The Gospel: Rom. 3:21-26

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.

God bless,

Neal E.

The Death of Guilt at the Cross

Everyone, at some point in their lives, has felt guilty. Everyone has skeletons they’d like to keep buried in their closet. Every single one of us has done things we aren’t proud of. The feeling of guilt can paralyze us and make us live in shame and doubt for the rest of our lives, if we don’t deal with it correctly.

So how do we deal with it? How do we react when we feel guilty?

First, we have to remember that we feel guilty because we are guilty. Those feelings of shame and guilt we feel at our actions come because we are legitimately guilty, not just before man, but before God.

Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All. Not 95%, not 99%…100%. All fall short of God’s glory, and incur, not just feelings of guilt, but actual, real guilt before a holy God.

If you’re looking for a god who will tell you that it’s all okay, and that your sin is “no big deal,” and you simply need to “overcome negative feelings and emotions,” and “believe in yourself,” you need to throw away your Bible, because you won’t find a “god” like that in it. The God of the Bible, far from telling us our sin is okay, demands blood. He is a holy and jealous God, refusing to bend even slightly from His holiness. To do so would be to betray His own character and reject His own rule and reign over us.

Think about a parent who just lets their kid get away with whatever they want. Do we consider them to be good parents? Of course not! I worked in retail for two years, and I can tell you I really appreciate parents who discipline their children, instead of the parents who let their kids destroy my department and make my job 50 times harder than it has to be. Good parents discipline their children. And a good God punishes sin, because sin is offensive to Him and ruins the world and the people He created.

Thankfully, the story doesn’t end here. We don’t have to suffer the wrath of God as a result of our guilt, because our God is a gracious God, who sent someone to suffer in our place.

Here’s how God deals with our guilt:

“For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God, on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”–Heb. 9:24-26

God deals with our guilt by punishing His own Son. God throws every ounce of our real guilt, our real sin, our lust, our laziness, our murder, our anger, our idolatry, on His Son. The Son of God became our sin, became cursed, so that those who were not children of God could become children of God.

In light of His great sacrifice, here’s how the Bible tells us to deal with our guilt:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”–1 John 1:9

How simple is this? Not easy…dealing with our sin is never easy…but it is simple! We confess our sins, with faith and repentance toward Christ, and He forgives us and changes us!

God never expects us or asks us to “make up for our sin.” He never commands us to try and add to what Christ has done for us…and yet, how often do we try to do so?

I watched The Da Vinci Code a few nights ago. Don’t worry, I’m well aware that the movie’s view that Jesus had a wife and kids is total garbage….but I’m also well aware that Tom Hanks is a great actor. Anyway, one of the main antagonists in that movie spends time in self-flagellation, that is, brutally beating himself in order to “please God” and earn forgiveness of sins. It’s quite the gruesome scene. It’s also quite the ungodly scene.

Beating ourselves up and atoning for our own sins sounds nice if we don’t dig too deeply. We’d probably respect someone who is so convicted that he or she decides to “make up for it.” We love those stories…the convict who spends time mentoring others so they don’t wind up in prison, the recovering alcoholic who spends time warning people of the dangers of alcohol abuse, etc. And while there’s nothing wrong with that (if it’s done for the right reason), all of that can be a cover-up for legalism.

If we try to show God how sorry we are by beating ourselves up, or by shedding thousands of tears, thinking that those actions will merit His love, we spurn the love He showed at the cross. If we try to show God how much better we can do by self-effort, we miss the message of the cross. The cross says that our sin is so wicked that we cannot save ourselves–there must be a death that occurs. The cross also says we are so loved that God Himself paid that price for us.

If Jesus has fully paid for our sins, why do we act like there’s something else we have to do to “earn” forgiveness? The good news is that we don’t “earn” forgiveness…we receive forgiveness, freely, through the blood of Christ, through faith and repentance in Him.

If you have trusted Christ for forgiveness, and you are submitting to Him as Lord, looking to Him to lead you in new life, you are completely, 100% forgiven. There is nothing you can do, no sin you can commit, that will make God love you any less. There is nothing you can do, no good work you can commit, that will make God love you any more. While we can please and displease God with our actions, we can never lose His love, if our faith is in Christ.

So what do we do with our guilt? We take it to the one who died for us. We lay it down at the cross. We rest in His forgiveness, and trust Him to help us follow Him.

And then we get up. We walk forward, day by day, by the grace of God. And we keep living.

Don’t be paralyzed by guilt. Take it to Christ, and be rid of it.

Lord, may we never forget the cross. May we not beat ourselves up, or try to add to your work with our effort. May we rest in your grace. May we move forward in holiness by your grace. May we lay our guilt down at the cross, and worship you.

God bless,

Neal E.