Tickets for grace

Blank TicketA camp I went to as a kid gave out tickets for snacks. I can’t remember how many tickets we got each day–say four.  Different snacks were worth different point values.  You could get maybe a little dish of ice cream.  Or two Fruit Roll-Ups.  Or maybe cheese crackers.  But you could not get ice cream, Fruit Roll-Ups, and cheese crackers.

If I am really honest, I look at grace a lot of the same way.  I act as though God has given me a certain number of tickets each morning to spend on forgiveness.  Then I look at what I’ve done wrong in the day.  I try to pay out the tickets to cover the sin I owe.

And, invariably, I always run out of tickets before I run out of sin.  And, although I would never voice it this way, it goes something lie this,

I could pay for those eighteen small sins.  Or this one big sin.  Or this sin trap I keep falling into over and over.  But how am I going to pay for them all?

When I do this, although I’m not thinking about it this way, I’m acting as though the blood of Jesus is limited.  As though Christ in His death on the cross was willing to pay for some of my sins, but not all of them.  What would that have accomplished?  Why do I think Christ would go through such a terrible death and then only partway save me?

There are no tickets of grace.  There should be no worry for the Christian over whether or not Jesus is willing to cover all our sins.  When we focus on whether there’s enough grace, we miss out on delighting in what grace is: God’s undeserved forgiveness of us and help for us in our time of need.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16, NIV)

Just

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 John 1:9, NLT)

In all my times of reading this verse, only tonight has the word just struck me.

. . he is faithful and just to forgive . .

Faithful–check.  I understand that about God, even take it for granted.

And just–check, too.  But, wait a minute.  Not in this context.

Gold scales of justice on brown background

I’ve heard most of my life about the justice of God to punish sin.  And that makes sense.  Sin is more serious than we can even imagine–and only Jesus can atone for it.

But God is just to forgive sin?

Wait a minute.  Why just?

Is He just because we confess our sin?  That doesn’t make sense to me.  If I commit a crime and tell a judge about it, I wouldn’t say the judge was just to forgive my crime.

Why just?

There can only be one reason.

Jesus.

Jesus paid the price for sin.  Fully.  So it would actually be unjust for God to withhold His forgiveness from you when you repent (turn to Him for a new start).

Wow.

It would actually be unjust for God to withhold His forgiveness from me when I repent.

Have you ever wondered if God would save you?  If you’ve sinned too much?  This Scripture is a passage to memorize.

God has given the ultimate “much”: Jesus Christ, His Son.  This ultimate much pays for every sin.  So when you ask to receive His forgiveness, His ultimate much wipes out your sin so dramatically and so perfectly that it would be unjust for God to act any other way than to forgive you.

Wow.

Isn’t God good?

Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. (James 1:17, NLT)

The reason I do what I do

I’ll tell you what made me do it.  I have the diagnosis, the prescription drug, the inkblot that proves it.  You can see the chemical imbalance, confused neurons, evolutionary mix-up, angry narwhal.  Whatever it is, it’s not my fault.

I’m not responsible for my actions.  Nobody else is responsible for them either.  They’re just me.  Genetic coding.  Environmental upbringing.  Behavioral conditioning.  Freedom of expression.  Personal identity.  Because my parents never bought me a super yellow loop slide when I was a kid.

Me?  It’s not my fault.

. . Oh, wait a minute.  Were you talking about that person who cut me off in traffic?

That dirty rotten bum.

.                    .                     .                    .                     .

I have problems, weaknesses, limitations, and struggles, negative life patterns to overcome, messy circumstances, and a for sure imperfect brain.  But none of that is an explanation for why I sin.  That just comes with the territory of living after the fall, when humanity chose to do things by ourselves.  This is me, by myself: problematic, weak, limited, struggling, etc.  But the fact that humanity chose to walk away from God doesn’t somehow justify the fact that I am walking away from God, or that I have problems because I walked away from God.

I am responsible for what I do.

If I think I do something because it’s genetic, then there is no way to judge any behavior on the face of the earth.  And if there’s no way to judge any behavior, we need to open the prison gates right now and let everybody out.

And if I think I do something because ‘Satan made me do it’, that is because I switched from the guardianship of God to the guardianship of Satan when humanity chose that in the Garden of Eden.  And if I say that’s not fair, can I prove it by the life I’ve lived?  I mean, have I lived a perfect life after the fall to show how I wouldn’t have made the same mistake as Eve?  Have I lived an even close to perfect life?

I am responsible.  Not my parents.  Not my society.  Not my DNA.  Not my brain.  Not my environment.  Not my circumstances.  Not even the angry narwhal or the super yellow loop slide my parents never bought.

This makes people mad.  This makes people angry.  This makes people want to hop up and down and shake their fists.

But if we never get to the point where we realize we’re responsible–us, individually, me–we can never see that we have a Savior carry the burden of our sin, all our sin, all my sin, to the cross, to pay for and bury forever.  But that payment is only good if Jesus carries it.  And Jesus doesn’t carry it if we don’t think we’re responsible.

We carry it.  Individually.  Me.  I carry my sin if I refused to admit it’s mine and give it to Jesus to take with Him to the cross.

The past and present are perfectly tied together in the cross.  If I ask Jesus to take my sin to the cross, He did.  And if I don’t, He didn’t.  God knew everyone who would ever repent, and everyone who wouldn’t.

The good news is, He didn’t set dictates on who would and wouldn’t.  That means it’s an open opportunity for everybody.  If you want to ask for Jesus to forgive you, if you give your life to Him, He will forgive you.  He promises.  And His promises are always good because, unlike us, He didn’t choose sin, and He has no personal problems or weaknesses or limitations or struggles.  And even though He lived with people in sin all His life on earth, He never gave in.  And even though He took our sin and became sin on the cross, He never sinned.

It was a miracle.  Sin blew up.

Sin was gone.

Sin was paid for.

The quest of my life isn’t to find excuses to justify my behavior.  That will never, ever work before a Holy God.  Our excuses are junk.  None of them are any better than accusing an angry narwhal or a missing loop slide.  Any and every excuse we could come up with, they’re all trash.

But forgiveness is real.

I am atrocious in myself.  I am a sinner.  I need help.  I absolutely could not live without atonement.  I’d be hell-bound.  There’s nothing within me that can save me, rectify me, or justify me from what I’ve done in my life.  There’s no “good” I could ever do to pay for the evil I’ve already done.  Even if I could live a perfect life from here on out, I’d be doomed for Hell forever, because living perfectly is the right way, not payment for the wrong way.  I’d still have to pay for the way I lived the first 28 years of my life.

There’s no way except Jesus.

It’s scary to look at sin for what it is.  It’s horrifying.  And it’s the worst when it’s my own sin.  It is a permanent weight that never lifts, that no drug or therapy or social network or environmental change or genetic alteration will ever cure.  It’s my sin.  And I am forced to live with the rebellion I threw at God, because it will always come back on me.  In every sin, I have tried to make war with Him with–because that’s what sin really is, making war with God–comes back as a weight on me.

Now who would ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever believe that the same God I did that to would carry that weight for me and permanently destroy it?

And call me back to be a child of God?

Me, I believe it, because that is the Message of the Bible!

Angry narwhals, yellow slides . . . that’s stupid.

A Savior who saves me–that’s real.

I cry out to Jesus for forgiveness–that’s paying my debt–for salvation–that’s rescuing me from the mess my debt has gotten me into and bringing me to a safe house–and for sanctification–that’s making me okay to be in His Presence!  That means I, I, ME!!!!!!!!!! can see the face of God, not at all whatsoever because of anything I am or have done, but totally, positively because of who He is and what He has done!

And you can, too.

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. Still, everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses—even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did. Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come. But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:12-17, NLT)

And the promise for everyone who gives their life to Jesus:

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Through Christ, God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing that heaven has to offer. Before the creation of the world, he chose us through Christ to be holy and perfect in his presence. Because of his love he had already decided to adopt us through Jesus Christ. He freely chose to do this so that the kindness he had given us in his dear Son would be praised and given glory. Through the blood of his Son, we are set free from our sins. God forgives our failures because of his overflowing kindness. (Ephesians 1:3-7, GW)

Oliver Twist, Bill Sykes

You may remember the classic Charles Dickens’ story of Oliver Twist –the orphan who remains true and good in spite of being beaten, belittled, and starved in the 1800’s.  When Oliver finally comes into the compassionate care of Mr. Brownlow, ruffian Bill Sykes kidnaps him and forces him to help with a robbery, but Oliver refuses.  When the robbery goes awry, Oliver is the one who gets shot, and it is Mr. Brownlow who comes once again to his rescue and adopts him into his care.

While we’d like to imagine ourselves as Oliver Twist, always choosing to do the right thing despite terrible circumstances, in reality we are a whole lot more like Bill Sykes—all of us.  The Bible tells us,

There is none righteous, no, not one (Romans 3:10B, KJV).

This is not to say we have never been wronged.  I suspect if we interviewed Sykes, we would find his childhood environment full of injustice and unhappiness, too.  But, like Sykes, we are trapped in more than what others have done to us.  We are trapped in the noose of our own sin.  And we need to be adopted, not because we deserve a happy ending, but because we desperately need a new start.

Bill Sykes needed such an adoption, right up to the point when, trying to escape on a rope, he accidentally hanged himself.  Trapped on that roof, the police closing in on him, faced with the truth of his identity as a thief, abuser, kidnapper, and even murderer, he saw no way out except by way of a rope.  He chose to save himself with what ends up killing him.

Sykes is a pretend character Dickens made up.  But Sykes is also very real, for we are all villains, all unlovable, all hopeless.  And we, like Sykes, can find nothing in ourselves to save ourselves, and all escapes we attempt will end only in failure and, sooner or later, death.

But . . . what if . . .

What if Sykes found out he could be adopted?  That he could be fathered?  That, even at his age, with all his unforgivable mistakes, there could be a Father who could forgive him, who would forgive him?  What if he knew about the God of the Bible?

Sykes is a pretend character set in 19th century England, and so far as we can tell he has no understanding of God.  Yet there is nothing pretend about this.  Throughout the world, throughout the centuries, millions of people have gone without knowing God, despite His creation, and for many, despite His Word.  They do not know there is a God who stands ready and willing to adopt them.  They do not know that Jesus will pay for anyone who believes in Him.

They do not know that, even as they throw the very rope that would destroy them, it is not yet too late to have a Father, it is not yet too late to receive forgiveness, it is not yet too late to be redeemed, it is not yet too late to begin again, it is not yet too late to open our hand and say, “Here I am, Jesus.  Will you forgive me?  Will you save me?  Will you be my Father?”

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”

(Jesus, quoted in John 3:36, NIV)

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

(1 John 3:1, NIV)

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Photo by Pizzodisevo, profile on http://www.flickr.com/photos/globetrotter1937/

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.