Become the righteousness of God
This is an edited manuscript of a sermon I preached at Grand Canyon University. Watch the whole thing below, or keep scrolling to read through the content.
Has something ever happened to you that changed your reality to such extent that you became almost a different person? I can think of a few examples in my own life. When I got married, for instance, my reality changed!
I went from single, to married. From being a bachelor to being a married man. This changed so much about how I lived my life. Every decision was different and suddenly my priorities shifted. It was a very similar experience to become a parent for the the first time.
Maybe you’ve experienced something like this before, either getting married or having kids or a big move or even a new job or career shift. Something happened, that changed your decision making process and set you on a new path. Sometimes these are positive experiences, and sometimes they are negative experiences, but they happen to all of us, and it’s what makes life interesting!
Those of you that know me a little bit know that I’m kind of a nerd. I love super hero stories. Batman, Spiderman, Avengers, all that stuff. An unassuming individual unexpectedly gains knowledge or power or some sick kung-fu skills, they take on this new identity, and then they go and fight crime in while wearing tights and throwing out witty one liners. What’s not to love, am I right? There’s this pattern that’s the same in every single comic book or superhero movie: new reality, a powerful origin story, and a mission to save the world.
I want you to see that this stuff isn’t just pretend movie magic. Like we just talked about, our everyday lives are filled with change and transformation, and the Apostle Paul is tells us you and I are in fact part of the most epic story ever told! And here’s the thing: it’s a true story.
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
(2 Corinthians 5:14-21 ESV)
The new reality
Paul set us up with a new reality.
...one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
(2 Corinthians 5:14-15 ESV)
This is the event that changed everything for everyone in whole world! One perfect person, Jesus Christ, died and was raised back to life for everyone so that they could be free from selfishness and find real abundant life outside of themselves. This is new reality, and implication are huge, because it means that real self-giving love and authentic community are actually possible. It changes the way we look at everything.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.
(2 Corinthians 5:16 ESV)
Once you realize what Jesus has done for you and everyone else, you can’t just look at him from merely human point of view. You can’t just say he was a good teacher or prophet or healer. If you believe what Paul is saying here, that Jesus took your sin with him to the cross, conquered, and came back to life. you can’t look at him the same. He becomes your Lord and your God. And you can’t look at others the same either. You can’t look at yourself the same. This is a new reality that leads to the origin of a new identity.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
(2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)
What does it mean to be “in Christ?” It means to believe in him, and to obey his commandment to love one another. In John 15 Jesus said,
Abide in me, and I in you. ...As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you...Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love...This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
(John 15:4-12 ESV)
When you really believe in Jesus, things change. You begin to love other people in ways you couldn’t before, and it becomes so clear that you have a new identity in him. John Wesley said that for the person that has trusted in Christ, there is
“present, visible, undeniable change! All things are become new - He has new life, new senses, new faculties, new affections, new appetites, new ideas and conceptions. His whole tenor of action and conversation is new, and he lives, as it were, in a new world.”
Do you realize that old you, the one that was a slave to selfish desires, was nailed to the cross with Jesus and is even now dying away? “Behold!” Paul says. Open your eyes and see what Jesus as done and see the freedom that you have been given, and realize that you have been remade on the inside.
Paul keeps going in verse 18, “All this is from God.” This means that this new origin and identity that you have is a gift. There’s nothing you could do earn it or deserve it, because the kind of shift in reality that is required for it can only come from God. Who else can bring someone back from the dead, except the God that created life?
To go back to superheroes for a minute: You’re not like Ironman in this story. He gets his powers from this suit that he built with his own money and and his own intelligence. You’re more like Spiderman or Superman, who through no effort of their own, are given a gifts of power, and with it responsibility.
If you wake up to the reality of the love of Christ and what he accomplished for you by dying on the Cross and being raised back to life, if you accept this new identity as a new creation, living for Jesus instead of yourself, then you have a mission. If you’ve ever wondered about your purpose in life, this is it:
...Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation...Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us...
(2 Corinthians 5:18-20 ESV)
God wants to get his message out through you and through me. An ambassador speaks on behalf of and with the authority of the person they represent. Can you believe God has given all of us such an important role? To speak for him, in his name, to the world? This is the message we’re to proclaim and to live out:
...on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
(2 Corinthians 5:20-21 ESV)
Look, I don’t presume to know where you are in your relationship with God today, so let me try to live this out right now.
If you only hear one thing from me to today, hear this:
Jesus is speaking to you. Right here, right now. And he is saying “be reconciled to God.”
Be reconciled to God, because he made you and loves you. Be reconciled so that you can begin to make sense of both the deep brokenness and the profound beauty of this world.
Be reconciled because what I am saying about Jesus is not only a beautiful story, it is the truth.
Be reconciled to God so that you can receive forgiveness for your sins.
The whole needing forgiveness thing is hang up for a lot of people, and I get it.
Why you need forgiveness from God, and especially why do you need to ask for it, if God is so great? And after all you’re probably a pretty good person.
You know according to your standards and my standards you probably are a pretty good person, but you know you’ve done things that are wrong. You know that your own selfishness has sometimes hurt others, caused you to move farther away from God instead of closer to him. We all know that in relationships, lots of little things add up after awhile.
Every time you have lied or cheated or passed by someone in need or allowed selfish thoughts to run free in your head you have damaged your relationship with God who is perfect, because he made you for more than that. He made you to perfectly reflect his character to the world. You haven’t done that; the truth is you aren’t able to do that on your own.
And this isn’t just theories and rules: God is relational. You can’t forgive yourself for stuff you’ve done to someone else. You can’t rescue yourself if you’re the one drowning. You have to ask for forgiveness. Someone has to pull you from the water. Here’s the good news, though:
Jesus knows and you and loves you and because of that he has made a way for you to be forgiven for your sins, and to be in relationship with him, and with your Father in heaven, and he wants to be with you always through the Holy Spirit.
Jesus took the eternal consequence of your sin on himself on the cross. Even though he was perfect he took on so much for so many people that Paul says he was made sin. There has never been anyone so innocent, so undeserving to die as Jesus. But he did it anyway. He was humiliated and tortured and killed. And he did this so that you could become the righteousness of God.
“The righteousness of God” means God’s perfect character, and especially his faithfulness to keep his promises. God doesn’t just want to make you a better person for your own sake. He wants to use you to keep his promises to bless the world:
To help the poor. To heal the sick. To come alongside the lonely and hurting and all those that are in the margins of society. To reveal beauty and truth. To draw others into a reconciled relationship with one who made them. This is the life he is offering.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s not asking you to be perfect in this moment. He simply says “come, receive forgiveness. I’ll give you everything you need.” So, receive it. Don’t wait. On behalf of Christ, for the love of Jesus, be reconciled to God, so that you can become the righteousness of God.
If you are someone that has received this forgiveness, if you already see the fruit of new creation in your life, don’t forget the reality that God has initiated for you to be made new, and don’t forget the mission. You are an ambassador for Christ, a minister of reconciliation, and this shapes everything about you. It should be shaping your family, your career, your church, your free time.
Your origin story is just the beginning. It’s the first episode in a long series of sequels…each presenting a new challenge and a new expression of God’s goodness in and through you.
You have already been reconciled to God, so open your mind and your heart to the power of Spirit so that you also may become the righteousness of God to a world that desperately needs it. Don’t shy away from sharing forgiveness, hope, and truth as often as you can to anyone and everyone as often you can and in every way you can.
An epic story
So, St. Paul has given us the setup for an epic story. A new reality, initiated by God and inaugurated by the resurrection of Jesus. A powerful origin–a new identity and relationship with the God of the universe–for any that will receive it. And a mission to save the world.
So I have to ask…why wouldn’t you want to be part of that story?