Grace enters your life in three powerful forms. These aspects of God’s grace really do have the power to undo you and rebuild you once again. I will look at one in this post and the other two in a post to follow.
The Grace of Forgiveness
Perhaps it will take an eternity for us to understand the extent of the grace we have been given and the significance of the forgiveness that flows from that grace. But this much is certain: no other force in this life compares to forgiveness in its power to change the way you live. There is a wonderful moment in the life of Christ that powerfully exhibits this. Jesus is having dinner at the house of a Pharisee:
Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and poured perfume on them.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is — that she is a sinner.”
Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven — for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:36-47)
Why did this woman do this expensive and humbling thing? Why the ointment of her tears? Why her many kisses? There is only one plausible answer, the answer set forth in the passage: forgiveness. When you grasp how much you need it, and when, by God’s grace, you reach out and receive it, it changes you forever.
God’s Redemptive Story
Forgiveness is the goal of God’s redemptive story. It is the plan that God began implementing from the moment Adam and Eve disobeyed. In doing this, God used his creative power to harness the elements of nature. He used his sovereign authority to order the events of human history. He controlled it all so that at the perfect moment the Lord Jesus Christ would come to Earth, be born in a town in Palestine, face with perfect sinlessness the realities of life in a broken and sinful world, be betrayed by one of his followers, be convicted by a corrupt court, be sentenced to capital punishment by a self-interested politician, die a criminal’s execution, but as the perfect Lamb of God exit his borrowed tomb as victor over both sin and death.
Why did he do all this? Because you and I were born as sinners and our sin has left us guilty before God. Forgiveness, Christ’s gift to us, means that we can stand before God in all of our neediness, weakness, and moral failure and yet be utterly unafraid. Sinful people can stand before a Holy God because Jesus took the penalty for our sin on himself and satisfied the Father’s anger. Sin leaves me guilty, but forgiveness relieves my guilt.
Fully and Completely Forgiven
It is amazing to think that all my sins of the past, all my sins of the present, and all my sins of the future have been fully and completely covered by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. I do not have to work to excuse what I have done. I do not have to mollify my conscience with rationalizations. I do not have to ease my guilt with arguments for my own righteousness. I do not have to try to make myself feel better about what I have done by blaming someone else. No, I can stand before God just as I am, without fear, because in Jesus Christ I am fully and completely forgiven.
Anytime I work to erect some system of self-justification, I have committed an act of gospel irrationality. It makes no sense to try to justify my sin, because each sinful act—past, present, and future—has already been forgiven by the grace of God.
But forgiveness doesn’t just call you out of the hiding of self-righteousness and self-justification. It mobilizes you. The minute you begin to grasp the magnitude of the forgiveness you have been given, you want others to experience it. You want the people around you to know the personal rest and hope that only forgiveness provides. What really brings you joy is the people around you coming to know the One who has offered you such amazing forgiveness. And forgiveness does something else, too. It makes you want to obey. Forgiveness draws your heart in love and thankfulness to God, and in your love for him, you desire to think, do, and say things that are pleasing to him.