Do you want Jesus to pay for your sins, or do you want to try to pay for them yourself?
I once heard a story I’d like to share with you. The story is about a very wealthy man at the turn of the twentieth century. He had started his own company, which had grown significantly over the years. He was a multi-millionaire back when a million bucks was a big deal. As often happens with successful people, he was interviewed by a local newspaper to discover his secret to success. When asked how he had grown his business so effectively and become rich, this is what he said:
“Have you seen my herd of antelope? It’s one of the rarest animals in the world. This particular species is only found in a small region in Kenya. For years hunters had traveled across the globe to try to find them for their hides and antlers, but the animals are so rare and elusive that most men returned home empty-handed. I heard about the animals and knew immediately that I wanted them for myself. So I came up with a plan to capture them.
“I traveled to the region of Kenya where they lived and set up a base camp many miles away so they wouldn’t feel threatened by my presence. One night I traveled to a field, put some of their favorite food on the ground, and placed a single fence post in the ground nearby. I watched from a distance as the herd came into the field, ate the food, and left. A few nights later I repeated the process: I left some of their favorite food in the middle of the field and placed a second fence post. The herd returned that night and once again ate the food I’d left.
“This process went on for many weeks. Every third or fourth night I would come to the field, place food in the center, and add another post. Once all my posts were in place I started adding fence slats, a few every night. After many weeks I had a large enclosure built with only a gap where a gate should be. I’d built the enclosure so slowly the antelope hadn’t noticed the fence being built around them. On the last night I returned to the nearly-completed enclosure and placed the food as I always had. I hid in the trees and this time, when the herd came into the enclosure to eat the food, I rushed in and put a gate in place to trap them inside. I had captured one of the rarest and most elusive animals in the world!
“I tell you this story because you can trap men the same way I trapped these animals. If you provide them safety and security, if you provide them a steady stream of income so they can provide for themselves and their families, they will do anything for you including giving their working lives to you. You can build an empire on the backs of men this way.”
This is an approach to Christianity we see all too often.
Churches and Christian leaders entice us with a little bit of grace and hope, just enough to get us coming back week after week. All the while we ignore the fence being built up around us, until it’s too late.
Until one Sunday we wake up and realize that while our priests and pastors were tempting us with grace and hope, they were building up a fence of religion around us. A fence built out of rules, laws, commandments, obligations, responsibilities, tithing, serving, volunteering, obedience, Christian disciplines, good behavior, church attendance, and theology.
We feel safe and secure with this fence of religion built around us. We like being surrounded by religion. We have check lists. We think we understand everything there is to understand about God. We hate gray areas and ambiguity, we hate feeling uncertain and off-balance, so we come to love our religious fences. The fences make us feel like we are in control. Like we’re God. But we’re not God. We’re never in control. We’re only trapped in our ideas, our obligations, our theology.
This is what Jesus came to destroy.
Jesus came to tear down the Jewish fence of religion and re-establish a relationship between God and man. A relationship built on love, not a fence of obligations and expectations.
Consider two passages:
“And by (God’s) will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:10,14, ESV)
“When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30, ESV)
The sacrifice of Jesus body ‘sanctifies’, or frees from sin, once and for all.
“Teleo” is the Greek word used in John 19:30 that translates as “It is finished.” Christ satisfied God’s justice by dying to pay for our sins. These sins can never be punished again. That would violate God’s justice. Your sins can only be punished once, either through a substitute or by yourself.
Said another way, if you believe Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah, then He gladly takes the punishment for your sins. If you reject Jesus as the Son of God and Messiah, you’re on your own to pay for your sins, which requires your life.
But we have to believe Jesus is the Son of God. Otherwise Jesus was just some guy, some sinner like you and me, who died on a Roman cross. That’s not enough to take away all sin forever. Which means you and I still need to find a way to deal with our sin.
This is where we come up with the “law” according to Christians. We’re trying to find ways to eliminate our sin on our own, according to our good works, church attendance, worship, tithing, dress code, beliefs, Bible study, etc.
Will you turn to a religion, any religion, to follow their rules and “earn” your salvation?
Or will you try to ignore Jesus, pretend “sin” isn’t real, pretend that you’re a “good person” (or at least ‘good enough’), or hope “the Universe” is going to accept you the way you are? That sounds like an awfully anxious way to live. How will you ever know if you’re “good enough”?
Maybe we’ve forgotten that the “gospel” of Jesus Christ is supposed to be the “good news” of Jesus Christ. Not good news that we can trade in being Jews for being Catholics or Southern Baptists or Mormons or whatever. The “good news” of Christ is supposed to be just that: Good news that we are free from sin and the Law.
Good news in recognizing that Jesus paid for sin, once for all, so we can stop trying to pay for it ourselves.
Good news that I can love God free from resentment over a debt I can’t pay.
Good news that I can love my neighbor and myself because we’re not just sinful scumbags.
Good news that we can choose who gets to pay for our sin: Us or Jesus.
But it is our choice to make.