I don’t watch the show Undercover Boss on a regular basis, but one particular day about a year and a half ago, I decided to watch a handful of episodes. The show’s entertainment value stems from the dramatic irony that viewers are fully aware the featured company’s CEO/boss is pretending to be a new employee in order to see how his or her company is run on a day-to-day basis, but the other employees and managers are clueless.
My favorite part of the show is at the end, when the boss reveals himself or herself, and sits down with employees featured on the show. Reactions are often priceless, for a variety of reasons.
One story stuck with me, and brought me to tears. An employee had, through no fault of her own, encountered tremendous debt. Working double shifts and earning low wages, she was doing her best to provide for herself and her children, but there was no way she could ever pay off all of her debt. Through all of her struggles, she kept her head up and worked hard. He complimented her work ethic and told her she was now debt-free. Though he had no obligation to do so, this boss paid this woman’s debts, and an incredible burden was off of her back.
By now, you may have guessed why I share that story to start this post. Yes, what that boss did is a small reflection of what Jesus does for us. Yet, while the man’s actions are commendable, it doesn’t hold a candle to what Jesus did for us.
Join me in God’s Word:
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”–Rom. 3:21-26
This is the situation we all face, which Paul has previously written about: God is righteous, and we are not. God is holy, and we are not. In order to stand before a perfectly holy God, we must also be perfect. The bad news is none of us are perfect. We all sin and “fall short,” as Paul writes here.
We all hate admitting we are not perfect. No one likes being weak. No one likes being wrong. No one likes admitting their faults to people and we do our best to present a view of ourselves that emphasizes our strengths and minimizes our weaknesses.
But God isn’t fooled. He doesn’t have to go undercover in your life to know how messed up and sinful you are, how you rebel against Him. And He’s not motivated to forgive your sin because you’re “trying really hard.” The demand is perfection, and we don’t have it. Unlike the woman on Undercover Boss, we have incurred debt through our own sinful actions. Our sinfulness is our fault, and there is nothing redeeming about us when we stand before God.
That’s not comforting at all, but if you want to be comforted about yourself, Christianity isn’t going to help you. In order to get to the good news of the gospel, we must fully understand this bad news of our sin and God’s perfect righteousness.
But there is good news. Someone, outside of ourselves, has come to save us.
“But” — The word “but” never sounds sweeter than it does in Rom. 3:21 and in Eph. 2:4. If Paul had ended his letter to the Romans after verse 20, we would be driven to despair, with no hope for ever being forgiven and restored to right relationship with God. This one little word provides incredible, life-changing hope that while sin has wrecked us and wrecked this world, it does not have the final word.
While we cannot be saved by the law, Paul reveals that we can be saved “apart” from it. In fact, the law and the prophets, Paul says, bear witness to this truth: The law makes it clear we aren’t good enough, and the prophets constantly remind Israel, and us: God is holy, we are not and we need a Savior.
Psalm 24: 3-4 asks, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.”
None of us fulfill those qualifications. But Jesus does. Jesus, the only one with clean hands and a pure heart, ascended the hill of Calvary and died in the place of us with unclean hands and impure hearts, who constantly lift their souls up to what is false and who swear deceitfully, so that we can appear before the throne of God, not as condemned sinners, but as forgiven, righteous, loved and adopted children of God.
Because Jesus lived perfectly in our place, we can, through faith in Him, stand perfect before the Father, counted as righteous and obedient by His obedience. Because He died, bearing the penalty of our sin and the wrath of God, which we deserved, we can be forgiven of our sin. Because He conquered death, if we trust Him, we too will conquer death. Because of the finished work of Christ, we don’t have to die in our sin and we can be reconciled to God and spend eternity with Him.
This reconciliation is possible, not just because God loves us, but because God is just. God had previously let sin go unpunished, not because He didn’t care, and not because He loved His people, but because He knew one day, Jesus would take sin upon Himself. The wrath of God, all of His anger toward sin, was poured out on Jesus. The penalty of death was taken by Jesus. This is not divine child abuse; this is amazing grace, that Jesus voluntarily took our place so we could be saved, allowing the Father to both save sinners and satisfy His righteousness by punishing sin. As is often said, the cross is where God’s justice and love meet.
This is good news for us. Not only can we be assured of God’s love for us, but we can rest knowing that God is completely just to save us through Christ. He does not say to us, “I love you so much, I don’t care about your sin.” Instead, He says, “I love you so much, I’m willing to sacrifice my own Son, put your sin on Him, remove it from you and adopt you as my own.” The God of the universe made a way to both satisfy His justice and save and adopt the sinners He loves. This is the best news ever. This is the gospel.
Jesus stands ready to save you if you don’t know Him. Your sin can be covered by His blood. You don’t have to die for your sin because of what He’s done. But you must receive Him. You must trust Him, and you must turn from your sins, willing to follow Him and walk in the new life He so graciously offers. What are you waiting for?
Lord, may we never forget the gospel. May we never forget your mercy and the grace you’ve shown us in Jesus. May the cross move us to abandon our sin and our guilt at Jesus’ feet, trusting in Him for forgiveness, for righteousness and for grace to follow you in new life. May we share this gospel wherever you lead us.