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More than just sort of dead to sin

By AL EARLEY

Religion columnist

In a leadership cartoon by Mary Chambers, two couples are seated in a living room engaged in Bible study. One of the women says, “Well, I haven’t actually died to sin, but I did feel faint once.”

Those words may be true for too many of us comfortable American Christians who like our faith to serve us, but are not sure we want to step out of our comfort zone when it comes to practicing our faith. God is much more concerned with a relationship with us, and our desire to trust and obey him, even when life gets hard. The illustration below gives us a picture of why we should learn to always trust and obey God.

A large downtown church had three mission churches in the run-down part of town under its care. They came together for a joint worship service and celebrated communion together. At the communion table a judge who belonged to the downtown church and an ex-convict from one of the mission churches were being served side by side. Afterwards the judge commented to the pastor about God’s miracle of grace, considering who was at the communion table. The pastor agreed and nodded toward the ex-convict, saying, “Didn’t you sentence him to prison?”

The judge replied, “I wasn’t referring to him, but to myself. When that convict was released, he knew how he had ruined his life, and had no hope in himself. God brought him to see that in Jesus he had forgiveness, hope, and salvation. But look at me. From little on up I was taught to be good, to say prayers, and to go to church. I went to the finest schools and became a respected judge. Nothing but God’s grace could lead me to see that I am a sinner on the same level as that convict I sent to jail. (adapted from Illustrations Unlimited by James Hewett, p. 257).

As sinners, we are all on the same level — by nature, dead. We deserve only God’s anger and punishment. But God’s grace is showered down upon us in undeserved unconditional love. We cannot earn or purchase God’s grace. GRACE can be defined as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense, thus the letters of GRACE are an acronym for its definition.

This is why Jesus died on the cross for us, so that we could die to our sin, be set free from sin, guilt, and shame, and be set free to a new life of meaning and purpose, and the promise of spending eternity with God in heaven. In our cynical and skeptical world people complain they don’t like God’s plan. It is too violent and bloody. Why must an innocent life die to correct the sins of another? God doesn’t seem very loving, forgiving, or powerful if He can’t just love, forgive, and set us free without innocent blood being shed.

When we wonder if God couldn’t find another way we can spend lots of time postulating and theorizing about how we might balance perfect justice and perfect love, but the fact remains that finding this balance is impossible for our human minds to fathom, and the mysteries of creation are far more complex than we can understand. The wise and righteous man named Job went through life’s most terrible tragedies, and when he got an audience with God he realized that the ways of God were beyond his comprehension (Job 40-42).

God foresaw that we would have trouble with His perfect plan for redemption long before Jesus was born, and so He sent prophets to tell us about what must be done to atone for people’s sins. Much of the book of Leviticus goes into great detail about the sacrificial system of sacrificing an innocent lamb for one’s sins. The prophet Isaiah wrote profoundly about the death of a suffering Messiah who would die for the sins of the world 700 years before Jesus was born. That way we could know that God’s plan was planned, and trust God with our eternal salvation (see (Isaiah 42:1-4,Isaiah 49:1-6, Isaiah 50:4-9, and especially Isaiah 52:13-53:12).

If someone asked you what the cross of Christ means could you tell them? What do you think of

God’s plan for our salvation? Why is it hard to balance perfect justice and perfect love? I encourage you to dig deep into why you believe what you believe.

To find out more about Al Earley or read previous articles, visit www.lagrangepres.com.