If we neglect the truth of justification (by faith alone in Christ alone), we lose everything. Therefore, it is most necessary that we teach and repeat this above everything else. We cannot have justification urged upon us too often or too much. Even if we learn it and understand it well, none of us grasps it perfectly or believes it with his whole heart. Our flesh is so frail and is often disobedient to the Spirit.Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians
When we have to deal with a RASN (reviler, abuser, sociopath, narcissist), we find ourselves under regular accusation, shaming, and condemnation. If that source of attack were not enough to overwhelm us, our own frail flesh, as Luther calls it, frequently calls our past sins to mind. At these times we do easily regress into what Luther calls an “active idea of righteousness” which is dependent upon our own works. And in that realm we will only find further condemnation and torment.
The righteousness of Christ is a passive righteousness. It is a righteousness before God which is not obtained through active working on our own to merit His approval. Rather, the approval of God which we call justification or being made right with God, ONLY comes from the performance and work of Jesus Christ. That righteousness is then, by faith and as a gift, credited or imputed to us. This is the only way to be made just before God.
Now, even genuine Christians – people who have truly been born again by faith alone in Christ alone – even we have difficulty grasping this amazing good news. When, as Luther points out, the enemy comes along accusing us and reminding us of our past sins, we can very easily slide into this active righteousness/works way of thinking. I think of the sins I have committed in my life, all of which Satan is very ready to remind me of, and I am ashamed and my conscience terrorizes me.
But while it is right to be ashamed of our sin – as Paul remembered he himself was the chief of sinners because he had persecuted the church – it is a great error to conclude that the Lord is disgusted with and ashamed of me due to the things I have done. Your RASN will happily feed such thinking through his accusations and guilting.
If you are a Christian, then you are not who you used to be. You have been born again and made a new creation in Christ. The Lord is now your Father and you are His beloved child. And most important – you are clothed with a perfect, flawless righteousness by which you have been declared justified before God. It didn’t come from your performance, but entirely from Christ’s perfect obedience to God’s Law for you. And it is a REAL righteousness truly given to you so that it is your own possession, given freely as a gift received by faith, unmerited.
So, we must run from that active, works based righteousness thinking whenever it rears itself up in our minds. Of course our performance in this world has been at times quite shoddy and shameful, and while we now must still battle against sin by the Spirit within us, nevertheless, my standing with God is not at all founded upon my own performance. Not by things which I have done – nope. But by all that Jesus has done. And therein you have the key to a conscience set at peace.