Christ has provided a legal way whereby anyone, though guilty, can go scot-free. But that does not make forgiveness automatic.
To be intimate with the Lord of the galaxies; to have divine power flowing through your veins; to reach the peaks you were made for, requires a response on your part. To explain, let’s return to the reckless driver.
A judge would have to fine his friend for breaking the law. It is quite legal, however, to offer a friend money to pay the fine. It is then up to the offender whether he accepts the judge’s gift.
It would break Jesus’ heart if you slight his offer to suffer for you. The only alternative is for you to bear the penalty. That’s the last thing he wants. God is anxious to save you from the horrors of hell and grant you a fulfilling, life-changing partnership with him.a But you must accept the gift. That involves admitting that you need the gift – that only Jesus’ sacrifice can absolve your guilt.
There is one more consideration. If our lead-footed friend intends perpetuating the same offences, he is a danger to the community. It would be wrong to pardon someone who plans to continue flouting the law.
Similarly, it would be wrong for God to forgive us until our attitude to sin has changed.
I reel at the thought of the hordes who have tragically missed this point. A second analogy will confirm its centrality.
You are trapped in a sea of sin. Bottomless waters lap towering cliffs. No one can tread water forever. The murky depths terrify you, except for one spot. You’ve found a place where the deadly waters seem beautiful and the sensual waves exquisite. How can anyone take seriously your cries for help if you’re splashing around enjoying yourself? And what’s the point of saving someone who is hell-bent on plunging back after every rescue attempt? No one with a suicidal commitment to a sin can be saved.
This doesn’t mean you must initiate a sinless life to enjoy forgiveness. We’re in sin’s death grip. Only Jesus can break it. But do you want him to? Do you want to be rid forever of your favorite sin?
The Almighty gives us dignity by respecting our wishes. If we don’t want him to be our God – i.e. in total control of our lives – it grieves and appalls him, but in his gentleness he will permit us to go our own way. No one has suffered the pain of rejected love like God.
You can never be forced to love someone. Nor can you be forced to desire purity of heart. The Giver has done all he can. It’s over to you.
To ignore our Creator is the height of selfishness. He is the Source of every good thing we ever enjoyed. (Even sin’s fizzle of pleasure, that slippery shadow of the real thing seized while defying him, is possible only because of our God-given ability to experience pleasure.) Every wonderful thing we take for granted comes from him. He even holds our atoms together. He protects and nurtures even those who ignore him, providing abundant opportunity for them to respond to his astounding love. They don’t want God to interfere, but he does anyhow – showering them with a myriad soft, warm, beautiful, delicious, refreshing, thrilling and inspiring gifts. At death, however, those who on earth wanted to be independent of God are finally granted their wish. That’s the ultimate horror. To be eternally severed from the Source of all love, beauty, fulfillment and joy is a prospect too terrifying to contemplate.
With a repentant attitude towards ungodly ‘pleasures’, however, and a reliance upon the pardoning power of Jesus’ sacrifice, you give God free rein to do what he longs to do – pay your debt to justice and credit to your account the moral perfection of Christ. That makes you so pure in his eyes that you need no longer be isolated from him. You can then commence an endless communion with the greatest Person in the universe.
What God desires is like a perfect marriage. He wants life-long devotion, fully committed intimacy, not a superficial fling.
Believing in the opposite sex does not make one married. Neither does believing a creed give us the right to live with God.b True marriage involves total commitment of all that you have and all that you are. It is believing in someone so completely that you entrust your entire being to that person for life. The Lord is eager to be that devoted to you, but for marriage to work, the commitment must be mutual.
If a street kid married a millionaire, she would get his riches and he would get her debts. He would be tarred with her shame and she would gain his honor. For this to happen, she must turn from rival relationships and bind herself and her meager possessions to this man in marriage. Everything he owns would become hers, provided she lets everything of hers become his.
Similarly, if we entrust to God everything we have – our time, abilities, relationships and possessions – he will reciprocate, embracing us with divine extravagance. We hand our depravity to Jesus, relinquishing even our fondest sin. It becomes his. That’s what killed him. In return, Jesus’ sinless perfection envelops us,a enabling us to be on intimate terms with the Holy God. The culmination of this divine exchange of holiness for depravity will be seen when all evil is finally wiped off this planet – we will be spared and no one can accuse God of injustice or favoritism. He has borne the penalty himself.
In entering this love pact, we give God the right to do whatever he likes with our assets, but the Owner of the universe makes his riches available to us.b We trade our talents, for his omnipotence; our attempts to run our lives, for his unlimited wisdom. We give him our time on earth and he gives us eternity.
In every way we benefit from this proposal and God gets the raw end. But God is love. He wants this holy union more than we can imagine. Don’t break his heart by holding back.
The following prayer corresponds to wedding vows in which you promise to love, honor and obey the Lord, thus making him your God. In turn, the King of kings makes you worthy of spiritual fusion with him and pledges to devote himself unreservedly to you. If the following accurately describes your feelings, you can make it your prayer by reading it to God.
It hurts to admit how bad I’ve been. I have caused you grief, yet you sent your Son who gave his life and defeated death to secure my pardon.c
You have given yourself totally for me and I long to reciprocate. I respond to your overwhelming love, by dedicating all I have to loving you. I yield to your loving protection and guidance. I surrender my sins to you, renouncing even those things that entice me. And in exchange I receive your pardon and purity and your empowerment to live a life worthy of you.
Thank you that we have now commenced a union that not even death can break.
The Lord of heaven and earth knows your secret thoughts.d If you prayed the entire prayer honestly, you have entered a new spiritual realm. That’s hard to believe. Everything seems the same. But not from heaven’s perspective. The spiritual contract is sealed.
The proof lies not in your feelings (such as whether you feel guilty or happy), but in the integrity of the Holy One. He has given his word (in the Bible) that whoever turns from sin and looks to Jesus for cleansing, has a radically new destiny.e God is no liar!
If this is the first time you have genuinely offered such a prayer, you must be bursting with questions. Unfortunately, space forbids extending this outline into something that anticipates your every question. To overcome this shortcoming, I have written a book especially for you. Please write, requesting a copy. If this proves inadequate, I invite you to put your queries directly to me in writing. Since there is nothing more important than spiritual rebirth, all letters on this vital matter will be answered, though I may not be able to give this guarantee for other correspondence.