What goes through your minds when you read of horrific crimes and terrible scandals in the news today? Do you think to yourselves, how could someone ever do something like that, and I would never do anything like that?
This may seem a strange thing to say, but that’s a dangerous thought to have. Because when we have confidence in ourselves and our goodness, it’s only a matter of time before we end up doing something that we never thought we’d ever do.
You may not think it applies to you, and it may not seem so outwardly in your life, but only you and God will know all the thoughts, intents and purposes that ever go through your heart.
I surprised myself the other day. I did something stupid in the heat of the moment, and lived to regret my actions immediately after. But what surprised me was not my actions, but my shock and chagrin at them.
Because it meant that I never thought I’d do something like that. I didn’t think my life would contain moments like this. It meant I thought I was better than that.
After years of listening to messages and reading books on God’s grace and love, sharing and even preaching about it, all it took was one silly mistake to reveal what was really in my heart, and to show up that it’s so much easier to preach the eternal grace and forgiveness of God than to reach out and practise it when I needed it myself.
Do we want to be good? Of course. Don’t we all?
But true transformation comes not by us learning to be more and more kind, moral, and perfect through examples and practice, but about us realising how perfect God has already made us in Jesus, and then walking out our perfection in Christ.
Because examples and practice can change us on the outside, but only God’s perfect love and grace in Jesus can change us completely, inside and out. Not by how hard we try to be good, but simply by realising how good He really is.
Are you surprised when you fail today? I don’t mean when you tried something and it didn’t work out, or when you forgot your keys when you left home today, but when you did something stupid that you didn’t think you’d ever do, when you said something harsh that you never thought you’d say?
And when our friends and loved ones fail, are we quick to correct them and show them the right way with proverbial wisdom, or to reaffirm them with words of grace and love?
When push comes to shove, at the point of failure and the moments and days after, what we truly believe will affect how we react, and determine how quickly we can come out of that failure and rise to walk straight again.
Do we see ourselves as hopelessly imperfect and nothing, but perfect in Christ and having His eternal forgiveness? Or do we shake ourselves up, wallow in guilt and embarrassment for a time, and try our best to do better the next time?
Only one of the above will make a difference in the long run. And it’s not the latter, as I’ve learnt from personal experience.
Why is a revelation of eternal forgiveness so important to rising above our failures and effecting true change?
Because, we can never change or improve something that is imperfect (us) without putting something perfect (Jesus) in.
Ever wonder why reformed ex-addicts, ex-convicts, ex-gang members all seem to be born-again Christians? People who society and family have given up on, whose lives are amazingly turned around after they encounter the grace and forgiveness of Jesus. People like Tatsuya Shindo, a former yakuza member who now shares the gospel of Jesus Christ with other former gang members in shrine-filled Japan. Because these people hit rock bottom, they were able to receive freely and readily God’s grace and forgiveness in Jesus. And from then on their lives started going upwards.
Too often we make a distinction between people like these and ourselves, just like the religious Pharisees did with the sinners who followed and heard Jesus readily when He walked on earth. The Pharisees, who thought they were quite good and lawful people, were furious with Jesus for showering grace and forgiveness to all who came to Him. The Pharisees never received any miracle from Jesus; but the sinners and all who came to Jesus received from Him freely.
When I first went to church, I couldn’t understand why the pastor kept emphasising our righteousness in Christ and how we were forgiven of all our sins by Jesus’s one sacrifice forever. I didn’t think I needed it. After all, I didn’t think I was that bad. I wanted to hear words of practical wisdom, peace, and what we should do.
But the more I listened, the more I realised how flawed I really was, and the more I fell in love with the love and grace of Jesus, the more my heart changed within me to really want to do things differently.
Because while proverbial and practical wisdom on how we should behave is good, it will never have the power to really touch and change us unless we first know we are eternally forgiven in Jesus. God knew that – that’s why He provided eternal forgiveness and grace in Jesus. He knows we can never be perfect in and of ourselves.
God doesn’t have a scale of perfection that He grades us on, like we like to think. There’s only ‘perfect’ and ‘imperfect’. And we all know we’re imperfect. Only when we stop being surprised at our imperfections and stop relying on our own efforts to change ourselves, and rely fully on the power of Jesus’s grace and forgiveness working in us, can true change begin to happen.
It doesn’t mean we won’t ever fall into doing something stupid again once in a while, but it means that when we do, we bounce back faster. For a righteous man may fall seven times, and rise again (Proverbs 24:16).
When we realise that we ARE (present and continuous tense) forgiven and righteous in Christ, we will rise again and walk onwards even when we fall.
So even though I’ve messed up, I thank God that I’m already forgiven in Jesus and He will make me stronger and better, because His perfection is in me.
Because when we encounter Jesus, we encounter grace.