With our conference in Tyler, TX, just around the corner (4/5-6), here’s a teaser for one of our speakers, the illustrious Steve Brown. This one comes from his book Hidden Agendas: Dropping the Masks That Keep Us Apart, which he wrote after he’d finally “lived long enough and sinned big enough,” after he left pastoring his church and suffered an emotional meltdown. It’s an intimate heart-to-heart about revealing and acknowledging the truth about ourselves — the truth that God already knew and reconciled. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 5, “Names for the Nameless”:

Most Christians have a handle on the forgiveness thing. You’re forgiven and then you work hard to be good. It’s all about pleasing God, being faithful, and trying your best to be obedient. It’s hard but we love to quote that ‘in Christ we can do all things.’ In other words, a Christian is forgiven and then he or she becomes better and better every day in every way.

What if I told you that God was already pleased, that he already thinks of you as faithful, and in his eyes you are already obedient? It’s true. The theological word is ‘imputation’ and it is so radical, so amazing, and so unbelievable that I have trouble believing it. But God said it and, unless he’s started lying, it’s true.

The Bible says, ‘…and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ…’ (Philippians 3:9). ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’ (Romans 4:3). ‘For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes’ (Romans 10:4). ‘And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness’ (Romans 4:5). ‘I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness…’ (Isaiah 61:10).

When Christ died on the cross, there was a trade. God traded my sin for Christ’s righteousness. I would have settled for forgiveness because that is more than I deserve. The problem with forgiveness is that it can become something similar to a professor who cuts slack for a student. ‘Okay,’ the professor says, ‘I’m going to overlook your poor work and give you a passing grade, but don’t ask me to continue doing this for you. You are going to have to work harder.’ Imputation is far more than that. It’s the trade whereby the professor’s academic record becomes yours.

I went to a banquet once where ties were required. Nobody had told me. A friend of mine saw me outside the banquet hall and said, ‘Steve, you don’t have a tie. I have an extra one in my room. I’ll be right back.’ Two minutes later he handed me a tie. I put it on and was acceptable.

The interesting thing about the tie my friend gave me is that it was his best tie. All evening people said to me, ‘Nice tie!’ Not only was I dressed properly with a tie, I was dressed extravagantly with the best tie in the house.

That’s what God has done to make us ‘Acceptable.’ He’s given us the best clothes in the house, the righteousness of Christ.

In John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Mercy, one of the characters traveling with Christiana, Christian’s wife, laughs in her sleep. Christiana asks Mercy about it and Mercy explains that she had a dream in which she was very convicted about her ‘hardness of heart.’ Then, in her dream, Mercy says a man came and wiped her tears with his handkerchief and dressed her in silver and gold—clothed, as it were, in the righteousness of Christ. Then he takes her to the throne room of a holy God where Mercy hears, ‘Welcome, daughter!’

That was my experience.

You see, as my friend Rod Rosenbladt says, ‘It’s not what’s in your heart, it’s about what is in God’s heart.’ They told me that God was holy. He is. They said that he was a consuming fire. He is. They told me that if I worked at it, studied ‘to show myself approved,’ and if I were faithful and obedient, the holy God would be pleased. They were right. But I just couldn’t do it. Don’t get me wrong, I tried. I really tried hard. My heart and my ‘clothes’ were simply too dirty to get clean. Finally, I gave up and started to walk away.

That’s when I looked down at my new clothes—the righteousness of Christ—and I heard his voice, ‘Welcome, child! Welcome!’

I laughed too.

Check out Mbird in Tyler, TX here!