It is Finished: Words of Deepest Truth
What if we really believed Jesus when he said, “It is finished”? What if we actually lived out of the reality that we have been justified, and we no longer have to justify ourselves?
This is completely counter-cultural. This is not what we learn in school.
In the world, merit is king and work is rewarded. If you’re not “doing it right,” thinking right, or feeling right, you are not acceptable or valid. You are not welcome in the inner circle. And once you are in the inner circle, you get to hold everyone else to the standard that has been set – whether it is your standard or someone else’s.
All too often, this becomes the M.O. of our youth groups. There are certain standards, whether implicit or explicit, our students must live up to; otherwise they aren’t in the inner circle.
You catch whiffs of this if you listen for the statements your students make, or the questions they ask.
“I don’t think she’s doing her quiet times anymore.”
“He doesn’t really even get the gospel.”
“She’s only serving at the soup kitchen to make herself feel better.”
“Is he really a Christian? His theology is messed up; he believes in unlimited atonement.”
“She’s so hyper-spiritual; I think she’s raising her hands in worship as a show.”
One way to understand these evaluations is through the lens of self-justification. By pointing out how others are getting it wrong (whether behaviorally, intellectually, or emotionally), we are implicitly justifying how we are right. And oh, how satisfying that can feel. How validating.
As adults, this comes in every variety under the sun, from parenting style comparisons to assumptions about why certain people are even at church. As Paul reveals in Romans 3:27, we as adults and even pastors are equally as desperate to boast that we’re getting it right as our students are.
Paul has spent all of chapters 1-3 describing the gospel, the freely-offered, fully-paid gift of total forgiveness and redemption Jesus presents. And his first move after that beautiful description is to say, “Don’t immediately make this about you” (which is my paraphrase for “boasting is excluded”).
Y’all. This is no accident. Paul knows we are immediately going to make it about us, about our getting it right instead of Jesus’ having gotten it right.
So what does Paul do? Well, he doesn’t harp on trying to convince us to change ourselves, to stop boasting, even. He doesn’t elaborate on the damage that sin will do in community. He doesn’t even give us techniques for ceasing the detrimental comparing we are all enslaved to.
He takes us straight back to the gospel.
In the very next verse, he writes, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (v28).
Another way to say this is, “It is finished.”
You have been justified by Christ’s fulfillment of the law through his life and his death on the cross. Your need to get it perfectly right, whatever it is, has been met in and through Jesus. It is finished. Your holding of others to the standards you set for yourself (which are a pale shadow of the true law, by the way) is not life-giving, but fracturing for relationship and community. It is finished. The guilt that wracks you for having failed sexually, failed relationally, and failed financially has been taken on the cross. You are forgiven.
It is finished.
The word of the cross is true freedom for the sinner; it is freedom for me. And it is freedom for your students. We often build our church or youth group communities on mere life phase similarities, or implicit performance (law of works) standards that we hold ourselves to. But when we repent and remember that the cross is our ultimate foundation, we are free to give and receive the phenomenal truth found in the words, “It is finished.”
We are free to be awkward in community, because comfort is not ultimate; the cross is.
We are free to show up having just fought with our friends on the way to youth group, because we are forgiven, we are not forever stained by our failure.
We are free to offer our gifts imperfectly – to God’s delight, because perfect performance has only occurred once in the history of the universe, in the life of Jesus.
We are free to not have all the answers as youth leaders, because our rightness is not what our ministries hinge on; His righteousness is.
We are no longer enslaved to the perceived standards of that inner circle or to being gate-keepers for it. We are free to welcome one and all, because Jesus’ final words mean that we were extended the most ultimate welcome.
It. Is. Finished. These are words I need to hear every day of my life as I battle perfectionist tendencies and the barrage of internal self-justifying statements that compare others to myself. These are words I want to offer my students more and more as they enter deeper into various types of church community. And these are words I become ecstatic to hear them use with one other – for forgiveness, for hope, and for reminding one another of the deepest, truest, most resounding Love that has ever been. He who uttered them was faithful for all of us who aren’t. Thanks be to God.