8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast.- Ephesians 2:8-9
Almost daily, I have the privilege of serving my church through the ministry of Pastoral counseling. I don’t view Pastoral counseling of something that I “have” to do but something I “get” to do. I really enjoy it. I guess you could say it’s in my wheelhouse, so to speak.
While the vast majority of counseling that I do pertains to the home / relational issues, from time to time I have the opportunity to counsel concerning crisis situations.
Yesterday was one of those opportunities.
A young lady (and her friend…I NEVER counsel a member of the opposite sex alone) made an appointment to receive counsel yesterday afternoon. Without going into detail, she was severely broken over her own sin and the devastating sins of others against her. I listened intently as she described the anguish of her heart. Guilt. Shame. The idea that she had become unlovable. It was really heartbreaking.
As she completed her last sentence, I asked the one question that I always begin with in any type of counseling appointment, “Are you a Christian?”
She answered, “Yes. I think”
I asked her to explain to me what made her a Christian? Her reply was not a suprise, for it’s the reply most expressed when I ask this question.
“I’m a Christian because I try to do right.”
Now, while I don’t always hear those exact words, most often, I at least hear that theme. It comes in many forms. “I do alot of good things. Church, serving, giving…I mean…I pray”, “I make sure my good outweighs my bad” or simply (and sadly) “Well, I’m trying”.
Of course, I went on to explain the true Gospel to her and by the grace of God, she was saved.
Because of the far reaching capabilities of media, and because the answer I receive from so many is at minimum, similar… I’d like to ask you the same question that I ask my new friend…”What makes you a Christian?”
Seriously. Think on that a moment.
What is it that makes you a Christian? Maybe your reply is like that of my friend. Maybe you are resting in your effort, your church attendance, your own goodness. I know that at one point in my life, I was…and it led to misery.
You see, if my salvation was based on my efforts….could I ever really know if I had done enough? Could I ever know if my “good” outweighed my bad? The answer is a resounding no.
The beauty of the true Gospel is that I can’t be good enough. That’s right. I cannot achieve Heaven.
“Wait. What?!”, you may say. “Where is the beauty in that?”
The fact of the matter is that the best I’ve got, the most valiant effort I can put forth, the most charitable works I can produce are, as the Prophet Isaiah said, “filthy rags” when compared to the Holiness of God.
You may be thinking, “Hold on a minute, I’m a good person!”
According to who’s standards? This worlds? Your own? If so, then maybe so.
Problem- we aren’t judged by our own standard of good but by Gods and at the end of the day, the best we’ve got isn’t enough. So, what is Gods standard of good? His Law.
So let’s find out how we measure up to Gods standard. Let’s see if we are good enough for Heaven. Let me ask you a couple of question (the same I asked my friend as I counseled her)
Have you ever lied? Of course you have. We all have. What would that make you?
Have you ever stolen something? Irregardless of it’s value. What would that make you?
Jesus said, “If you have ever lusted after another, you have already committed adultery in your heart“.
Have you ever lusted after someone (other than your spouse)? What would that make you?
If you were being honest, you’ve just described yourself as a lying thief with an adulterous heart and those were only 3 of Gods 10 commandments (His standard of Good).
Let me ask, if you stood before God today and were judged according to this (His) standard of good, would you be found innocent or guilty? Would you go to Heaven or hell?
NOW, you may be thinking the same way many have thought before…”WAIT a minute. God is love. He is good. He wouldn’t judge me in that way!”. Well, I’m gonna be really honest, that concept is at worst poor theology and at best illogical thinking. Let me quickly address the latter.
I say that it’s illogical for this reason. Lets say that there is a family of four in your neighborhood that you have grown close to. You are shocked to find out that as they slept last night, someone broke into their home and murdered them. The criminal was apprehended shortly afterwards and immediately admitted his guilt. He was taken before a judge and the charges were read against him after which he pleaded guilty of all charges. Now lets say the judge replies, “Sir, you’ve admitted to committing this atrocious crime. You’ve broken the law. However, I am a good judge. I hereby release you from custody. You are free”. What would you think of this judge? He is awful, no? Such injustice!
You see, because He is a good judge, because He is loving, God MUST punish sin.
Now, we know that “all sin” (Romans 3:23) and that we will all face the good and loving God who demands justice. We realize through the truth of Scripture that our goodness isn’t enough to save us from the wrath (punishment) that we deserve for breaking the law (sin). What are we to do? Is there hope?
Absolutely. This is where we see the beauty of the Gospel.
God, in His Sovereignty and great love for us, knew that we could never make up for the wrong that we’d done and sent His Son, Jesus, to the cross where….get this…He took the punishment that we deserved (this is called atonement). The picture is the courtroom we described earlier, the accused is found guilty of crime (sin) and as the Good Judge is about to dole out the deserved punishment, someone (that’d be Jesus) rushes into the courtroom and exclaims that He would take our place. That He would suffer the penalty of our crime. Not because we are good enough. Rather it’s because His grace and love are.
I read recently about Cliff Barrows, a longtime associate of Dr. Billy Graham and an episode that took place when his children were small. He had instructed them not to do a certain thing and when he got home from an engagement he found that they’d done exactly what he had told them not to. He was broken over their rebellion to he point that he couldn’t muster up the strength to discipline them. What he did next was a picture of the Gospel…
“I called them to my room, took off my belt and shirt and with a bare back I knelt down at the bed. i made them both strap me 10 times with the belt. You should have heard the crying. they didn’t want to do it. But I told them that the penalty had to be paid so through their sobs and tears they did what I told them.”
This is the Gospel. Christ taking the penalty that we deserved. It’s our being able to stand before God and be found innocent because someone has taken our sins upon Himself.
Salvation is not something we can achieve. It’s something that we can only receive. Christianity is not based on what we can do but it rest in what He has already done.
That’s a liberating truth. Let it transform you.
I love you all and Soli Deo Gloria!