How different would your life be if you knew, for sure and for certain, that every one of your mistakes, shortcomings, and failures were utterly and completely forgiven? Would your attitude be different? Would you hold your head a little higher, stand a little straighter? Would you be bolder in your actions and braver in your choices? Would your relationships be deeper or more abundant? Would your prayers sound different at all?
We all have an innate sense of justice, which compels us to make right what we can and causes us feel unsettled when things are not as they should be. It is this inner compass of righteousness that can make it difficult to reconcile the reality of God’s grace with the reality of our own wretchedness. We know that we deserve none of the compassion or mercy that He offers us. The bruises and blood, the torn flesh and splintered skin, the nail-scarred hands and feet- it is all rightfully mine. The eternal life, the beauty of heaven, the inheritance of spiritual riches, the intimacy with God, and the place in His kingdom as one of His own- those all rightfully belong to Jesus Christ. We deserve none of it. And yet, in His infinite goodness, the Lord of Righteousness chose to do something decidedly unfair. He did the unthinkable, taking the whips and the thorns that were mine to endure, the agony and the shame that I deserve. He took my wretchedness and He took my blame, and He obliterated all of it. And if that were not unthinkable enough, He offered me a place in His own kingdom, as His own child. Jesus endured the suffering that was meant to be mine, and at the same time offered me that which is rightfully His. I am pardoned because He took my punishment, and it is not fair- it is mercy.
So why, I ask you, is it that I still feel the compelled to attempt to justify each of my failures? I know that I am forgiven for all my failings- past, present, and yet to come- but I still try to “make up for” my mistakes and imperfections. My mind knows that my penance is not only ineffective but eternally unnecessary, but my heart will not let me rest until pain has been felt or payment given out. How can I praise God for His grace and compassion that He gives freely when I am living as though I must earn it? I am convinced that I am not alone in this struggle, as we all have within us that compass that tells us what is right and what is wrong. It makes clear the fact that we are wrong, and God is right, so when He invites us to join Him on His side, we are amazed and grateful, but also befuddled. We cannot fathom the kind of love He must have for us in order to do what He did and offer what He does. Everything in us cries out to be with Him- because we inwardly know that we were made for Him- but that nagging voice persists in its attempts to convince us that we belong elsewhere. This is where our struggle starts.
It is all too common that we grab ahold of God’s mercy without letting Him break off the chains that bind us. We have grown accustomed to the shackles of our history, and we fear the discomfort that may come with the breaking of our chains. Our frail humanity urges to cling to both the mercy of God and the shame of our past. But it is impossible because the very purpose of God’s mercy is to free us from the past. It’s as though we say, “I believe You, God! I want your forgiveness, and I want You to reign in my life, and I’m going to follow you with all I’ve got! …Oh, but You don’t mind if I bring my past with me, right?” Of course He minds! It is His own body and blood He gave up in payment to buy us back from the devil we sold ourselves to, so how dare we leave the chains of such slavery dangling from our hands as reminders of the life we knew! We are not the people we used to be, and we will not become the people we were meant to be if we remain shackled to our past. If we clutch the chains that held us captive or if we struggle to break the fetters by our own strength, we are declaring His work at Calvary ineffective. All we must do to be free is lift our hands in surrender so He can free us, and leave the chains where they fall and walk with Him. We are to walk not as slaves, but as children of the King. We are to walk in grace. It is not what we deserve, but it is what He has chosen for us.
It is not fair, because it is merciful.
Because the Lord of Righteousness is also the King of Grace.