Lou: I missed some words in this chapter that I’ve often heard associated with the subject of perfection. I didn’t hear you say that it is “Christ’s righteousness imputed“ or “the covering of Christ’s righteousness” that enables God to say, “You’re perfect.” Why didn’t you use phrases like that?
Graham: We need to be familiar with such phrases and use them at the right time. Actually those words belong to the legal model, which is an emergency model. In the legal model the righteousness of Christ is reckoned to us so that our account may look all right in the judgment. And that’s often attributed to the verse: “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned (or imputed) to him as righteousness” (Rom 4:3, RSV, alluding to Gen 15:6). The Greek word there can actually mean, “considered, recognized.”
In the trust/healing model, however, I would translate that verse: “Abraham trusted God, and God said, ‘That’s good! That’s what I want. If you trust Me, all is well.’” All God ever asked of us is trust. And Abraham trusted Him enough to become His firmest friend (Exod 33:11; 2 Chr 20:7; Isa 41:8; James 2:23). Abraham really grew up and while he remained reverent, he was not afraid of God. Look at the relationship they had. That’s the ideal. And one does not need to explain their relationship in legal terms at all.
It’s the same way with the term “covered.” The legal model suggests that if I were to stand in the presence of the Father as a sinner, He would be very angry and destructive toward me if I were not covered. So I am covered with something that keeps God from seeing the way I really am. You can see how the legal model could have a comforting message for people who are afraid of God. “Don’t worry. God can’t really see you the way you are.” That’s emergency ‘talk.
In reality, however, the Lord knows exactly the way I am. And the Devil is reminding everyone of the way I am. But in the trust-healing model, God still treats me as if I had always been as loyal as His own Son. He treats me as if I had lived as righteously as Christ. I know I haven’t and so does He. But that’s how real and generous He is. And that’s a clearer and more marvelous picture than the other. So we can use phrases like, “the covering of Christ’s righteousness” when people need them. But whenever the audience is ready for it, we should also explain the healing model. The legal language has its place, but it’s a station along the way.
Lou: In the beginning of the chapter, you talked about it not being enough just to be forgiven. But if I’m forgiven, if I know that God has forgiven every sin, what more do I need to be saved?
Graham: Just to say a person is forgiven doesn’t heal the damage done. Just to forgive a Hitler or a Kim Jong Un would not make them very desirable neighbors in the hereafter unless they have changed. But if King Manasseh can be changed (2 Chr 33:11-23), so could they. We must leave that decision in God’s hands. But if I meet one of them in the Kingdom, I wouldn’t want to know whether he has been forgiven. I would want to know if he is safe to live next door to. When Isaiah meets King Manasseh in eternity, he won’t want to know if Manasseh has been forgiven. He will want to know if Manasseh can be trusted with a sharp saw, because Manasseh ordered that Isaiah be sawn in half inside a hollow log (based on 2 Kings 21:16, Heb 11:37 and the early Christian non-biblical text Martyrdom of Isaiah 4:12 – 5:14)!
So forgiveness alone is not enough. Just because God says, “I forgive you,” does not mean I’ve been changed in any way. Remember that Jesus on the cross forgave the people who rejected and tortured Him. They didn’t even want to be forgiven. So unless we respond to God’s forgiveness, and the kindness of God leads us to repentance and to trust, that forgiveness has done us no good. In the case of the centurion at the cross, at least, Jesus’ forgiveness changed his life.
Lou: So Jesus’ prayer for those who were crucifying Him represented the heart of God, how He actually felt towards them at that moment. But God’s forgiveness meant nothing to them unless they were open to receive it.
Graham: Right. Unless we respond, it will not make us safe to save.
Lou: I want to ask the same question, but in another way. Isn’t it enough to be justified? Do I also have to be sanctified? Are you saying here that the healing/trust model really challenges that kind of separation?
Graham: Very much so. Of course the words “justification” and “sanctification” do not occur in the Bible. They are English words drawn from the Latin. That doesn’t mean they are unimportant. But the Greek word (dikaiosunē) could be more literally translated “set right” or “put right” rather than “justification.” Now if a person has been set right with God, now loves and trusts Him, and is willing to listen; don’t you think that person would also say, “What else do You want me to do, Lord?”
“I want to heal you if you will cooperate.“
“Absolutely! Just tell me, and I’ll follow.”
Back to using the terms from your question, there’s no way to be justified without sanctification following. If you’re not willing to be kept right, you obviously haven’t been set right. So being set right and kept right are all part of the same package. They belong together.
Lou: But I worry a little about this. Consider the following question from the audience: “You’ve made it so complicated. There is so much to think about: justification, sanctification, and all of this. If what really is at stake is simply trusting God, why isn’t it enough to say, ‘I’m going to have the faith of a little child? I’ll just trust God, and don’t bother me with all the rest of this?’“
Graham: Let’s not underestimate the faith of a little child. The faith of a little child implies he or she is really willing to listen. So if we truly have the faith of a little child, we will be willing to listen and to be trusting, which is why small children need protection. They are too willing to trust just about anybody. But on the good side, the faith of a little child is wonderful. My grandchildren will sit there, listen, and believe anything Grandpa says. I could misuse that trust, but I won’t do it. Nevertheless, to have them sit and look and hang onto every word is beautiful. I love it. So if we have the faith of a little child, we’re sitting there listening to God and saying, “Tell me. Tell me more. Tell me more.” There’s no way to have the faith of a little child without following along and being healed. There’s no way to avoid it.
Lou: As I remember the little children in our house, they were trusting, but they also loved to ask “Why?”
Graham: Oh, that’s part of the faith of a little child.