Intro: Self Righteous
Growing up I shared my story many times in hopes that someone would ask Jesus into their heart. Ultimately I wanted Jesus to award me a soul-winner badge. My heart was aimed at impressing Jesus but my soul was not won by Jesus. I spread the gospel so that hell would be emptied and heaven would be filled. But I missed out on treasuring the treasure of heaven, Jesus. He was a means to an end, not the satisfaction of my soul. I wanted to hear the words “well done.” But I would not have laid aside everything to have Him.
I did not see the beauty of the God who saves. My life vision was to do great things for God, but I missed the great love He had demonstrated. I was focused on me, not Him. And my view of salvation was reduced to a prayer of acceptance upon hearing the news that Jesus saves us from hell. It was not anchored in Jesus definitively saving me from me, and giving me the unmerited gift of His righteousness.
My perspective has been shaken the past few years and my heart has been arrested by the truth of God’s word. I have grown a desire to share my story with you.
To clarify, I don’t feel like I have a 180 degree turning moment. There are multiple events and phases where I have been shaken, and sunk further into God’s grace. Here are some of those identifiable moments and stages of growing to trust in Jesus alone.
Phase 1: No Righteousness of My Own
In 2016, I was serving a church in many capacities. I loved my opportunities for preaching and leading kids and teen ministries. There was much joy to be had. But there was also much sin in my heart. My self-defined love for Jesus was growing cold as I engaged the world around me. I aimed to be righteous on the outside while my soul danced with worldliness.
The vision of being the good-news-bearing-hero could not stifle dark-hearted sin. I was envious, greedy, consumeristic, identity-protecting, self-centered in every way, and I engaged prostitutes as consummate evidence of my heart’s state. This happened for months. While I confessed with my mouth, I did not repent in my heart, turning from my sin.
Professing christians fought human trafficking, I funded it. Night one of engaging an image bearer of God for sexual pleasure left me with one weighty truth: Peter McCarthy is not intrinsically righteous before God by any measure. While my sin was newly consummate, it had reigned in my heart throughout my life. I was the worst sinner I knew and it was time to admit that truth.
Three months into this pattern of sin, I encountered the wrath of God. One evening I wept on the floor throughout the night. God’s just wrath toward my sin brought clear definition that I opposed His holiness. My heart did not battle sexual sin alone, but the sin of exalting myself above God. My life was a reflection of my will, not His. I trembled. From this place I pleaded for His mercy. I needed it, or my soul would shred before the just God.
He was merciful to me and began to bring restorative means of grace into my life.
Phase 2: God’s Grace
In early 2017 I was invited by friends to hang out in northern New York. One night, my now wife bore witness to God’s grace in her life. She told me her story of engaging prostitution and how God delivered her. Then she detailed how God gave her a heart for prostitutes with a shocking conclusion; “I don’t just have a heart for the girls caught in prostitution, but for the guys as well.” She was speaking of the solicitors. I felt like God had a magnifying glass on me at that moment. He revealed His capacity to rescue me from my seemingly inescapable sin and guilt. There was no sin too deep for God’s rescue, or too great for His delight to save. I began to see that tax collectors and sinners are the backdrop which magnify His effective, miraculous grace. It became clear that He would rescue me too.
Three months later, Brianna and I were engaged. To me, God was clearly emphasizing that He loves to demonstrate kindness to the greatest of sinners. In my crater of sin, desired gifts were given. When I worked against Him, He worked for me. This undid me.
Life didn’t miraculously pull into the shalom station. Wedding season was not a smooth transition. I burned out and had nothing to give. I entered marriage and fatherhood feeling defeated, but learning to breathe God’s grace. Thankfully, His goodness has prevailed over my sin and inadequacy as husband and dad.
Phase 3: Atonement – What Happened on The Cross
Holy Spirit stirred my desire to discover what happened on the cross a few months after my wedding. I knew that Jesus had died for my sin and rose from the dead. But I had never landed on resolute understanding of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. Turned out my heart had never stood on that foundation.
While engaging the narrative of God atoning for His people’s sin, I saw that He never compromised His righteousness. He is not righteous if He does not punish unrighteousness.
And apart from Him, there is no one righteous. Unrighteousness will be punished, which means everyone will be justly punished – facing death.
The Bible made this clear to me. “Unless your righteousness surpasses the scribes and pharisees, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (Matt 5:20) “There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10) “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20) “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
It was clear to me, the righteous wrath of God is ready to be expressed on every unrighteous person. That’s everyone.
There is one path of rescue which must not be ignored. Jesus is the only righteous one, and He is often missed. But I have found that He must be the gate I enter, the One I trust and the treasure I pursue.
The lamb, despised and rejected by men has come for Peter McCarthy. His mercy and grace have invited me to receive Him. Upon receiving the righteous sacrifice, I stepped into the reality of my unrighteousness having been placed on Jesus, and justly dealt with by the righteous God. I no longer bear the weight of my sin, nor do I have forthcoming punishment. The innocent lamb took that for me.
Fully exposed. Fully known. The man who funded human trafficking and got to know enslaved women for sexual pleasure has been liberated. Not without the price of death. I have been definitively set free before the eternal judge. He determined the punishment and followed through, but He sent someone to take my place. God’s justice towards my sin has been integrally expressed. This is what happened on the cross. My sin was paid for because it was laid on the innocent Lamb, Jesus and justly punished by the Father.
I come out of the courtroom incapacited – moved beyond words, seeking to herald the power of what has taken place.
I no longer have a just penalty waiting for me. Every wrong on Peter McCarthy’s account has surely been paid before the righteous, eternal judge. This is a liberating reality. And every future wrong has been covered. This grace yields faith, and I trust, will yield different outcomes.
Phase 4: Righteousness of Christ
Freed from sin and the penalty I deserve has not been the only gift. There has been another that is eternally declarative. The just God has brought justice to my sin, clearing the slate. But He has also justified the sinner, securing a new identity and foundation for my life.
The intrinsic righteousness of Jesus has been credited to Peter McCarthy. Because the intrinsic Righteous One has become the gracious object of my faith. No longer is my righteous/unrighteous scale counted. Rather, the One who is pure and true has stepped into my space, delivered me from sin by dying in my place, and has clothed me in HIS Righteousness.
His righteousness. Try to shake His righteousness for a moment. Try to penetrate this breastplate. I’m not aiming to say, “look at me and my righteousness.” There is no Peter McCarthy righteousness here. This is the intrinsic worth of Jesus credited to me. I never saw this, valued this, or received His righteousness when I thought that I was righteous.
This is the most sure foundation. Spelunking in this reality silences all pending accusations – most significantly, before God. The righteousness of Jesus cannot be destroyed and it has been given to me. The is like the blood painted above the doorway as the spirit of death passes over. Or the ark to hide in during the flood. The righteousness of Jesus is my eternal hiding place, creating and sustaining my peace.
Jesus is my liberator. He is a just God who justifies the sinner. First justice, then justification. My sin has received the death it deserved. This grace led me to place faith in Jesus being the righteous one – who took God’s righteous wrath for me, and gave me HIS righteousness, rendering the just, final, and eternal verdict over me to be… RIGHTEOUS!
For the #joysetbforeme,
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 8:1
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21