Years ago, a young man sat on death row. His family approached the governor, who issued a pardon for their son. When the pardon was taken to his cell, he refused to receive it. He said he was guilty and wanted to die. The family went to court to prevent the state from executing their son on the legal basis that a pardon had been issued. The issue before the court was whether a pardon is effective when it is issued or when it is received. The court held that a pardon is not effective until it is received. The boy was executed because the pardon was not effective for him.cite
This illustrates a critical biblical truth. Jesus Christ purchased a pardon for each of us when He died on the cross for our sins, but the pardon is not effective if a person doesn’t receive it for himself. The Bible says we must individually receive Jesus Christ for the pardon to be made effective. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”cite
Your Own“Death Row” Decision (no longer a “dead man walking”)
In a spiritual sense, each person lives his life sitting on death row. Jesus Christ comes to each cell door and offers the pardon He purchased with His blood. In the court case mentioned above, the young man on death row knew the pardon provided for his release. The legal benefits of the pardon had probably been explained to him. He may even have read each page of the document and memorized every word. He had sufficient intellectual knowledge to believe the pardon was sufficient, but the pardon was not effective for him because he was unwilling to receive it. Accepted by the mind, but rejected by the will.
In the same way, someone may believe intellectually that Jesus Christ died on the cross 2000 years ago. This person may believe this event took place in history with the same certainty with which he believes Abraham Lincoln was president or Napoleon led armies into battle, but intellectual belief is not enough. When it comes to a relationship with Jesus Christ, the word believe in the Bible means “to trust in, depend on, commit to”.cite It includes the idea of surrendering and then clinging to Him. It involves the will and it takes place in the heart. Intellectual belief must be present because the heart cannot accept what the mind rejects. Once a person acknowledges that Jesus Christ is God Himself and that He “died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,”cite sufficient intellectual knowledge exists to support putting one’s faith in Christ. The issue then becomes an issue of the will: will I receive Jesus Christ by faith into my heart? From a purely intellectual standpoint, this appears to be an easy decision: full pardon of the moral debt I owe to God and the free gift of eternal life. From the standpoint of the will, the decision is not so easy: will I choose to turn away from reliance upon self (repentance), place my reliance (trust) upon Him and receive His payment on my behalf?
In my own personal experience, this proved to be a very anxiety-producing decision. I once read that the decision to receive Jesus Christ becomes harder as a person becomes older. Years of self-reliance in a performance-oriented society have convinced us there is no such thing as a free gift. Our heroes are self-made men who have earned (and therefore deserve) all that they have received. A common saying is: ‘‘He did it the old-fashioned way: he worked for it.” These work-ethic principles are healthy and completely supported by the Bible except in one place: acceptance by God. In this arena, the issue is moral perfection and no man is a success. “There is none righteous, not even one.”cite Not only is no man a success, but all men are guilty. In this moral arena, the wage (what we have earned and therefore deserve) for our moral failure (sin) is death (spiritual separation from God.) “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”cite
The idea of a free gift strikes at the heart of the struggle. Probably all of us have had the experience of being offered a gift that far exceeds anything we did to deserve it. We not only recoil at the idea of receiving it, but our very words reveal the struggle within: “I can’t take that! I don’t deserve it.”n The more the gift exceeds what we think we deserve, the more we resist. In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, a part of us may feel slightly noble in refusing such a gift, as if we are proving our moral integrity by doing so. A free gift implies we have literally done nothing and the intensity of our struggle only increases. As if to add insult to injury, our having “done nothing” is referring to our moral failure before God. No illusions of success can be entertained when this indictment comes forth. It is the last fortress of the will. No one wants to admit complete moral failure, especially before the only One who is morally perfect (God). This is the ultimate exposure. The worse we feel, the more we seek relief by trying to think of anyone more morally destitute than ourselves. We may even say to ourselves, “At least I’m not as bad as…at least I haven’t…” At this moment, two truths are descending upon the will: moral condemnation by the demands of God’s righteousness and complete rescue by the offer of His free gift. The first truth reveals my complete moral failure before God. The second truth reveals my complete inability to deliver myself. The very nature of the gift (free) reveals the very nature of what I can do to earn it: nothing. There is only one solution for this divine tension: accept the full force of the indictment and receive the full impact of the gift. The only person who rejects this offer is the one who rejects the notion of his own unworthiness.
When Despair is Good (despair—fatigue of the soul)
One author years ago summarized the process every person must go through before the will surrenders control:
True Christianity is, first, being taught by the Law to know ourselves and thus learning to say with Paul that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”cite When we are humbled by the Law and brought to self-knowledge, true repentance follows (for true repentance begins with the fear and judgment of God), and we see ourselves to be such great sinners that we can find no way to be delivered from our sins by our own strength, works or merits. Then we see what Paul means when he says that man is “sold as a slave to sin”cite and…that the whole world is guilty before God.cite Then we begin to sigh and ask who can help us. When we are terrified by the Law like this, we utterly despair of our own strength; we look around for the help of a mediator and savior. This is the time for the healing word of the gospel: “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”cite Believe in Jesus Christ crucified for your sins. If you feel your sins and the burden of them, do not look upon them in yourself, but remember that they have been transferred and laid on Christ, whose wounds have healed you.cite
The moment you receive Jesus Christ by faith as an act of your will, He comes to live within your heart and His payment 2000 years ago is immediately applied to your debt of sin. Your debt is declared paid in full, not because of any good deed you have done, but because of what He has done.
Two Groups of People — those who trust — and — those who insist —
There are only two kinds of people in this world: (1) those who have been declared “not guilty” before God because the pardon purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ has been applied to the debt of their sin and (2) those who insist upon standing before a holy God on the basis of their own merit (i.e., trusting in the merit of the lives they have lived, the deeds they have done, the moral “works” they have performed). Those in the first group have received Jesus Christ as their Savior and are trusting in His death on the cross for their sins. Those in the second group are resisting the offer of His pardon and insisting upon approaching a holy, righteous and just God on their own. They are rejecting the shelter His love has made possible. The Bible says those in the second group are still in their sin and are destined for His judgment when they die.
This is a harsh truth with which each of us must come to grips. When it comes to the idea of judgment, many people think, “God will look the other way because He is a God of love. He will forgive me. He will show mercy. That’s what a God of love does.” The Scriptures say there is an error in that logic. Every person has a built-in awareness of the judgment to come. God has mercifully stamped it upon the conscience. What we see in our hearts (attitudes, thoughts) is our sin staring back at us. God has to judge sin because of who He is. He cannot “look the other way” because to do so would compromise His character. He is holy, righteous, and just—to look the other way would violate who He is. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.”cite They are the core attributes of His character. He cannot ignore our sin any more than a just judge in a court of law can ignore the crime before his court. God has made His mercy and forgiveness available to us, but not at the expense of His righteousness and justice. His righteousness is offended by our moral violation of His holy law. His offended righteousness imposes a penalty of death (spiritual separation). His justice demands the penalty be paid in full. His mercy and forgiveness are only available to us when the demands of justice are met. Through the death of His Son in our place, our debt is paid in full. God’s holy justice is satisfied by His holy blood. Holy justice…holy blood. We are now acquitted (absolved, judicially discharged from accusation, released from debt) because the charges of the court have been placed squarely on Him and His payment on our behalf has been declared by the court as satisfactory. To paraphrase A. W. Tozer (p. 94), the demands of justice have not been set aside or ignored so that we might be forgiven, but satisfied and fully met by Another. Judgment is withheld from us (this is mercy) because the judgment we deserve fell on Him. There is no mercy without the blood. “Without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”cite
To experience the forgiveness purchased at the cross, a person must individually receive Jesus Christ as his/her personal Savior. In the Bible, Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him.”26 In this verse, Jesus gives us a picture of the transaction that occurs in the heart when a person receives Him. The door is the heart. Jesus portrays Himself as knocking on the door of our hearts as He freely offers us the pardon He purchased for us. I have heard it said that the doorknob on the door of the heart is only on one side: the inside. Jesus will not force Himself upon us or violate our will, but He does speak silently to each person to persuade him/her to receive Him.
If you are reading this right now and find within yourself the desire to ask Him in, you are hearing His knock on your heart. Faith is simply taking Him at His word and trusting that He will do what He promises to do. He promises to come into your heart if you open the door of your heart to Him. By faith you receive Him as an act of your will (Bright, p. 9). You choose as an act of your will to open the door of your heart and ask Him to come in. The moment you do this, Jesus Christ Himself walks through the doorway of your heart and comes in. Faith in the trustworthiness of His word assures your heart that He has come in just as He has promised. This comforts the soul because 1 John 5:11–13 says,
God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe (cling to, trust in, depend on) in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.
One night I realized my answer to my friend’s question—“Why should God let me into heaven?”—revealed that I was insisting upon standing before God based on my own merit. In essence, I was saying I didn’t need Jesus Christ to die in my place and I could approach God on my own. There had never been a day in my life when I doubted that He had died on the cross. In fact, my whole life I heard this taught in church and I was quite certain this event had taken place in history. The problem was I did not believe in my heart that He died for me personally. I had not received the gift He purchased for me: the pardon for my sins. When I realized He was knocking on the door of my heart and I could ask Him in by faith as a simple act of my will, I got alone by myself and prayed a prayer similar to this: “Lord Jesus, I know You died on the cross for my sins. My sins were placed on You and You took the judgment I deserve. I open the door of my heart and ask You to come in and be my personal Savior and Lord. Thank You that the pardon You purchased for me is now applied to the debt of my sin. Thank You for giving me eternal life. Thank You for the forgiveness of my sin.”
At that moment, Jesus Christ came into my heart and I began to cling in my heart to Him. A transfer had occurred: I had transferred my trust. Where I once had trusted in the works of my life (i.e., good deeds, living by the golden rule, good behavior, “living by the Ten Commandments”) in hopes that my good deeds would outweigh my bad, I now trusted in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross on my behalf: His death for my sins.
Hindsight—20/20 (holy love: what He has required, He has provided)
Over the years, I have come to realize more and more what actually happened that night in my heart and in my life. Not only were my sins forgiven, but I was also clothed in His righteousness (His moral perfection). The Bible says Jesus took my sins upon Himself and put His righteousness upon me. I got His righteousness and He took my sin. “He (God) made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”cite When God looks at me, He sees the debt of my sins paid by the blood of His Son. He sees me clothed in the righteousness of His Son: declared to be morally perfect/without guilt in His eyes. His holy character and His holy law are no longer a barrier to me. His justice demands full payment of the debt I owe. The death of His Son has paid my debt in full. His holiness demands perfect righteousness of me in order to come into His presence. He has covered me in the perfect righteousness of His Son. This is the holy love of God: what He has required, He has provided. Where I once only had a place in His heart because of His love for me, I now have a place in His presence because of His death for me.
What Was God Doing on the Cross? (only His love knows for sure)
Through the years I have come to appreciate more and more the depth of His love for me and how His love for me was the reason He was willing to die for me. This message becomes more staggering to me each day: that the God of the universe would be willing to leave the majesty of heaven and subject Himself to the cruelty of death on the cross to purchase forgiveness for me. He is the Creator of the universe. He made the very tree from which the wood came to make the cross upon which He died. Jesus (God Himself—morally perfect—without any sin of His own—without moral spot or blemish) allowed sinful man (His creatures) to place Him on the cross and hurl abuse at Him while He hung there dying for their (and our) sins. He was stripped naked. He was beaten with a whip with nails and spikes. He was spit upon. He was mocked. Stakes were driven into His hands and feet. To this day, historians still agree crucifixion is the cruelest form of capital punishment ever devised by man. None of this even comes close to describing the agony He suffered—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually—as He suffered the condemnation and judgment of His Father for the sins of every person who ever had or ever would live. In addition to the suffering of the Son, there was the anguish of God the Father who sent His Son for this very purpose. He had to judge His own Son as the One declared guilty. He could no longer look upon His Son because His Son bore our sins and sin cannot come into the presence of a holy, righteous God.
Having entered a realm of horror, turmoil, loneliness and pain unknown by any soul and having become separated from His Father because of the sin He bore, Jesus cried out on the cross, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”cite I cannot imagine the suffering of Jesus at this point as He suffered the penalty of separation (spiritual death) enforced for the debt of our sin. I cannot imagine the suffering of the Father as the words of His Son pierced His own heart. Jesus’ love for us kept Him on the cross. He could have forsaken the suffering at any moment and angels would have rescued Him. It was the God the Father’s love for us that kept Him from intervening as well because He knew only the spotless blood of His Son would pay our debt in full.
A Gift From God (true “Homeland Security”)
There is no way to fully comprehend what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross 2000 years ago. The only response that honors Him is to receive Him. If you asked Him into your heart as you read the prayer written above, several things just happened in your life.
First, Jesus Christ Himself just took up residence in your heart. Through His Holy Spirit, He now lives in you. The same Holy Spirit who raised Him from the dead now lives in you. The Holy Spirit is committed to making Jesus known to you and assuring you on a daily basis of His love, forgiveness and power.
Second, all of your sins (past, present, future) have been forgiven. The pardon He purchased for you has been applied to your debt of sin and your record of sin has been stamped “paid in full.” Not one of your sins was omitted from the record. Not one was left unpaid.
Third, you are now spiritually alive. You had been spiritually dead because of the penalty of your sin (spiritual separation from God). The penalty has been removed. No longer separated from Him, you are now united with Him. To be separated from Him is the ultimate death. To be united with Him is the ultimate life. “When you were dead in your transgressions (sins), He made you alive together (united) with Him.”cite You have His life in you—the ultimate gift from God.
Fourth, you have eternal life. Death has no sting for you because its stinger (the penalty of sin) has been removed.(see note L and note M) It cannot separate you from Him. Death has become like a servant that, when called upon, can only open the door for you so your union with God can be made complete.
Fifth, His mercy is abundantly available to you. He is seated in mercy towards you because His wrath of judgment is satisfied by the sacrifice of Another.(See note K) The sacrifice of His innocent life has made the difference.
Sixth, you have peace with God through Jesus Christ and the security only He can provide. This peace is now anchored in your soul. Someone once said, “I know not what my future holds, but I know Who holds my future.” The trials of this life will dim in comparison to the calm assurance you have found in Him. “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”cite
Last of all, the vacuum in your soul has been filled by the One who made you. (See note P) No longer haunted by the empty promises of this world, your soul has finally found rest in Him, the promise-Keeper.
Post 9-11 (the only “Roadmap for Peace”)
None of us see the world the same way we did before September 11th and yet every sign seems to indicate more turbulent times are ahead. We are more aware than ever of the inability of our government or military to protect us. Man-made solutions have limits and life is fragile. These realities cannot be changed. The common denominator shared by all is that we are each one heartbeat away from stepping into eternity. No issue is of greater importance than where each of us will spend it and how God has made it possible for you to spend it with Him. The security He has made possible for you through His Son is the only security that exists. My prayer for the reader of this book is that the hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ will come to reside in your heart, transcending any hope you may have in the security offered by this world. When this hope takes root in your heart, the uncertainties of this life only serve as a reminder of the certainty of your eternal life to come.
May God’s mercy be upon you because the debt of your sin has been paid by the blood (death) of His Son.