Another popular myth in evangelicalism is the idea that Jesus died to obviate our need for righteousness. This is a dangerous half truth. It is perpetuated in silly bumper stickers, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven,” popular sermons (I teach at a Christian school and students bring this one up a lot…it’s coming form somewhere), and even in a Derek Webb song where he sings:
I am thankful that I’m incapable
Of doing any good on my own
I’m so thankful that I’m incapable
Of doing any good on my own
Now, it could be the case that brother Derek it thankful that he knows that he is incapable. But it seems rather that he’s thankful that the results of the fall are so comprehensively deleterious. Anyhow, back to the myth: false, untrue, silly, not thought out, out of sync with scripture, tradition, and sound reason:
- The gospel is nearly always accompanied by a command to repent in Acts, this is because the call to repentance is no mere accompaniment to the gospel, it is part of the gospel. Seriously, just read Acts on this one.
- The teaching of Jesus is almost all about repentance and what repentance entails due to the arrival of the kingdom of God. In fact, Matthew, Luke, and Mark put it that way (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:15, and Luke 5:32). There is even an interesting parallel between John’s gospel and the synoptics, when Jesus tells Nicodemas that he must be born again (John 3:5-8), and Jesus tells the disciples that they must turn and become like children. The connection between Baptism and being born again, as well as repentance and Baptism is pretty clear. Anyhow, faith in Jesus requires some measure of repentance. In Protestant theology this is not a meritorious work, it is simply fealty to Jesus.
- If your theology comes from a bumper sticker that’s just a bad sign.
- Here is a miniscule sampling of other scripture says Jesus came to make us righteous:
- For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom 8:3-4)
- For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Tit 2:11-14)
- It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mat 20:26-28) Jesus came to atone for our sins here, but he also sets himself up as the exemplar of a great personage in his kingdom.
- The Westminster Confession (about as Calvinistic and thus as evangelically grace focused a document as possible put it this way:
Although repentance be not to be rested in, as any satisfaction for sin, or any cause of the pardon thereof, (Ezek. 36:31–32, Ezek. 16:61–63) which is the act of God’s free grace in Christ; (Hos. 14:2, 4, Rom. 3:24, Eph. 1:7) yet it is of such necessity to all sinners, that none may expect pardon without it. (Luke 13:3, 5, Acts 17:30–31)
This post is probably obvious information to many. But this myth is so persistent that I thought these few points could put it to rest. I didn’t translate out the passages of Scripture quoted precisely so that they might be looked up and read. This is especially important in the case of Acts. It is not mere slogan that the gospel of the Apostles is found in the sermons of Acts and the four gospels. Calling sinners like you and I to repentance is one of the many things Jesus explicitly claimed to have come to do. It would be weird to divorce his mission from the content of his preaching. The appropriate way to say this idea is that Jesus came to die for us so that we would be conformed to his image (Romans 8:28-30).