When we are given new life in Christ, it is not as though we are merely forgiven, being given a second chance. It is not as though we are given a clean slate. It is not that God removes his wrath toward us until we go and sin again. It is not that God reluctantly acquits us, and sends us away. It is much, much more than that.
To be sure, we are forgiven, and our debt of sin is cancelled (Col 2:14). But this is only one side of what we experience in Christ. This is only one aspect of what happens when we are baptized into him (Rom 6). In fact, when we receive Christ’s death for ours, and his life for ours, we are given the entire life of Christ. All of it. We are given his righteousness (1 Cor 1:30). We are given his resurrected life (Col 3:3). We are given his victory and reign over sin and death (Col 3:1). We are given all that he has; everything that is his becomes marvelously ours: “the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours [in Christ]” (1 Cor 3:21-23)!
In Christ is not only the forgiveness of sin, but the bestowal of all of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. And this means that when God looks upon us in Christ, he no longer sees us according to our sin. He no longer sees us according to our mistakes. He no longer sees us according to our weaknesses. When he looks upon the sinner in Christ, he sees the perfect righteousness of Christ, and says, “My beloved son (daughter) in whom I am well pleased!” (Mt 3:17).
And as long as Christ is alive, victorious over our sin, reigning in righteousness and new life, this is always how God sees us. Our security is eternally based on what Jesus has done, no longer what we have done. Our acceptance is based on the infinite righteousness of Christ, not on our grievous sins. God bestows upon us the highest honor and acceptance, because in Christ is the highest honor.
As Paul says, “your life is hidden in Christ with God” (Col 3:3). This means we should no longer see ourselves according to the flesh (2 Cor 5:16). We should no longer look upon our old life of sin, which has died with Christ (Col 3:9-10), but walk in the newness of life which has been given as a gift in Christ. Paul tells us to put on Christ, and walk not in the old manner of life (Rom 13:14).
In a very real way, the Christian life is living in practice what God has given us in Christ (Col 3:1). It is not that we put no effort into obeying God — but rather, we obey God because God has first given us the perfect obedience of Christ (Phil 2:12-13)! Our entire identity is wrapped up, summed up, swallowed up by Christ’s perfect life, his atoning death, and his victorious resurrection. Our life is his, and his is ours. This is the definition of what it means to be in Christ. It is the totality of what it means to be a Christian. Our life is no longer our own. Our sins are no longer our own. Rather, Jesus takes all our sins, and bears them on the cross. And, Christ takes all of his righteousness, and clothes us in it.
As Paul so rightly says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). Solomon rightly says, “My beloved is mine, and I am his” (SOS 2:16).
Would that we could see ourselves as God sees us in Christ! Then we would despise the sinful things our flesh still desires, for it was paid for in full by Christ. Then we would desire the righteousness of God, for it was so graciously given us in Christ. Then we would desire to live holy lives as God himself is holy, for that was the purpose for which we were redeemed.
To live unto God is first to know that in Christ, God loves, receives, and accepts unconditionally. Then we are free to live for him, not to be received, but because we are already received.