I’m a couple of chapters in to a remarkable new book, Sin Boldly!: Justifying Faith for Fragile and Broken Souls by Ted Peters. It’s an approachable yet meaty treatise on the everyday value of Justification By Faith, what the author calls, “the key that unlocks the prison door, the hand that rips off the blindfold, the aloe that cools the burning gash, and the elixir that tastes of Eden.” To say that it’s shot through with our favorite themes would be a supreme understatement. Moreover, the text bristles with humor and personality, drawing on enormous wells of empathy and even a modicum of genuine eccentricity (Prof Peters is also the author of UFOs: God’s Chariots?). It’s right up our alley, you might say. More to come, but for now, here’s a section from the end of the terrifically titled opening chapter “The Fragile Soul and Spiritual Duct Tape” where Peters gets pretty close to his central thesis:

51lU3StHrKL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_No matter how fastidiously Reformation Protestants treasure [the doctrine of justification by faith], surrounding it with theological halos, its real value is much broader and much deeper. Like the electron microscope, the concept of justifying faith shines a bright light into the dark recesses of the human soul and reveals to us who we are. It illuminates the human condition…

Justifying faith comes to us as gospel, as news about the graciousness of God. In order to hear this news about God, however, we must also hear news about ourselves. What we learn about ourselves is that we have been hiding something. We have been hiding the self behind a facade of self-justification. This facade of self-justification must be shattered before we can enjoy the inner peace brought to us by the news that God justifies us. Because God justifies us, we do not have to. We no longer need to defend ourselves, make ourselves look good, or fool ourselves into believing that we are, in fact, what we want others to think of us.

Our daily inclination is to draw a line between good and evil and then to place ourselves on the good side of the line. We do this unconsciously when we follow the rules. We do this somewhat consciously when someone accuses us of incompetence or malfeasance. We do this consciously when meeting someone new, when we try to look good for others. We do this nervously when we try to keep guilt from rising up into awareness and disturbing us with depressing thoughts. Most viciously, we do this when we exact harm on someone through gossip, violence, war, or genocide.

What the gospel reveals is surprising. It’s counterintuitive. When we draw the line between good and evil and then place ourselves on the good side of the line, the gospel reports that God is on the evil side of the line. Really?! Yes, truly. When we pursue what we deem to be good, God sides with those who become victimized by our pursuit. When we pursue justice, God sides with those who suffer from our pursuit of justice. When we stomp on the accelerator of our own virtuous achievements, a poisonous gas comes out of our exhaust pipe that suffocates those we are leaving behind. What we are blind to is that our own pursuit of self-justification victimizes others, and our gracious God sides with the victims. To say it another way, our virtues are just as deadly as our vices, and God, among others, suffers from our virtues…

The gospel is not only bad news. To be sure, the gospel reveals our inclination to self-justify and even lie to ourselves, but there is more to it than that. The gospel also reveals that God is gracious. God justifies us by placing the crucified and risen Christ into our soul. The result is justifying faith. Once we realize that we can get out of the business of justifying ourselves, the world suddenly looks different. No longer do we need to defend ourselves from a hostile world by identifying ourselves with what is good or just or true. We can live in the world–we can love the world–as if it is our world, with or without the lines we draw between good and evil. When appropriate, we can even sin boldly. (pgs. 38-39)