How would you explain the Biblical concept of justification to your nextdoor neighbor? How about explaining it to a recent immigrant to your area who is learning English? What about a group of people who speak a language with no one word for “justification”?
For us, one way to answer that last question involved bamboo joints and dirty sticks.
So what does justification have to do with bamboo joints and dirty sticks?
Well, a lot, if you happen to be a Tobo believer coming to our weekly gatherings to study Romans.
At the end of chapter 3, we discussed the fact that our faith in Christ does not mean that we stop sinning and become perfect people in our daily lives on this earth. But it does mean that God says of us, or declares of us, that we are straight and righteous people now. This not of ourselves, we know that we still mess up and sin on a daily basis. But the righteousness we have is that of our Lord Jesus Christ! When God sees us, He no longer sees our sinfulness, since Christ took care of the penalty for that when He died on the cross. Instead, He sees us as covered with the righteousness of His Son and our Savior. Wow! All that is wrapped up in that big term “justification”.
To communicate this important (and freeing!) concept of justification, I had Tingon bring me a nasty brown bamboo joint that was old and covered in dirt, and another freshly-cut shiny clean green bamboo joint (bamboo joints are hollow tubes with segments between the hollow spaces at top and bottom). These two joints were cut open at the top, and the bottoms left on, so they formed 2 long cylinders like large cups that a small child could reach their arm into. I then had Tingon bring me several dirty sticks, which I put into the dirty joint.
I had a number of curious eyes on me as I held up the dirty joint and pulled one of the dirty sticks out of it.
“Is this stick clean or dirty?” I asked.
“Dirty!” was the response.
“What about the bamboo joint?”
“It too is very dirty!”
I then took the stick and put it into the glistening green joint. “Is the stick clean now?”
“No, the stick’s still dirty.”
“That’s true. What about this joint?”
“The joint’s very clean!”
“Can you see the stick now that I put in down into the joint?”
“No, only if you take the stick back out.”
Then I put a few sticks into the clean joint, and left the rest in the dirty one. “These sticks are all dirty, and they represent us people. At first, we were all in the dirty joint, stuck in our sinfulness, in Satan’s joint and under the hand of (meaning control or power of) Satan and sin.
“Then, just as I grabbed some sticks and put them into the clean joint, God has put us into the clean joint of Yesu. Just as the stick is still dirty, we are still people who sin even after being placed into Yesu’s clean joint. However, just as the stick is hidden in the clean joint and all we see is the good cleanness of the joint now, so now God looks at us as hidden inside of Yesu and His cleanness. Because of the cleanness of Yesu, He now says of us that we are straight people in his eyes.”
At this point, there were lots of nods, smiles, and whispers of “Élok!’ (“True!”) from the group. I then asked them this:
“So, did God take some of these sticks and put them in there because they were a little bit cleaner or better than the other dirty sticks still in the dirty joint?”
“No, they are all the same, all dirty.”
“You’re right! So then we too are not better or cleaner than our friends who have not believed in Yesu. But we are now in a better place in God’s eyes, aren’t we?”
“Oh, yeah! We still sin even now, but God still took us out of Satan’s joint and put us into Yesu’s joint because of what He did for us!”
So, readers of this email, if you have trusted in Christ to pay the penalty for your sin once and for all, then you along with our Tobo brothers and sisters are all safely in His bamboo joint and God sees us in that special place as perfectly clean—not because we are better than other people, but as a result of the righteousness of Christ He covered us with when we first believed! Can I get an “Amen” now? Or perhaps an “Égat migi i élagék yamda,” (Tobo for “This talk is hugely true”)?
Thanks for continuing to pray with us as we explore the richness contained in Romans. Pray that these truths will find their way deep into our hearts here as we learn and grow and see God manifesting them in our daily lives.
Your fellow joint-heirs with Jesus,
Chad & Janeene (& Elijah & Zekey)