I got my license to drive when I was in elementary school. I grabbed the keys to the kingdom (or so I thought) without committing to the King. Christianity was as much of my identity as being Dutch and where I’m from “If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much,” as the saying goes. The same can be said for being a Christian. The question growing up was not IF I was a Christian, but rather what flavor of Christian was I? The debates that took place between me and my peers were not what kind of faith saves, but rather which province in the kingdom was best.
Because I never questioned if I was a Christian, I didn’t feel particularly compelled to live like one. It never cost me anything and Jesus, from what I had been told, had paid it all. Sounded good to me. I got to have my cake and eat it too. So I flirted with sin, danced with the Devil, let my stomach make some decisions and all in the confidence that I was OK because I knew that Jesus died several years back in a country I’d never been to.
Then I moved to Ames. I was in a band and the lead singer was going to be attending ISU in the fall. The singer and drummer in my band ended up working together at a pawn shop to earn pizza money and get discounts on gear for the band. It was there I met a co-worker of theirs who attended Cornerstone Church. He told me I could wear shorts if I wanted to and I decided to check it out. I had metal all over my face and a beard that hung to my chest, but I had been told that wouldn’t be a problem. I went to church by myself. It had been years since I had stepped foot into a place where the Bible was opened and yet, there I was…. in church.
It was over the course of the next few years that I heard the Gospel preached from the Bible. I learned that I wasn’t a Christian merely because I found myself sitting in church that morning. They were right. I wasn’t. But I didn’t know that until they told me.
So now I was faced with the dilemma of wondering what would happen to me if I died and it kept me awake at night. I had a bad feeling the bad things I had done and the good things I wasn’t doing were going to be more than I could manage to explain before God. I was nervous. I didn’t want to die, because I didn’t want to hear the verdict.
This pushed me to take Jesus seriously for the first time in my life and the fact that He died made sense to me. I understood why He had to if anyone was going to have a good night’s sleep ever again. It was only through Him and He was gracious enough to offer Himself to make it available.
I placed faith in Christ, but I also brought with me an idea that I now needed to work hard to make up for lost time. I had not been a good Christian before. I had not even been “a” Christian. So now I was going to get after it and be good. I’d give God the reassurance that He made a good choice in revealing Himself to me. I wouldn’t let Him down.
But I did. I let myself down too. And I didn’t know what to do. Mind you, this took place after months of doing quite well. That initial kick of adrenaline and excitement carried me to new heights like the first week home from Church camp. I was moved and I moved in response. But my stomach still spoke and the old man rose up to provide alternate counsel. I sinned. Again. How could I sin if I was now saved? I knew why I had sinned before. It was because I wasn’t really a Christian. But a worse situation had come upon me now. I had no excuse. I could make sense of the former walks in darkness, but I knew better now and those alibies didn’t stick.
Embarrassingly enough, it was not until years into my Christian faith that I realized that Jesus lived a perfect life for me. I knew He had paid for my sins, but I was left with the dilemma of being the kind of person who sinned and still, on occasion, stored up new wrath for myself to deal with. I figured Jesus paid the back debt, but expected me to keep from accruing new lines of credit. I had no categories previously for what was happening. How could I be a Christian and think and do some of things I thought and did. The only solution was EITHER to stop thinking and doing those things without exception OR admit that I probably wasn’t a Christian and simply fell short of His high calling. I did not know what the name for a person who loved Jesus, but couldn’t live up to His standards was called. My WWJD bracelet convicted me regularly. Yeah, I bought a few t-shirts and learned some new songs, but if I still sinned, how could I call myself a follower of Jesus?
I needed my debt paid. I knew that. But I needed my merit earned for me too. I needed a mediator for both occasions. I didn’t know that before. Or if I did, I ignored it and strived to earn the latter on my own.
I am now set free. Free to believe in Christ and make much of Him. He not only took upon Himself my sin, but He offers me His perfect righteousness. How free am I from sin? As free as one who has been bought by the most precious substance in creation: the blood of Jesus. How holy am I before God? As blameless and spotless as the Lamb who gave His white garments to me.
I always assumed the grief of falling short was the only fuel powerful enough to produce change in my heart. I needed to feel burdened in order to feel enlightened. But I have found that the Gospel produces in freedom what guilt could never manufacture in slavery. Being free from all sin and condemnation has not produced a desire to abuse the license the way the slavery of self did. When you have nothing and no one to rely upon to get you where you want to go other than yourself, you will despair at some point. And when not despairing, you will be arrogant and unappreciative of Christ’s work on your behalf. Jesus died for everything: your sin and your life. Do not receive Him as a sacrifice for your sin only and assume you can work the rest out without Him. You can’t and you won’t. His life, His death and His resurrection are our ONLY hope.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
2 Corinthians 5:21
He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him