The Gravity of One Sin

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If required, you will find much confirmation here, but I suggest glancing at it only for as briefly as it takes to be convinced, and then return to the main page.

A person’s kindness, goodness and sacrificial love might be so astounding as to put to shame most Christians, but that person has still sinned and the wages of sin – one sin – one tiny infringement – is death. And, as I often say, no one can get any deader than dead.

Spiritually, we’ve all missed the boat. We are all in the same desperate situation, no matter whether we missed the lifeboat by thirty seconds, thirty minutes, thirty days, or thirty years.

Imagine a dozen murderers on death row, each despising each other and thinking themselves more moral than the others. That’s a picture of all of us until we come to our senses. Who of us has not, in a flash of anger or self-righteousness, wished someone were dead? That, revealed Jesus, makes us murderers. We need murder only once in our entire lives to be a murderer. With the thought being as evil as the deed, all of us are rapists, adulterers, sadists or murderers in the eyes of the Judge who will determine where we spend eternity. Whether we or everyone on this planet finds our offense excusable is irrelevant. Whether we like it or not, our Judge is divine. He does not judge by human standards. As the stars tower high above the earth, so are his standards, and the sooner we start thinking like he does, the better.

You might feel less defiled than other people, but that’s not how God sees it. His standards shatter all distinctions.

For a surgeon about to operate, usual standards of cleanliness are hopelessly inadequate. You might be filthy and someone else walks off the street looking spotless, but by the standards the surgeon must maintain, both of you are equally untouchable. It can make no difference if the person approaching him is the love of his life or the most important or popular or respectable person in the world. Regardless of how special someone is or how clean by normal standards, a surgeon must not lower his standards. So it is with God. We might distinguish between sinners, but God cannot.

For a glimpse of how differently God thinks, consider all the catastrophic consequences of Adam’s sin. What did he do? Murder Eve? Destroy the entire Garden of Eden? He simply ate a piece of fruit.

It is not to put anyone down that I expound the truth of everyone’s depravity. On the contrary, I do it because it is God’s longing that everyone reading this will be exalted, just as the tax collector humbly faced the seriousness of his sin and was divinely exalted above the highly respected Pharisee. I dare confront you with this truth because I want you exalted not merely in your own estimation but exalted by the Lord of all.

So let’s plunge into this icy truth that turns out to be the most exquisite warm spa.

God’s chosen priests, Nadab and Abihu, made an offering to God in a manner similar, but not exactly identical, to how the Lord had prescribed. They were not turning away from the Lord. They were not even ignoring him. They were worshipping him. And yet God struck them dead for making that offering (Leviticus 10:1-2).

Uzzah, seeing the Ark of God in danger of falling and being damaged, reached out in an instinctive, unpremeditated act to protect the Ark. God struck him dead for daring to touch the Holy Ark (2 Samuel 6:6-7).

Ananias and Sapphira sold their own property and generously gave not just a tithe of this considerable sum, nor even several times the value of a tithe, but such a huge percentage that they fully expected everyone to presume that it was the total amount. They, too, were struck dead (Acts 5:1-11).

Of course, many others have been slain by God, but I have focused on examples of particularly godly people. They were serving God. In fact, they were in the forefront of what God was doing and not even that saved them. Whether by the grace of God any of these ended up in heaven is not for me to speculate. What is certain, however, is that not only did God slay them; he made a permanent record of the severity of his judgment. Clearly, the Judge of all humanity knows that the whole world needs to realize the blood-curdling gravity of what we are tempted to dismiss as trivial, excusable slips.

Instances like this show not the harshness of God, but his astounding patience toward every one of us who is still breathing. We must get it into our heads that it is not just “big” sins that are terrifyingly serious. Our consciences are so callous that even much of what we think acceptable is actually defiled. Even things we think are acts of devotion to God are enough to send us to hell.

Like the disciples, we gasp, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus’ answer rings through the centuries, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:25-26).

If there is anyone on this planet that God can make so pure and holy that he would enthrone himself in that person’s very body – and, of course, there is – he can do it to you.

A person overwhelmed by guilt typically feels painfully alone, but the truth is that we are all floundering in the same spiritually catastrophic dilemma. No one but Jesus has ever reached God’s minimum standard for divine acceptance. Your path to forgiveness is the same as anyone else’s.

God has powerfully used famous Christian leaders year after year while they were secretly conducting disgusting acts, such as adulterous affairs, until their sin was finally exposed. Nearly all of us are shocked when first hearing this. Our reaction exposes our spiritual blindness. The astounding thing is not merely that the Lord has used people regularly committing adultery; what is astounding is that he uses any of us. Probably, the most saintly Christians alive do things several times each day for which the Lord would be fully justified in striking them dead. All Christians are daily dependent upon the grace of God, even though most are as close to being as blasé about it as the Pharisee. Some of us struggle with addictions that horrify Christians. The rest of us struggle with sins that Christians excuse but horrify God. We must not judge anyone because all that does is prove our hypocrisy. We dare not abuse the grace of God. We must truly mourn our sins and fight them and crave total obedience to God.

The Almighty’s standards are so exacting that for God to accept even the most saintly of us, would take no greater miracle than accepting the most depraved of us.

Our most common misunderstanding about interacting with God is to suppose that the Exalted One’s feelings for us are based on how good we have been. In reality, our past behavior has no bearing on how God treats us. The King of kings accepts people not because of the smallness of their sins but because of the greatness of Christ’s sacrifice.

The basis of God’s love for any of us is not that our sins are slightly excusable or not quite as bad as someone particularly depraved. God loves you solely because he loves you, not because of anything you have or haven’t done. You are loved so much that even regardless of what you have done, God still longs to make you in his eyes the purest of virgins; the most innocent of innocents. He has absorbed all your shame in his own being and given you all his glory.

All that is needed is to admit to yourself and to God that – along with everyone on this planet – you need Jesus’ cleansing. Then, like a bride decked in an exquisite, literally out-of-this-world gown, you are adorned with the flawless perfection of the Lord Jesus, irrespective of your past.

A man was offered a presidential pardon, but on the condition that he admit his guilt. That’s the ironical situation we find ourselves in. When we admit our guilt, God pronounces us innocent. If, on the other hand, we keep trying to convince ourselves that we are innocent, we will be tried for our every sin. This is something Jesus taught over and over. Here is a powerful example:

    Luke 18:10-14 Two men went up into the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector.

    The Pharisee stood and prayed to himself like this: ‘God, I thank you, that I am not like the rest of men, extortionists, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I get.’

    But the tax collector, standing far away, wouldn’t even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

    I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Do you see it? The only people with a smidgeon of morality are those appalled by their own sinfulness. Everyone else is so deluded as to be beyond hope, unless they, too, eventually become devastated by an awareness of their own depravity.

Using the Pharisee to illustrate his point, Jesus reveals that some people are unforgivable. (That is not to say they could never change and hence become forgivable, but for as long as they act like the Pharisee they cannot be forgiven.) What renders them unforgivable is not the atrociousness of their sin – everyone would say the Pharisee was much less sinful than the tax collector. They miss out on forgiveness simply because they think they have no need of forgiveness and so do not bother to ask for it.

Whoever asks with faith in Jesus, receives. The Pharisee could never be forgiven in this life or the next while he never bothered to genuinely ask for forgiveness. No matter how close to sinless a person is, he cannot be forgiven if he does not ask for forgiveness.

Although Jesus chose the most likely characters for his story, the roles could have been reversed, with the good-living Pharisee devastated by his sinfulness, and the cheating, money-grubbing tax collector filled with excuses and self-righteousness. What matters is not our past, but our awareness that regardless of how good or bad we seem when compared with other people, relative to God each of us has been atrociously wicked.

We have all been despicably evil, but only a few of us realize it, and the more we realize it, the more God longs to exalt us.

The praying, temple-attending Pharisee went home unforgiven because, blinded by his own smugness, he had no conception of what we have been discussing, even though his Bible knowledge must have been immensely superior to the tax collector’s.

If a building’s foundations have crumbled, it is no achievement to acknowledge that there are cracks in the wall and then start patching them. The entire building must be razed and rebuilt from scratch. Some people might think their effort to redecorate the building proves their high standards, when it merely proves their foolishness. So many people who think themselves Christians are like those who think that the building that will soon collapse is basically okay and just needs a bit of redecorating. Like that Pharisee, they are dangerously ignorant of how corrupt every one of us is.

All of us – not just those blessed with a tender conscience – are in the same chronic need of God’s forgiveness.

In the words of Jesus:

    Luke 13:1-3 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all perish in the same way. . . .”

A cold-blooded murderer’s spiritual need is no greater than mine. If, however, that murderer is more aware of his sins that I am of my own, then I am the one in the more terrifying predicament.

The Amplified Bible (classic edition) puts it this way:

    Psalm 34:18 The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves those who have a crushed spirit. . . .

When overwhelmed by the gravity of our offenses, we may fear that God has left us, but he is actually closer than ever to us. While in this state we might feel sure that God is angry with us, when in reality he is brimming with tender compassion toward us. Like the lost sheep in Jesus’ parable, the Lord feels even more for anyone hurting over his or her sin than over countless “saints” who, though special to him, are not hurting.

God can indeed be angry when we are in defiant rebellion against him, and yet even this is a manifestation of how important we are to him. It is only because he loves us that our sin affects God. The Lord may have been upset, but the instant we move from defiance to sorrow over our sin, his heart melts.

We humans develop our own corrupt moral standards that allow us to label certain sins as “minor” and “excusable.” If we were drinking glasses, each of us would leak. Some of us might be in worse condition than others, but what difference does that make? Who would give a king a cracked glass? Nothing imperfect reaches God’s minimum standard. It’s an insult to God to suppose that even the most saintly person is good enough for God. In reality, earth has just two types of people: hopeless moral failures who cling to humanity’s only Savior, and hopeless moral failures who try to face eternity on their own. To abandon faith in oneself and put all one’s faith in Christ’s goodness is like stepping into a spacecraft. For even the nicest people to trust their own goodness is like them hoping they can reach the heavens by jumping high.

    Isaiah 64:6 For we have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteousness is like a polluted garment.

Carve that into the cortex of your brain. “All of us” – “all of us” – have become so defiled that even the greatest attempts of the most saintly person to do good is as repulsive as bodily filth.

So offensive to God are our highest moral attainments that, in the original Hebrew, Scripture resorts to an offensive expression to convey this shocking truth. Quite literally, without the slightest exaggeration, Isaiah is saying that even the noblest human attempts at morality are as soiled menstrual rags. To hold up to God, as if it made me worthy, my lifetime of sacrificial service or list of sins I have avoided, is as disgusting as proudly displaying my bodily filth.

The nicest non-Christian you’ll ever meet is of the devil, deceived, evil, and God’s enemy. Everyone not in spiritual union with Christ is dead to God. All of us have been in this terrifying predicament. If you’re dead, you’re dead. To argue that one corpse is in better condition or closer to being alive than another is ridiculous. Would you dare drag a corpse into a king’s presence? Would you say, “I think you should meet this man. You’ll get on well together. He’s such a good person. His corpse hardly smells at all”?

If you are still only mildly convinced that by God’s standards no one is less sinful nor more sinful than you have been, I’ll have one last shot at opening your eyes, but please go beyond my attempts and pray for a divine revelation.

“No one is perfect,” we glibly say. How serious would you rate the sin of sadistically devoting hour after hour after hour to torturing to death an innocent person? It was because I’m not perfect that the eternal King of kings, the darling of God’s heart, was tortured to death. My lack of perfection stripped him naked and publicly humiliated him. I flayed his flesh, mercilessly whipping the Innocent One, through whom the stars and flowers were made. My imperfection callously drove nails through the hands and feet of the One who has given me every good thing I have ever enjoyed. My sin did that. Dare I call it a minor sin? In the words of Peter, “You killed the author of life” (Acts 3:15). Oops! The Lord of lords is the indescribably majestic Being who alone keeps the entire universe from disintegrating (Hebrews 1:3). And my “insignificant slips” killed this stupendous Being on whom everything in existence teeters! It is quite literally a miracle that the catastrophic event my sin instigated did not precipitate the annihilation of the entire universe. Dare I rate that as anything less than equal to the most atrocious offense in the universe?

Each of us has been monstrously evil. Self-righteous people despise this truth, but what offends the proud, comforts those who are overwhelmed by their own sin. This truth initially seems so devastating that most people spend their entire lives running from it. Those who dare face the truth head-on, however, eventually discover that it is actually one of the most exciting of truths.

The truth that every one of us deserves hell is the great leveler. That of itself is a great relief to the humble.

Most gossip and slander is an attempt to pull someone down to our own level. But anyone understanding the truth we have been exploring, realizes that without Christ, all of us are already on the same level. When the full implications hit, the pressure to slander, gossip and resent people vanishes, just as being given multiplied trillions of dollars would evaporate every temptation to steal or covet anyone’s money. But after leveling us, the Almighty exalts us far beyond our highest dreams until we are sharing God’s very throne. From there, all itching to put anyone down disappears. It is only insecure people haunted by feelings of inferiority who feel the “need” to convince themselves that they are superior to at least some people.

It is a failure to comprehend that we are all equally defiled that keeps millions of people blackmailed into keeping guilty secrets – often from those who love them the most. They end up staggering through life feeling sickeningly alone and unloved and terrified that if ever their dirty secret were discovered they would be rejected and despised. Like a gangrenous wound slowly killing someone because he is too riddled with shame even to admit he needs medical help, so is a guilty past until we make the liberating discovery that we have nothing to hide from each other because we are all equally defiled.

Spiritually, people aware of the hideousness of their sins are light years ahead of everyone else. Those who think themselves good are so deluded by their own pride that they are to be pitied. The humble know they have been abominably wicked, but if they accept Bible truth they know they are not alone. Everyone on this planet is in the same appalling predicament, and for each, Christ offers the same glorious solution.

Humanity’s depravity throws the holy Lord into a horrific dilemma. The darlings of his heart – that’s you and me – are utterly unacceptable and should be eternally trashed. The Almighty has resolved this seeming impossibility by devising a way in which each of us can be re-made, thus completely undoing the effects of our sin and making us perfect.

If “small” sins can condemn us to hell, then our eternity teeters on our willingness to repent not only of the sins we find inexcusable, but also on us repenting of sins we think excusable. For an example of a damnable sin we try to excuse, consider a refusal to pray God’s blessing upon those who have shamefully treated us. The despicable brutes who have hurt us are as worthy of hell as we are. (Remember, our sins tortured to death the Innocent Son of God.)

For forgiveness, we must act like the tax collector, in mourning our sins. But since “small” sins are just as deadly as the ones that disturb us, for us to escape hell all our sins must be forgiven. It is therefore essential that we regret not only the sins we loathe but the sins we love.

The Lord freely pours his innocence upon all who want it. To want God’s innocence we must want God to deliver us from all sin – to rip from our lives. We must want to be rid forever from all sinful pleasure.

Suppose the Pharisee had been rushing to the temple. He turns a corner and does not see a toddler in the middle of the street before his donkey tramples the little girl to death. He enters the temple as hardened as ever over most of his sins but riddled with guilt over the death of the toddler. Do you expect him to be forgiven all the sins he is oblivious about, just because he is filled with remorse over an accident? In fact, he might focus so much on the accident that he is even less aware of his other sins that he previously was. Only if the incident caused him to review his entire life and he repented of his self-righteousness would there be hope for him.

Distinguishing between “big” sins and “small” sins is largely a human invention devised by guilt-ridden sinners desperate to feel superior to certain other sinners. The same Jesus who was so gentle with those who regretted their sin was furious with hypocrites. To expect God’s forgiveness while we refuse to forgive someone is to tell God, “Do what I say, not what I do.” What could be more hypocritical? Despite all our protests, anyone we refuse to forgive is actually no more worthy of hell, and no less forgivable, than we are.

Grace is not license to sin; it is license not to sin. It is freedom not just from the penalty of sin but from bondage to sin.

If it is an insult to God’s holiness to think anything substandard is good enough for God, it is an insult to his omnipotence to think that for God anything is beyond repair. Either God can restore anyone to holy perfection who suddenly sees the need for it, or he isn’t God.

We are saved not by our works but by a divine miracle. The tax collector went home forgiven before he had a chance to physically do anything. He received the divine miracle of forgiveness, and the Pharisee missed out, not because of what they did but because of their heart attitude. Jesus gave sick people the divine miracle of healing only because they wanted it. You will recall that he often questioned the sick to confirm that healing was what they really wanted. Likewise, God will treat us as sinless – in other words, forgive us – only if we decide that we want to be sinless.

If we had cancer, a big part of us might not want to be operated on but our reluctance is not the critical issue. All that matters is whether, despite our misgivings, we sign over to a surgeon permission to do whatever he considers necessary to remove every trace of cancer and we agree to follow that up by taking whatever medication he prescribes afterward. Likewise, a big part of us might love our sin and not want to be sinless but our reluctance will not stymie God as long as we muster our will to decide to give God permission to make us sinless and to devote the rest of our lives to cooperating with him in this process.

If you were a thousand times more evil than your worst fears, it would not stop Jesus from making you blameless. However, if you were the most saintly person alive and you died thinking you did not need Jesus’ cleansing, you would rot for eternity in the stench of sins in your life that you were too reprobate to even notice.

Without exception, all of us are evildoers, but what infuriates God are evildoers who think they are better than other evildoers. Those who think they are good enough just because they seem to be in a bit better condition than some others are unlikely to see the absolute necessity of Jesus perfecting them. This is the most terrifying blindness because it has eternal implications.

When people see no great need of the purification that only Jesus can give, the Lord has no choice but to withdraw and leave them to try to work their own way out of hell into heaven, which of course is impossible. Their one hope is to come to their senses and admit that they are as worthy of hell as any and every person on this planet. If only they would humble themselves that way, the Lord would rush to exalt them.

We are all like people with cancer that will kill us unless we seek medical attention. Life’s most dangerous act is to live in denial of “sin cancer.” When you are terminally ill, there is no comfort in saying, “His cancer looks worse than mine.” Only after admitting to ourselves that we have this “cancer” will we seek life-saving treatment. So although this admission might initially seem depressing it is actually our passport to life and joy. Ultimately, it is denial that is scary and depressing. We must face the bad news – that we are terminally sin-sick – in order to enjoy the glorious news that we can be cured and overflow with vibrant health beyond our wildest hopes.

If ever the saying, “No pain, no gain” applied to anything, it applies to this.

This is why Jesus said blessed are they who mourn now (Luke 6:21,23). Everyone will mourn over his or her moral condition. The only difference between people is timing. Mourn now over your sin and you will find what Jesus offers and burst into purity and endless joy. Mourn too late, and you’ll mourn forever.

    Ezekiel 6:6-9 In all your dwelling places the cities shall be laid waste, . . . The slain shall fall among you, and you shall know that I am the Lord. Yet will I leave a remnant, in that you shall have some that escape the sword among the nations, when you shall be scattered through the countries. Those of you that escape shall remember me among the nations where they shall be carried captive, . . . they shall loathe themselves in their own sight for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations. (Emphasis mine)

The ones to be envied are those who mourn while the joy of forgiveness is still on offer. Their mourning will turn into dancing; their sorrow into never-ending joy.

When you stand before your Judge he will not be interested in even hearing the charges. All that his penetrating eyes will see is whether you have clothed yourself with the righteousness of Christ – whether you are trusting Jesus’ purity for your approval, or whether you have the audacity to try to go it alone.

The only people who miss out – and tragically there are many – are those too arrogant to admit that they need Jesus’ purification or who refuse to believe he is powerful enough to make them pristine in God’s eyes.

Suppose you were enduring appalling hardship and danger, struggling to attempt something that is generally believed to be humanly impossible. The thought that thousands have tried and every one of them has failed would be so oppressive and discouraging that you would want to keep pushing that fact out of your mind. After you make it, however, this same fact that no one before you had ever done it would become an exciting truth that you savor and will boast about for the rest of your life.

Likewise, human depravity is an unbearable truth until viewed from the perspective of Christ’s victory and the purity that is now ours. If, instead of running from it and trying to live in denial, you start savoring this truth, you will discover that what had seemed to be the ugliest of truths is actually strewn with the richest of treasures.

Until you experience it for yourself, you will never understand how wondrously liberating it is for me to despise any foolish excuse I might find for thinking myself morally passable. I pooh-pooh the fact that I was a virgin until I married in my mid-fifties, have never uttered common swear words, have never tasted alcohol or taken illicit drugs or tobacco or even had a speeding ticket. Instead, I glory in the truth that I am as guilty and as worthy of hell as any rapist-murderer and yet, through Christ, more innocent than any baby.

Though initially horrifying, knowing that I’m as evil as Stalin or Hitler or anyone you could name has ended up becoming a cherished truth for me. You will find my joy in this truth so incomprehensible that you will never believe it until you make the discovery yourself. All I can do is try to coax you to explore the truth that seems so awful that no one wants to even think about it.

Christianity is not for escapists. God honors those with the courage to face truth head on. In Jesus’ famous words: the truth will set you free.

Face your fears and they will vaporize. Run from them and they will terrorize you.

What makes the apostle Paul, the former Pharisee, so spiritually different from the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable is that Paul finally reached the point where he wanted to be found on Judgment Day having no moral achievements that he could claim as his own. Jettisoning every act of devotion others might boast about, he staked his eternal destiny solely on the right-standing with God that Jesus offers everyone who trusts him for it.

Had he chosen to, Paul could have pointed to decade after decade of sacrificial devotion, prayers, fasts, financial giving, Scripture memorization, prestigious scholastic achievements in biblical studies, and meticulous attention to obeying God’s every command. Instead, he counted it all as – well the Greek word he chose means offal (stinking, stomach-turning animal waste)!

Trashing as pathetically inadequate and unacceptable his every effort to please God, he staked everything on the conviction that nothing but the purity that comes through sheer faith in Jesus could render him acceptable to the Holy Judge. He insisted on putting all his eggs in the one basket. That’s what saving faith is all about.

This is too staggering and too significant not to quote the passage in full:

    Philippians 3:4-9  . . . If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

    But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith (Emphasis mine).

People who think themselves good, are in grave spiritual danger. They want to hold on to all their acts of kindness and good deeds, proudly displaying to God “moral achievements” that impress them but in the eyes of the Holy Lord are imperfect and hence as repulsive to the Perfect One as bodily filth (Isaiah 64:6). A groundless, divinely-offensive pride – a preference for their attempts to do good over God’s free gift of righteousness – is why Jesus told the chief priests and the elders, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 21:31).

We have just two options: present God with the perfection of Jesus’ purity, or present him with our defiled attempts. Guess which option impresses God!

Saint Paul dies and the first thing he sees is an angel who says, “Welcome, I’m Uriel. Like everyone, you must face the Judge to be sentenced to hell or ushered into heaven. I’ve been appointed to build your case for the defense. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how vital it is that we get this right. We don’t have long, so let’s get right into it. Could I have your name, please?”

“Saul of Tarsus, but everyone calls me Paul.”

“Wow! You’re the great apostle Paul? What an honor to meet you, Sir! Could I have your autograph when we’ve finished? Anyhow, we’d better get on with this. On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your moral achievements?”

“Minus ten.”

“Ha! Ha! Sorry, Paul. It must be your accent. For a moment there I thought you said minus ten!”

“That’s right. Minus ten.”

“Oh, dear! We’ll have to work out how to present this in the best possible light.”

“Forget it. I don’t want the life I’ve lived taken into consideration.”

“What?”

“My sole defense is that Jesus died for me.”

“But Paul! We have only one shot at this! We need the best possible defense.”

“Jesus died for me. That’s it! I have nothing else to offer.”

Nothing?

“Nothing.”

“Well – er – um let’s try another tack. There are so many common sins that almost everyone has committed but you haven’t. Let’s . . .”

“Forget it. Alongside the perfection of Jesus my best efforts are garbage. Nothing in my life will impress the Almighty except that Jesus died for me and has handed me his righteousness.”

“But what about all the imprisonments, deprivations and torture you’ve suffered for Jesus’ sake?”

“Suffering for Jesus was an undeserved honor. Yes, I believe the Lord is so gracious that I’ll be eternally compensated for anything I’ve suffered but as far as escaping hell is concerned, the only suffering that counts is what Jesus suffered for me.”

“Paul, I hate to bring this up but we’ll need an exceptionally strong case. After all, you realize, don’t you, that you’ll have to plead guilty to torturing Christians, trying to get them to blaspheme. That’s a horrific offense, and with all your learning we can hardly plead ignorance . . .”

“Yes, I am guilty. I deserve hell a million times over, but Jesus died for me.”

“So that’s it? You’re staring at eternity in hell and that’s your only defense?”

“Yes.”

“Congratulations, Paul! I knew you’d pass! It’s going to be great having you in heaven! Would you be willing to give me your autograph?”

Just as we cannot find salvation by dividing our faith between Jesus and false gods, so we dare not divide our faith between Jesus and our own attempts to please God. It would be a recipe for spiritual disaster to try to hedge your bets by placing some of your faith in the unique power of Jesus’ sacrifice to make you acceptable to the Holy Lord and some of your faith in your own efforts. It’s those who have abandoned faith in their own efforts to be holy who are destined for spiritual greatness and divine perfection, provided they go all the way by putting all their faith in the life-transforming power of what the Innocent One achieved by letting himself be tortured to death.

Does anyone think that to soar heavenward you must help a jumbo jet by pushing it? That is as nonsensical as people who think they have to help God in their quest to get to heaven. Just as you cannot hedge your bets by putting one foot in a jet and the other on the tarmac, so you must decide whether to put your faith in Jesus’ ability to make you right with God or whether to keep struggling.

There is no divine disapproval left because Jesus bore it all. The only thing we must decide is whether to let Jesus’ suffering count as our suffering, or whether we’ll waste his sacrifice and continue to act as if we must bear the blame and shame ourselves.

Do you believe Jesus took upon himself the full consequences and punishment for your every sin? Your eternity hinges on your answer to that question. And if you believe it, spend a few minutes asking God to examine your heart and show you whether the way you think and act is consistent with that belief.

In the piercing eyes of the fearsomely holy Lord, even virgins who have never so much as touched anyone are so far from God’s standard of absolute perfection that they – like every human not connected to Christ – are defiled. Yet this same God of unapproachable moral standards pronounces you flawless, if you trust Jesus for your forgiveness.

“Innocent!” declares the Judge of all humanity, “Morally perfect from the day you were conceived right up to this minute and for all eternity, if you remain spiritually one with Jesus.”

With the omnipotent God in one’s life, anyone’s potential is limitless. God is excited about you right now because he sees that astounding potential. All you need do is yield to him, letting him forgive you, cleanse you and join himself to you so that your destiny and his destiny, your ability and his ability, merge. Instantly you are treated as being as holy as he is, and even though it is only partially manifested in this life, you are destined for an eternity of sinless perfection.

We have been morally bankrupt but whenever anyone becomes a true Christian, that person’s assets merge with God’s assets. It would be ridiculous to suppose that the merger of our moral debts with God’s moral riches could end in impoverishment. Our moral bankruptcy is utterly swallowed up by God’s riches, even more than a two dollar debt vanishes in a trillion dollar bank account. To think it could be any other way is an insult to the Almighty Lord who longs to merge his assets with yours.

There is only one critical issue: whether we trust Christ to gain our forgiveness and to make us one with God.

Here’s a prayer I suggest you read to God, if you really mean it.

    Help me to keep remembering that the fact that you are God makes you altogether better than anyone I’ve ever met. You hate sin with an intensity and loathing beyond human ability to even imagine and yet, with an equally astounding passion, you long to forgive sinners.

    I cannot come to a holy, sin-hating God saying, “I want you to let me keep sinning. Let me have sin’s pleasure but not sin’s punishment.” I cannot say to Jesus, “I want to keep enjoying sin and I want you to suffer all the torment my sins create.”

    Since it is not just the “big” sins that can send me to hell, I desperately need you to remove all my sins – not just the sins I hate but the sins I love. Even though sin’s pleasure is but a cardboard cutout of the fulfillment and joy you offer, and it ends up destroying me anyhow, I am so hooked on the inferior that a part of me does not want me to pray this, but I know that I must. There can be no spiritual benefit in me being sorry about some of my sins that killed my Savior if I’m glad about other sins of mine that killed my Savior. I need to deny myself all sinful pleasure forever and I ask you to help me do just that.

    Like the tax collector, in Jesus’ parable, I realize I am condemned and without excuse. Overwhelmed by the sickening magnitude of my sin, all I can say is, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

    That, taught Jesus, is all the man did. Instantly, he became so holy in your righteous judgment that alongside him it was the fasting, saint-like Pharisee who was the wicked sinner.

    Not only does that astound me, it doesn’t seem right. My iniquities are so atrocious that they deserve horrific punishment. But your Word affirms that all of my abominable acts have indeed received the awful punishment they deserve. Humanity’s only Innocent – whose perfection mysteriously outshines even the innocence of a baby – was voluntarily abused, tortured and killed for my every misdeed. I dare not insult you by implying that your one and only Son, who died for the sins of the world, did not suffer enough to convince me that my sins are utterly forgiven. I will no longer render Jesus’ death for me a useless waste by refusing to accept his torturous death as adequate payment for my offenses. I will not dishonor you by refusing to forgive myself, as if I had higher moral standards than the Holy Judge of all the world who declares me innocent.

    I see the tax collector doing nothing except be devastated by the gravity of his sins and desperately crying to you for mercy. If he went home justified, then I, too, am made just as if I’d never sinned, if I regret all my sins. If the devout, tithe-paying Pharisee could miss out because he trusted his own goodness, and the despicable, cheating tax collector won God-given holiness by abandoning faith in himself and trusting in your goodness, then divine holiness is mine.

    Like the great apostle Paul, my faith is not in my own righteousness but in the righteousness of the Son of God who took my punishment and traded my defilement for his purity. Therefore, Scripture says, I have “become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

    Your Word says that how I judge others is how you will judge me; how much I forgive others is how much you will forgive me. Since I need you to be merciful to me, I desperately need you to help me be merciful to others.

    There are people who have hurt me so immensely that they owe me more than I could ever describe. Nevertheless, Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-35) implies that my debt to you is exceedingly greater than what these people owe me. That defies my imagination but it must be true. Their sins have hurt me beyond words but somehow my sins have hurt the innocent Son of God even more. I am acutely aware of the enormity of their sin because I am so sensitive to the pain they have inflicted on me, but I am so insensitive to the pain I have inflicted on you. The people I find hard to forgive deserve an eternity of torment in hell. But so do I.

    I bring before you those who have hurt me so horrifically. Show them the enormity of their sin against me and against you. Fill them with deep regret. May they loathe themselves for what they have done. May they never do it again. May they cry out to you for forgiveness and may you transform them into completely different people who are meek, gentle, good, kind, loving and thoughtful, just as I want to be.

    Even though I don’t deserve it, bless me beyond my wildest dreams. And bless those who have hurt me just as much as you bless me.

    Thank you that your longing to forgive and bless me is far greater and purer than my prayer of blessing for those I despise. Nevertheless, thank you for graciously promising to forgive me because I pray your blessing on these people.

    Help me get my thinking right. Your Word declares that you, the holiest of all, dwell in the weakest believer, as you dwelt in the holy of holies in Old Testament times. How, then, could I be anything but the pinnacle of holiness if you, the fearsomely holy Lord, have chosen to dwell in me, thus making me your temple and holy of holies?

    I used to wish I could be as pure as a virgin, as innocent as a child, but now I realize that in your unfathomable love and power you give me far more than this – more, in fact, that I can comprehend. Not even virgins or tiny children reach your exacting standards of perfection, yet you offer me the pinnacle of purity that not even they can achieve.

    Had I been the most corrupt and defiled person on the planet, you would have made me pure as crystal the moment I sincerely asked for the forgiveness and sinlessness that Jesus died to honor me with. On the other hand, had I arrogantly supposed I have no need of Jesus’ cleansing, I could not avoid an eternity of hell even if I were the nicest, noblest person alive. Without Jesus, the best person is doomed; with Jesus the worse person is fanfared into heaven, if the person has genuine remorse for all offenses and commits his/her life and spiritual destiny into Jesus’ hands.

    Since Jesus gives me moral goodness that no human could ever attain, it is pointless for me ever again comparing myself with others. I cannot look down on anyone because, were it not for Christ’s undeserved gift freely offered to us all, I would be as defiled as those I am tempted to despise. Neither can I think myself morally inferior to anyone, because Christ has clothed me in his perfection – and no one could ever surpass Christ’s perfection.

    Never again need I try to dredge up the past in an attempt to assign blame, because Jesus bore all blame. I don’t have to judge myself because you, the Judge of heaven and earth, declare me innocent of everything that has ever touched my life – from the biggest to the smallest thing.

    I dare not judge anyone, because all of the blessings you shower on me come through Jesus out of your love for me, not because of any moral achievements of mine. With everyone on this planet deserving hell, how can I demand you give others the punishment they deserve without demanding that you be consistent and give me the eternity in hell that I deserve? And yet in my self-righteousness, that is what I have sometimes done. Thank you so much for mercifully delaying my request until I could see the sheer folly of demanding justice when I need your mercy. I repent of ever wanting it. Help me be as merciful to others who deserve hell as you have been to me.

    Through Jesus, you have transformed me so that I can hold my head high, not just among saints, but in your very presence. Forgive me for thinking of myself as second class when Christ died to treat me like divine royalty – an exalted son/daughter of the King of kings.

    Help me get it into my head that the magnificent, eternal Son of God, through whom and for whom everything in existence was made, bore my shame and blame so that I could have his honor.

    Without you, I’m a fire that would wreak havoc and destruction. But I’m not without you. So as a fire I’ll bring warmth and cheer. Without you, I’m as useless as a brush without an artist. But I’m not without you. Together, we’ll create divine beauty that will stun heaven and earth.

    Help me stop thinking and acting as if the exalted Lord had never exchanged places with me on the cross. I need your supernatural empowering to grasp the mind-boggling implications and to live in the joyous wonder of it all. May awareness of all that you have done for me – and all that I now am in you – sink deep into my spirit until I am fully healed.

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