Growing up, I was always on the right path. I didn’t smoke, cut class, or cuss with the boys. I did well in class and graduated with honors. I went to church. I was the goody-two-shoes of the group.
Then I became an adult and suddenly I was the rebel. I knew God was pleased with me, even as I blundered through every conversation with some stupidity that proved my heathen status. I was confused, but I’d been a Christian since I could remember. I couldn’t see why every Christian I met felt the need to spout these verses to me: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23) and “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1) It was all so much blather. I didn’t understand enough about sin to ask what they meant.
A preacher I greatly respect once said that there was no point telling people about their Savior before you’d shown them their sin. He insisted that was the only place to start, even though that’s not where anybody wants to start a conversation. He made a lot of sense – I don’t need saving if I feel fine.
I took dinner to share with his family once. He had to leave early to counsel with somebody. I wished him luck as he left – and he stopped, dead in his tracks. “What?!” He spun around. “Good luck?!? There is no such thing as luck – you know that, don’t you?” It was just an expression. I was more confused than embarrassed. I suddenly saw that his work was no crap shoot. God was in full control of the outcome.
Sin, as I understand it now, is my presumption that I can handle something myself or that I accomplished a feat under my own power. This has been really hard to grasp. People who sweat bullets to achieve a goal reap its rewards – what part does God have in that? I had a friend who would break out into praises for God when she found a close parking space. Good grief; it’s just a parking space. She assured me it was no accident the front one frequently opened up as she approached. She knew who provided for her and acknowledged it.
In a ten year span, my lifestyle went from “up and coming” to “arrived” to something approaching “dorm rat.” I saw others work really hard for success and fail anyway, or lose their rewards for no apparent reason. God’s hand was at work, and I searched for answers. Hard times and “bad luck” seemed just too convenient of excuses.
I was advised to thank God for my reversal. Easy for him to say, I thought; he’s not the one praying for basic necessities and going without others. Over time, though, I began to see that we didn’t ever go without food and we always had a roof over our heads. I cried over not being able to procure the chemistry curriculum I wanted for my son and then was amazed to see him given a scholarship to an Emergency Medical Services class. We had not asked for that – I didn’t even think he was eligible for it. I was not in control, but I was loved and provided for.
I’ve posted before about my myriad health issues. I pride myself on knowing herbs, homeopathy, and basic home health well enough to keep my family out of the doctor’s office for years on end. So I was devastated when I was inundated with rafts of maladies with no cause and no solution, both in my children and myself. I was completely powerless, and 13 prescription medicines lined up on my counter reassured me that medical degrees and white coats didn’t guarantee better outcomes.
I began to thank God for my petty illnesses and isolation. Illness is torture, and loneliness is hell – no flames are necessary. When I cried about being so alone, a church elder pointed out that God still heard Jonah, even in the belly of the whale. We can never be truly alone, for God sees us always. Like a mother staying silent when she is assessing her children, God will sometimes stay hidden until we are ready to see Him. I had to grasp beyond all doubt that God was in charge of life and death. As I began to trust Him for healing, my sense of isolation went away. He was with me and would not let me go.
Sin was not disobedience; it was the assumption that I knew best. Yet I had no idea or ability to make it right. Now I needed saving. I began to appreciate His healing touch and finally saw what his sacrifice really was. Would I willingly suffer in order to make another well?
When my middle son struggled with pneumonia for five months and was unable to sleep at night – I kept thinking that I would do anything to save him from this. He welcomed any attempt to help him, no matter how desperate or vile-tasting, and appreciated my presence, even if I was snappy from sleep deprivation and fear. While I might wish I could trade places with my son, I daresay it wouldn’t be pretty. And it wouldn’t happen for anybody outside my family.
Jesus understood, better than we can ever fathom, what death really is and the alternatives we have available to us in the long run. He also understood His power better than we ever can. He put himself into our death so that we could truly live. It’s a simple exchange. All that’s expected of me is all that I expected of my son: take what I give you, breathe deeply in faith of the healing power, and you’ll be well. But while I stifled an “I hope” at the end, Jesus’ offer of healing is absolute. And he was never snappy. If I will humbly accept His death, it is mine.
J.I. Packer, in “Knowing Christianity”, explained the transaction clearer than anything I’ve ever heard or seen: “Luther … once wrote to a troubled friend, “Learn to know Christ and him crucified. Learn to sing to him, and say, ‘Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and given me what is yours. You have become what you were not so that I might become what I was not.’” There has been an exchange, a great and wonderful exchange (Luther actually used that phrase, a “wonderful exchange”), whereby the Son of God has taken all our guilt in order to set upon us all his righteousness.”
Charles Spurgeon put it this way: “Open the door, beloved, and He will come into your souls. He has long been knocking, and all with this object, that He may sup with you, and you with Him. He sups with you because you find the house or the heart, and you with Him because He brings the provision. He could not sup with you if it were not in your heart, you finding the house; nor could you sup with Him, for you have a bare cupboard, if He did not bring provision with Him.
Hallelujah, what a Savior!