Friday, March 29, 2013

Death Row Pardon

Saw this movie quote on the Facebook wall of my friend from high school who is now a cop…

I am the police, and I'm here to arrest you. You've broken the law. I did not write the law. I may disagree with the law but I will enforce it. No matter how you plead, cajole, beg or attempt to stir my sympathy. Nothing you do will stop me from placing you in a steel cage with gray bars. If you run away I will chase you. If you fight me I will fight back. If you shoot at me I will shoot back. By law I am unable to walk away. I am a consequence. I am the unpaid bill. I am fate with a badge and a gun. Behind my badge is a heart like yours. I bleed, I think, I love, and yes I can be killed. And although I am but one man, I have thousands of brothers and sisters who are the same as me. They will lay down their lives for me and I them. We stand watch together. The thin-blue-line, protecting the prey from the predators, the good from the bad. We are the police. ~From movie ‘End of Watch’~

I think this is pretty clear. If you break the law and are caught, justice will be served often via a police officer and your imminent arrest. So aim to be a law-abiding citizen to avoid that.

I used to apply this same train of thought to my relationship with God. As long as I am a good person, and obey God’s rules, I will be in right standing with Him and will avoid punishment. That’s the belief I held to. Now let me blow your mind a little bit. The belief that I could achieve right standing with God by my obedience to His rules was never God’s intent for giving His laws. In fact, He already knew that I would fail miserably at keeping them.

Before I illuminate that, let me zoom in on a few of God’s laws. Here’s one:

You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse His name (Exodus 20:7).

Have you ever treated the name of the Lord flippantly as a verbal punctuation mark? Have you ever used God’s name as a swear word? If yes, then you’ve broken God’s law.

Here’s another one:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27,28).

Oh boy. Now God isn’t even allowing us to merely entertain thoughts about breaking His law. Have you ever looked at someone who you are not married to with the desire to have sex? If yes, then you are guilty. You’ve broken God’s law.

Want one more just for fun? You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell (Matthew 5:21-22).

Because God is concerned with our hearts, He even considers certain types of anger as murder.

By now you may be thinking what I am thinking. Wow. God is pretty strict. Even the secret thoughts and attitudes of our heart cannot escape the judgment of God. Yikes. There is a huge gap between God’s standard of holiness and perfection (outlined in His rules) and the reality of how we live. Gulp. And therein lies God’s intent for giving us the law in the first place. It’s the gulping, yikes factor…

The law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are (Romans 3:19-20).

God gave us His laws in order to point out our sin. John Cross, author of ‘Stranger on the Road to Emmaus’ explains it like this:
In many ways, the Ten Commandments are to us as a mirror is to a dirty face. If you are alone, you can’t tell whether or not your face is clean. Someone could point at you and say, “Your face is dirty,” but you could deny it outright and say, “My face isn’t dirty – I don’t see anything!” and you might truly believe that. But if given a mirror, you could see that your face was indeed grimy and you would no longer be able to deny the fact. Your mouth would be silenced. You would realize you were guilty of having a dirty face.
It’s the same way with sin. We did not really know what sin was until God gave us the Law. Just as the mirror exposed the dirt, so the ten rules made us aware of sin.  
The ten commands were not given as a list of rules to keep in order to make us right with God. That wasn’t the Law’s purpose. It would be like trying to rub the dirt off your face with a mirror! Mirrors are designed for reflecting, not cleaning. In fact, there’s a good chance that, in the process of trying to clean yourself with the mirror, you would smudge the glass, thus hampering its ability to give a clear reflection. People who try to be accepted by God by keeping the Ten Commandments usually modify or minimize the commands so that they will not look so bad.
This ‘mirror’ concept is completely foreign to most of us who all our lives have been taught that if we follow the rules we will make the rule givers happy and we will avoid trouble and punishment. This time it’s different. God’s rules have been given to show us that we actually can’t measure up to His perfect standard. You could say in effect, that because of our human nature, these rules are impossible to keep.

Perhaps you are thinking, well that’s not fair! God gave us a bunch of rules to follow, already knowing that we wouldn’t be able to keep them, in order to point out to us that we aren’t as good as we thought we were. That’s bad news. But there’s good news a comin’.

Pointing out our sin wasn’t the only purpose of the law.

The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24).

Meeting God’s standard of righteousness is unattainable by our own human effort because we are rule breakers. Instead of making us feel like good, achieved, obedient people, the law does the opposite – it showcases our yuck and points out our depravity. But God is loving. And kind. And merciful. And compassionate. He does not arrest us and place us in a steel cage with gray bars like a policeman the minute we are caught breaking His law. No, in seeing us in our depravity what does God do? He looks at us through His filter of grace and He decides to bless us with His favor. WHAT?!?!? Yeah, I never saw it coming either. Let me explain. His favor does NOT come by Him covering His eyes from our sin, pretending not to see it, letting it slide while winking at us and telling us not to do it again. That would not be just. For justice to be served in the courts of God, sin must result in punishment. To God, sin is so destructive and offensive and appalling that the punishment He assigns for sin is the death penalty (Romans 6:23). Yet, in His mercy, He has made a way of escape. A death row pardon...

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when He freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed His life, shedding His blood (Romans 3:23-25).

Jesus already kept the law perfectly in our place. Since He had no sin to die for Himself, Jesus was able to die for the sin of others (2 Corinthians 5:21). He died in our place. When we believe in Him, we receive His payment for our sin on our behalf. And we also receive His unblemished record...righteousness. It’s as if we never sinned. It’s as if we never, ever broke God’s law. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, we can come into right standing with God, apart from our own ability to ‘be good’.

People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed His life, shedding His blood.

It’s so simple that people stumble over it. It’s hard to believe that we don’t have to earn God’s pardon by our own efforts, by keeping His rules. But if we were able to do this then….

I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! (Galatians 2:21)

I will NOT set aside my death row pardon.

God sent His Son to die a hideous, bloody death on a tree to adopt me – a disobedient, ungodly, rebel who didn’t even care to give Him the time of day, let alone regard His majesty and power. God looked down at me, a sinner - who broke all the rules and laws He ever gave - and said, “I love her. I am going to hunt her down with My love.” I was heading down the path of destruction but God, in His mercy, stuck a big, bloody cross in my way and whispered two simple words: Repent and Believe. And that is the message of faith that I proclaim. God is reconciling rebels to Himself through the blood of His Son, not counting men’s sins against them. That message - which unfolds on the pages of my Bible, has since unfolded in my heart and completely changed my life. Jesus proved His love for me while I was sinning in His face. That’s good news. That’s the kind of God I want to give my heart to and trust. And now that I have, I’ll never be the same.

One day we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. And I’m telling you, Jesus’ sacrifice is the way that you can have your sins NOT counted against you.  They have already been counted against Him in your place.  But this payment made by Jesus is only effective if one believes.

No comments: