There once was a preacher, who's friend worked in the coal mines. The preacher was constantly telling this man about Christ and the hope of salvation that was offered. "And it's free!", the preacher had told him time and again. "Salvation is free to all men!" One day as the preacher reminded his friend of this fact, the coal miner furrowed his brow with a look of disbelief. "Well, no disrespect..." he started, "but, I'm just not sure if I can believe that. I mean, if I've learned anything in all my years here on this earth, it's that NOTHIN' is free! Everything costs ya somethin'..." At that moment, an idea entered the Reverend's mind. He asked the man, "How did you get down into the mine this morning?" "Well, I took the elevator down of course!", the miner answered. "And it didn't cost you a cent, did it?" "Well, no... it didn't cost me anything... but, it cost the company a whole lot!" As soon as the words left the miner's lips, a look of realization swept over his face. The reverend smiled, knowing his point had finally hit home. "Salvation is free for you and me- just like that elevator. But, it did cost somebody a whole lot... Sacrificing His only Son was a pretty steep price for God to pay, but He did it... so that salvation would be accessible to you and I!"
Needless to say, the coal miner finally understood that he really could be saved... and he received Jesus into his heart that day.
Our pastor related this story to our congregation. Although I've heard him tell it before; it seems that every time I hear it, a light bulb goes off in my brain... and I can't help but smile. What an unimaginable hope that's been given to us by our Savior! What a liberating feeling to have an overwhelming debt lifted from your shoulders and paid in full. Salvation IS free.
If you had asked me several years ago if salvation were free, my response would probably have been, "Certainly not! There is a price we have to pay! We can't simply drift through life doing nothing... we must become holy like our Lord!" While grace through salvation does not give us a license to sin, nor does it negate our responsibility to follow God's commands, I personally was missing the entire point. I thought following God's commands was, in essence, "earning" my salvation. Of course, I wouldn't have worded it that way, but looking back, I know that is exactly what I believed.
If Romans 6:23 were re-worded to fit my prior view of salvation, it would go something like this:
"For the wages of sin is death... but eternal life is something you can work for, and God will give it to you if you make yourself into a holy person."
I can see people reading this feeling a little antsy now... maybe you're thinking, "Well, that IS true... I mean, doesn't the Bible say we must become like Christ?" Yes it does. But, for some reason, Paul chose not to word Romans 6:23 that way. He chose these words:
"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
He used the word GIFT. Why?
I used to think to myself, "I hope I live to a ripe old age so I'll have plenty of time to kill this "old carnal nature" and reach perfection (as Matthew 5:48 tells us to.)" Sure, I may have mentioned in passing that we need the power of God's Spirit to help us, but I secretly knew the work was mostly up to me...
Ha... please excuse me while I laugh/roll my eyes at my arrogant logic. I can't believe I really thought I had it within me to somehow "pay back" the debt I owe to God. Allow me to put it quite plainly: if I worked my very best for the next million years, I would not even come close to deserving the love and grace of a holy God. I AM A SINNER! I entered this world already condemned!! (John 3:18) There was no hope for me- until Christ. How could I ever "measure up" on my own to become a child of the most high king?? The answer is: I can't. And you know what? God knows that.
You see... When we allow the blood that flowed down from the cross to surge into our being and wash clean that dark blot of sin from our lives, there is a word for us: justified.
justify = to declare innocent or guiltless; absolve; acquit.
"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith."
Wow. That means, that I being justified, can go before God the Father and He will look on me and see the righteousness of His perfect, spotless Son Jesus? I don't know about y'all, but that AMAZES me!! How is that even possible?! Maybe that's what Steven Curtis Chapman was thinking about when he wrote those words, "believe the unbelievable... receive the inconceivable."
When I began to realize how absurd and impossible it really is for us to earn our own salvation, the phrase "abiding in Christ" took on an entirely new meaning. No longer do I need to "beat myself over the head" whenever I make a mistake. It's not a surprise to God that I am a feeble human being, incapable of doing anything on my own. He's just sitting up there, waiting on me to stop trying so hard to be independent.
Here is something I learned which helped me a great deal:
Justification is an instant act
Sanctification is a process
God wants to sanctify you and make you like Him, but if you are a believer, make no mistake- you are already justified!
You know what happens when you try to serve God in your own strength? It becomes hard. It becomes a struggle... it becomes a DRUDGERY. I don't think it was God's intent for us to be miserable, frowning Christians. After all, Scripture tells us that Christ was anointed with, "...the oil of gladness..." above all His fellows.(Psalm 47:5) If we are following in His footsteps, should we not be overcome with joy? If we are not filled with joy, there may be something wrong.
Well, as you can see, there was something wrong with me. I just didn't know it. By focusing all of my energy on trying to "fix" myself, I was neglecting some key commands in Scripture, such as: helping the poor, visiting the widows and orphans, and making disciples (to name a few.) (James 1:27, Proverbs 21:13, Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:19) It seems I didn't have time to think of anyone but myself.
But, in His great mercy, my Savior began to gently prod and nudge me... softly encouraging me to acknowledge my spiritual nearsightedness. Admitting that you have been wasting time is never an easy admission to make... but, God knew my heart all along. He knew that I was trying my best and He lifted me out of my confusion.
When God began opening up these truths in my mind, it suddenly became clear to me that I will never become holy by making that my focus. Only by devoting my energies to serving and fulfilling these commands in which I lack, will Christ be able to complete His work in me. And only by fastening my eyes upon the cross will I be able to remember that in my own strength, I am nothing. That was quite an epiphany for me, I must say. But, time and time again, God shows me that His ways are surprisingly...........simple.