Have you ever struggled with a temptation? “Well, of course, we all have!” you say.
So how did you feel when you yielded? What did you say to yourself? If you’re like a lot of Christians, you said things such as, “God can’t accept me as long as I keep yielding to this temptation.” “I have no right to call myself a Christian until I gain the victory over this sin.” “I guess I’ll be lost.”
We all talk to ourselves throughout the day. Our minds and emotions are constantly chattering away in our heads. We call this “self-talk.” Sometimes our self-talk is positive. For example, let’s say you’re alone in the kitchen one day, and you see a big red apple on the counter. You pick it up, turn it over in your hands, then take a bite. And you think, Hmmm! Sweet!
On the other hand, sometimes our self-talk is negative. Let’s say you’re working away at the computer, when your finger accidentally hits a wrong key and you lose half an hour’s work. And you think, How stupid of me! You’ll probably say the words too. That’s negative self-talk.
Now think of this: you were using negative self-talk when you told yourself that you had no right to call yourself a Christian as long as you kept yielding to that special temptation.
Paul responded to this negative self-talk in Romans 3:20–22. In verse 20, he said that “no one will be declared righteous [justified] in his [God’s] sight by observing the law.” When you say to yourself, “God can’t accept me as long as I keep yielding to this particular temptation,” you’re actually saying that in order to be acceptable to God you have to gain the victory. You must obey God’s law.
But that’s precisely what Paul said is not the basis of your acceptance by God. Perhaps this will be a bit more evident if I rephrase Paul words: “No one is accepted by God on the basis of his or her success in obeying His law.” You could obey God perfectly, but that still would not qualify you for His acceptance.
How to be accepted by God
So what is the basis of your acceptance by God? Paul answered that question in verse 21. He said, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known.” Paul meant that, since you don’t have any righteousness to offer Him, He gives you His righteousness.
This is especially evident in Philippians 3:9, where Paul said that he wanted to “be found in him [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own that comes from [obeying] the law, but that which is through faith in Christ— the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”
Notice that in both Philippians 3:9 and Romans 3:21, the righteousness that saves comes “ from God.” Paul means that, since you don’t have any goodness or obedience of your own to offer God, He gives you His righteousness. Christ’s righteousness is credited to your account. And since Christ’s righteousness is perfect, when God credits it to you, He counts you as perfect too.
Ellen White expressed this thought clearly in her book Steps to Christ: “Christ’s character stands in place of your character, and you are accepted before God just as if you had not sinned.” To be accepted by God just as if you had not sinned means to be accepted by God as though you were perfect, because when Christ gives you His righteousness, you are perfect in God’s sight, even though you still have many character defects that cause you to slip and fall from time to time.
So how do you obtain this wonderful transaction? It’s very simple: just ask, and then believe. In Romans 3:22, Paul said, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (emphasis added).
It isn’t easy
Now here’s the hard part. At the moment you yielded to that besetting sin, you felt as low as an earthworm in the dirt beneath the tomato vines in your garden. You felt so guilty! Your mind was screaming at you that God could not accept you! That’s precisely when you needed to understand that Christ’s righteousness covers your sinfulness. And you receive it by believing, even though you don’t feel like it.
So when your mind is screaming at you that God can’t accept you, that’s the very moment when you must exercise faith that He does accept you. You should, of course, confess your sin. That’s a given. But immediately after that, you should claim God’s promise that. Christ’s righteousness covers your sinfulness, and you are accepted by God just as if you had not done what you just got through doing!
Here’s a prayer that I suggest you say when you feel so worthless before God: “God, I confess that I just sinned, but I praise You that Jesus’ righteousness stands in place of my sinfulness. I don’t feel like I deserve this gift, but I accept it because You’ve promised it. I thank You for accepting me right now just as if I had not sinned!”
When you say this prayer, you’re talking to yourself in your mind, but this time it’s positive.
This is what I call “Jesus talk.”
Learning to say the prayer
You’ll probably find this Jesus talk hard to say at first, because of the screaming in your head that says what you just did makes you unacceptable to God. When that happens, make yourself say the prayer I just gave you. Whether you feel like saying it is not the point. Because God invites you to say it, you have a perfect right to act contrary to your feelings and say the prayer anyway. And saying it when you least feel like it is a powerful act of faith. Paul said that you access God’s righteousness that replaces your sinfulness by faith. And you exercise that faith by saying that prayer.
You’ll probably have to make yourself say this prayer many times before it comes naturally. Don’t give up! Just keep saying it. With God’s help, this Jesus talk will eventually become your own spontaneous self-talk.
The starting point for victory
I should also explain that this is the beginning point for victory over the temptation you’re struggling so hard to overcome. As long as you’re stuck in the negative self-talk, you’ll find it difficult if not impossible to overcome the temptation. Guilt is good, because it prompts you to live the right way. But it’s also bad if you allow it to go on and on until it overwhelms you. You should have just enough guilt to prompt you to confess your sin. Then the guilt should stop, and you should replace it with positive Jesus talk.
Learn Jesus talk, and you’ll be a much happier Christian. And your place in God’s eternal kingdom will be guaranteed!