“But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness… For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” Romans 8:10-17
Seven years of leading a small group Bible study of teenage girls provided me a greater look and deeper understanding of the general mindset of today’s teen girls – even Christian girls. A mindset more informed by the selfie world we live in than the gospel. As I have pondered why even for girls who regularly attend church, para-church ministries, and Christian camps the voice of our culture screams louder, I believe the problem lies primarily in what is being taught. Or, more accurately stated, what is not being taught.
By and large today’s version of Christianity has been stripped of its very core, leaving the gospel void of its power, in an effort to be appealing and non-offensive to all. Teenagers and adults hear more about being good and doing good than seeing how good Christ is for us. Jesus is simply our example, not our rescuer and redeemer who was everything for us that we are not. But since we don’t see how deeply entrenched in sin we are and we don’t realize our desperate need for him, we miss out on the real hope and the transformative work of the gospel in our lives.
Therefore, I was saddened but not surprised when I posed the question to my girls, “What is justification?” and was met by mostly blank stares. (Some had at least heard the term.) I explained that “to be justified” is to be made right with God. They nodded their heads in agreement. They believed Jesus’ death paid the penalty for their sins and made them right before God. But for them, and many of us, what justification has to do with anything practically speaking doesn’t translate. This is because in many churches, Bible studies, and ministries, the gospel is simply what saves— not what also sanctifies— which means we miss out on the ongoing implications of the one-time act of justification.
In our passage in Romans, Paul tells us those who are in Christ have been set free from the penalty of sin and are viewed by God only according to Christ’s righteousness given to us. Along with this great exchange, he adopted us as children and bestowed upon us all the privileges that come with being an heir. This means everything that is true of Jesus is true of us.
When God says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased (Matthew 3:17),” that is how God views us, too. Jesus received the wrath and judgment we deserved so that we could get grace; so we can rest knowing God delights in us instead of thinking we live under His frown.
- Do you struggle to believe God is really pleased with you?
- Do you live as if you must atone for your sin and failures?
- Do you base your worth on your own performance instead of his?
- Do you feel unworthy? Insecure? Forgotten?
This is how the majority of teen girls live, but if we are honest, all of us do at times. That is why we must camp out at the cross to grasp the good news of justification. At the cross, Jesus defeated Satan, dealt with sin and declared, “It is finished.” At the cross Jesus secured and sealed us in his love and cast upon us an identity wrapped up entirely in his.
An identity that says:
- “No matter how others treat me, I am deeply loved.”
- “I don’t have to prove or elevate myself because God accepts me as I am and his opinion is all that matters.”
- “Even when I mess up for the thousandth time, God calls me righteous.”
- “Although I may get left out by others, my significance and worth is in Christ.”
- “Changing diapers, cleaning house and refereeing my children’s bickering seem tediously monotonous but are valuable kingdom work given to me by God.”
- “His image in me makes me beautiful, regardless of how I feel.”
Do you see why justification matters for our teens and for us?
When justification penetrates our hearts we will no longer define ourselves by our feelings, weaknesses, struggles, sins or brokenness. But by the power of the gospel, our hearts will be reoriented to see how he is our true source of life-giving identity and security. Oh, how getting grace by looking to the face of our Savior might free us of our struggle to know our worth.