On June 13, 1993, I was given a second chance at life. At the age of 34, my life was in a dramatic downturn. The tailspin was uncontrollable and my life on the verge of a massive crash. The nosedive began about ten years earlier. Likened to a pilot in a nosedive, I lost all sense of my bearings. I didn’t know where the horizon of my life was to be found. I couldn’t find any equilibrium and all efforts to adjust only created greater problems. Each time I thought I was on a course correction, I only found that not to be the case. Through several circumstances and relationships that occurred only months before June 13, I began to see something I had missed my entire life.
What had I missed? God, and He awakened me to my need for Him. I had lived both a life of success and failure. Early in life, everything I touched was successful. From about 24 to 34 years of age, everything I attempted seemingly failed. Looking back, I believe God allowed, likely even orchestrated, the difficulties to bring me to a place where I recognized I had no ability whatsoever to do anything of eternal significance in my own power.
In fact, I had no ability to succeed in any way that brought meaningful purpose to my life. My life was somewhat moral but not so much either. I had developed my own personal standards of right and wrong and, by them, did well. My standards always allowed for me to be better than my neighbor or friends. My standard of comparison was low because that was comfortable, and it made it easier to justify my faults (aka sin).
Surprisingly, I believe many around me saw me as very ethical and upstanding. That’s the difference between what is hidden and what is seen. Ironically, those folks that saw me as morally sound were making the same comparisons of me as I was of them.
We weren’t comparing ourselves to the holy standards of a perfect God, we were comparing ourselves to each other. In our feeble minds, we could find good in others in order that we could see good in ourselves. It’s easier to justify what we do when we’re surrounded by those that do the same.
After what felt an eternity of failure and darkness, I began to see individuals living by a different standard. Their lives interested me not only because they were different in a positive way but because they were happy. I hadn’t experienced anything remotely close to happiness or joy for many years. It was just the opposite. I teetered on severe hopelessness many days. There was never anything larger than my circumstances in which to find joy. Those circumstances dictated my happiness or lack thereof.
Over a period of months, I found what I was missing was the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of a loving yet righteous, holy God. Initially, I wanted nothing to do with what I was hearing. I thought religion of any kind was hypocritical and a joke; however, over time, I began to see that my guilt, shame, and hopelessness were the result of the sin that controlled my life. It was at that point that I began to seriously consider what I was hearing.
Regrettably, my sin was vast and its consequences broad. I have since learned that even the sin of lying even once was enough to separate me from a holy God that expected moral perfection, but at the same time, a God that provided the ability for me to achieve that perfection through His son, Jesus Christ’s efforts. I was condemned by my sin and deserved eternal wrath, but God demonstrated His love for me when, while I was still a sinner, He sent His Son to die in my place on the cross at Calvary.
Jesus was the only perfectly sinless man to ever walk the face of the earth. His righteous, just nature was what I needed to be reconciled to His holy Father. When He willingly went to the cross, He carried my sin upon His shoulders in my place. It was me that deserved punishment, yet it was Jesus that accepted that punishment on my behalf.
A legal transaction occurred when He went to the cross. He took my sin upon Himself and gave me His righteousness. Because I had genuinely turned away from my sin and back to God and put my faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, I was no longer condemned but welcomed into God’s family as an adopted son.
I was no longer a guilty sinner; I was redeemed by the blood Jesus shed on my behalf. Only through His righteousness could I experience eternal salvation and receive the blessings God had purposed for my life.
To this day, I’m amazed that He didn’t give me what I deserved, His wrath and condemnation, but gave me what I didn’t deserve, His love and forgiveness. He provided me both mercy and grace at the same time.
How does this apply to others? The Bible tells me we are all alienated from God by our sin. The result of our sin is spiritual death and hell. None of us are willing to pursue or seek Him nor are any of us righteous and perfectly holy as He requires. I never wanted to hear that because I felt I was “good”.
As I compared my standard of “good” to others and not to God, I was always able to find something “good” in me; therefore, my “good” outweighed my “bad” on God’s scale of justice. Or so I thought. I helped people and was kind. I picked up hitch-hikers and went to church on occasion. I even gave to the Jerry Lewis Telethon. My idea of “good” and God’s idea of “good” were two completely different things.
How did I know? God provided a list of Ten Commandments that He wanted people to follow. Ten simple commandments provided the moral law that I was to meet. As I began to ask myself whether I had met those standards, I soon found I hadn’t. Had I ever lied? Yes, and that made me a liar. God’s word tells me all liars will have their part in the lake of fire (hell). Had I ever stolen anything of even the smallest value? Yes, and that made me a thief.
Had I ever murdered? Oh, I had Him there, I hadn’t done that. I found though that Jesus raised the bar on murder. If ever I had been angry with someone without cause or had hated someone, He equated it to murder; therefore, I was even a murderer in my heart. Had I ever committed adultery? It didn’t matter because again Jesus raised that bar as well: If I had ever lusted, it was the same as if I’d committed adultery in my heart. Again, I was guilty.
Had I ever blasphemed God’s name? There was no way I could count the number of times I’d done that. The Bible states He won’t hold anyone guiltless that misuses His name. As I looked at those five commandments, I was guilty five out of five. If I had to stand before a holy God when I died, and I would, I deserved nothing but punishment for breaking His moral law. Truth be told, I’ve broken all ten so many times it’s sickening.
I was humbled by my sin. I was a sinner in need of God’s grace. And, that is what Jesus provided for me through His death on my behalf. I found it wasn’t that I had to work to meet His standards, He did the work for me by going to the cross. I didn’t have to go and find Him to show Him my merits (I didn’t have any), He came to find me to show me His mercy and grace.
Christianity is the only religion where God comes to man rather than man working his way to God. I could never be good enough in comparison to God’s standard of righteousness. It required perfection and I failed in that all too often. Jesus made the way for the justice of God to judge my sin while, at the same time, provide me with His righteousness in Christ.
For that reason, I share this with you. I was a sinner destined to hell who was redeemed from the bondage of sin by a loving Savior who gave His life in my place. It would be likened to a man on death row awaiting the lethal injection for his many crimes only to find that another person had gone to the warden and said, “Release him, I will die in his place.” Jesus took my punishment by giving His life.
Our culture tells us there are many ways to God and we all serve the same one. I, too, thought that for years. Honestly, I still want to because it’s easier for me to justify what I want to do rather than what God commands that I do. It also allows me to create a God that likes what I like and rejects what I reject.
If you look closely, not all religions are the same. Research will show there is a vast difference between all of them with one exception. All religions, except Christianity, require good works be done to reach God. Scripture tells me I can never merit salvation by my good works, but He will provide salvation if I place my trust in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection and repent of my sin.
He came for me when I deserved only wrath. His justice is perfect and His love unrelenting. His way is narrow and that makes Him the way, the truth, and the life. According to the Bible, no one can get to God but through Jesus.
Though the wide road is appealing to my pleasure-craving flesh, the narrow road of Jesus removes from me the need for me to earn His forgiveness, something which I could never do. I don’t have the ability or the goodness to meet the moral perfection required by God. I do have the ability, however, to be saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
In 1993, He called me to come to Him. He reached out to me in my wretchedness when I deserved only wrath and hell. My tailspin was caused by my sinfulness. Once I began to fix my eyes on Him and obtained His righteousness through repentance and faith, I was reoriented to a new horizon for my life.
Some days remain difficult. I face trials and difficulties as all do. The difference now is that I never fight the battle alone; Jesus always fights it for me on my behalf. He carries my burdens and gives me rest for my soul. I am forgiven and loved by a magnificent God.
Just as He called me, He calls you as well. Today is the day of salvation. I plead with you to let that salvation be yours. The sand in the hourglass of your life is diminishing by the second. Don’t let time run out.