“I was once a sinner, but I came, pardon to receive from my Lord.” I sang that song about a new name written down many times in Sunday night church services. Today, even more than then, I rejoice in that declaration. We are part of a world gripped by sin and under God’s judgment. The condition is universal: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23, NIV) In spite of His revelation in Creation, Word, and Spirit – humans ignore Him, worship created things instead of the Creator, and insist going their own way, stumbling around in darkness. If you will be an honest observer of yourself and your world, it’s hard to deny the reality of Evil!
But God … oh, how I love that Divine conjunction! After the awful opening of the letter to the Romans, the Son dawns in the latter half of chapter 3! “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known … This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. … and (all) are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.” (Romans 3:21-25, NIV) Paul invites us to go deeper than some goosebumpy experience and into the Truth of God’s work on our behalf. Let’s do a little theology.
First, through faith in Christ we are made righteous. We are not sinners any longer. We are saints, the image of God restored, our relationship with our Father intact; “because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:14, NIV) Declared perfect (complete, whole) by God, I now live out the process of becoming holy in His sight.
Second, through His grace we are justified! The Judge of all the earth looked at the evidence, saw our guilt, and because of Jesus, declared us not guilty. We need not carry shame and guilt any longer because His gavel fell and the judgment was in our favor. “Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish!” (Ephesians 2:8, The Message)
Third, Jesus redeems us! We sold ourselves as slaves to sin and evil held us in a tight grip. In the ancient world, if you defaulted on a debt, you could be (and often were!) sold into indentured servitude. You had to work off the debt unless a redeemer would pay on your behalf and give back your life. Jesus gave us our freedom by buying our debt. We are no longer slaves to sin, but sons of God!
Fourth, God was fully satisfied by the sacrifice of Christ, which is our atonement. It’s a little corny, but it works – Atonement can be understood as “At-One-ment.” Because of the Cross, we are fully at peace, one with our Creator, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2, NIV)
Is this all just the stuff of religion, arcane ideas that occupy the minds of pastors and theologians? No, these are truths to live by, that change those who believe, that give us reason to rejoice in living hope. We can get all excited about somebody’s story (and we should) but at the end, you and I will stand before God, with only one story, that of Christ and His grace. We need to know that we are saved – justified, redeemed, at one with our Father, for the right kind of life comes from the right kind of thinking.
“My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength— that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19, The Message)
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see!