God for me on behalf of Christ and the faith He has given me to place in Him.

I am so stubborn and relentless in purusing my understanding and strengths and victories. I am constantly reminded of failure and achievement as I toggle between despair and pride. It is only when the Gospel delcaration comes from the Word of God that in Christ I am loved and adopted as a son that I find the heavy burden of despair and pride begin to lift from my weary shoulders.

Thank you for this reminder. Praise God for His mercy in Christ!

Todd Van Voorst

July 16, 2012 at 11:08 AM

Thank you for this. It is such an encouragement and joy to refresh my soul in the love of God for me on behalf of Christ and the faith He has given me to place in Him.

I am so stubborn and relentless in purusing my understanding and strengths and victories. I am constantly reminded of failure and achievement as I toggle between despair and pride. It is only when the Gospel delcaration comes from the Word of God that in Christ I am loved and adopted as a son that I find the heavy burden of despair and pride begin to lift from my weary shoulders.

Thank you for this reminder. Praise God for His mercy in Christ!

http://onceforalldelivered.blogspot.com/

Susan

July 16, 2012 at 10:49 AM

Perhaps we would do well to remember that our identity in Christ is "saint"...not 'sinner'. I am a saint who sins, yes, but sinner is not God's name for me. I am also called his adopted child. Perhaps we are self-condemning because we constantly identify ourselves differently than our Father does.

Dane

July 16, 2012 at 10:45 AM

Definitely needed this post this morning! From one Dane to the next, thank you for staying faithful to the gospel.

Miscellaneous Monday | Jody Lynne

July 16, 2012 at 08:58 AM

[...] In Christ I’m Not a Sinner-I am a sinner. I sin. Not just in the past but in the present. But in Christ I’m not a sinner but cleansed, whole. And as I step out into my day in soul-calm because of that free gift of cleansing, I find that actually, strangely, startlingly—I begin to live out practically what I already am positionally. I delight to love others. It takes effort and requires the sobering of suffering. But love cannot help but be kindled by gospel rest. Dane Ortlund Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments » [...]

M Kent Travis

July 16, 2012 at 08:43 AM

Tremendous. I recently heard a series of sermons on friendship with God; some of what you're saying here was starting to take hold of me... I was starting to really believe that my identity is in Christ. Thank you for the reminder. Also, thank you for the encouragement and the gospel alignment this Monday morning. Soli Deo Gloria.

Marty Duren

July 16, 2012 at 08:27 AM

Thanks, Dane. Here are my thoughts on the same subject.

http://www.martyduren.com/2012/07/02/sinners-or-saints/

Adam Ford

July 16, 2012 at 07:51 AM

Psshhheewwwww.

*That's* how to start a Monday.

Thank you for this, Dane.

[...] Great blog today from Dane Ortlund via The Gospel Coalition re: identity in Christ: In Christ I’m Not a Sinner [...]

Steve Martin

July 16, 2012 at 03:44 PM

This song from the 70's (I think) goes along well with this post and actually is very good theology:

http://youtu.be/WPPlGFh6OpQ


Enjoy.

Ian Smith

July 16, 2012 at 03:33 AM

Dane,

Enjoyed hearing you in the grad chapel at Wheaton, and I continue to enjoy reading and being blessed by your posts here. Thank you for keeping the Gospel at the center!

God Bless, Ian

[...] from: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/07/15/in-christ-im-not-a-sinner/ [...]

Mark

July 16, 2012 at 02:24 PM

What a post to read on my birthday! I am touched by the fact that we're counted free in Christ...because of Him alone and His sacrifice.

Sometimes I am inclined to think that some elements of my life represent my relationship with God: a consistent QT, a good week at work, happiness, and good fellowship. The law only masks our insecurity, the law shows how fragile we are, the law shows how inadequate our being is, and we try to cover up that Gobi Desert size hole. But God is Lord of all days, weeks, feelings of depression, apathy towards the Word, and like a loving Father He draws us to Him.

Thank you for this reminder on my birthday, that the joy of being a Christian is not a glow feeling, but a Faith that that is fired by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. "Gospel-deficit" that can only be filled by the Lord Jesus Christ as our bread and water for daily life. Periods of depression, doubt, fear, and insecurity filled by our Friend and King.

I pray that my life in this new year will continue to press forward into the ever-security of Grace so that His glory may be made known in my daily life, and I am thankful by the riches of His mercy to know more that I am loved, even when I have sin, failures, and issues more than Time Magazine. The Gospel is victory and freedom, the Gospel shows that He is pressing love onto me.

carl peterson

July 16, 2012 at 01:53 PM

A great post. I recently asked my small group at church if we (as christians, elect) are saitns or sinners. I received all 3 answers. Most said that we are saints and sinners. Only one said that we are saints. Truly seeing myself as a son of God through Christ revitalized my faith and my relationship with the Father. Such freedom knowing to God I am His Son first. I might sin but I am no longer a sinner because of His grace. Praise the Lord!!

Thanks for this.

CARL

David Arthur

July 16, 2012 at 01:52 PM

Of all the uses of "Sinner" in the New Testament (216 per LOGOS search) - how many refer to believers? The one single one that catches my attention is 1 Timothy 1:15. Is Paul speaking of his present or past situation?

Does the Bible call Christians "sinners"?

matt ballard

July 16, 2012 at 01:43 PM

Dane,
How capably your words have woven together a tapestry of hope that helps me more clearly see the lover of my soul! Thank you so much for articulating the heart-stirring, counter-intuitive beauty of the Gospel of grace. God used you to 'lift up my head' this afternoon.
Miss you brother. Would love to see you next time you're in Nashville.

Carey

July 16, 2012 at 01:28 PM

I've heard it said that we WERE "sinners who sin" (before faith in Christ) but now we are "saints who sin." Another helpful phrase is that BIRTH determines identity. New birth = new identity.

[...] This post from Dane Ortlund has been such an encouragement to me this month. Its been traveling with me folded in the front cover of my Bible or sitting on my desk all month. I keep re-reading it as a daily devotional such good news! It finishes up like this: How can you possibly stiff-arm this? Repent of your small thoughts of God’s love, your resistance to swallowing Christ’s atoning work whole. Repent and let him love you. A few quotes: [...]

David Arthur

August 1, 2012 at 08:13 AM

Refreshing and encouraging! I was curious though of your last statement about "repenting" - does the bible instruct Christians to repent or non-christians? In doing a NT search on the word - it seems like the bible may be using that word differently than we are currently...?