Yesterday morning I was at a Bible study with some women. The topic of conversation turned to salvation: What is is? What does it mean? And how do you receive it?
The leader presented the salvation message as it appears in the Bible. Even though many of the women have been coming to this study for a year or more, some of them still have trouble letting go of the idea that "good" people go to heaven and "bad" people don't. They don't see themselves and their sin as "not that bad" in comparison with others. Certainly not in comparison to a murderer's at any rate.
"I don't get it," one woman confessed.
Having been in Haiti and the prison, I've seen stark contrasts to my own life. My conclusion is that living a safe, comfortable, suburban lifestyle might be desirable, but it is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to receiving the gospel message of Jesus. Our perceived goodness gets in the way of our "getting it."
One thing that has removed the blinders from my eyes and truly shown me the meaning of grace has been worshipping with the inmates in the prison. These guys get it. They're "bad" guys and they know it. They know they've messed up and they need help fixing their lives. They know they need forgiveness. And this knowledge allows them to passionately embrace God's gift of salvation through Jesus.
In a way I think they have it easier because their sin and brokenness is more visible. There's no escaping it. It's easier to see their need for grace.
I've heard many Christians claim they are "better" than people in prison. Well, I have met ex-convicts who burn with the passion of Jesus and whose lives are totally committed to serving Him. I met a murderer who I wanted to stand closer to just so some of the grace that poured through him would spill on to me. I have seen how the transforming power of the Holy Spirit can turn around an addict who society discarded into into a life of beauty.
The hard truth is that we are all wretched:
"There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God." (Romans 3:11)
"All the right things we have done are like filthy pieces of cloth." (Isaiah 64:6-7)
There is no one holy, not one.
Our sin is every bit as offensive to God as a criminal's. It was my sin that put Jesus on the cross. And yours. And the gang member's. And the murderer's. It's a hard pill to swallow.
But, accepting this sober truth doesn't bring condemnation, it brings freedom. Freedom to see ourselves with new eyes. Freedom to accept the gift of grace that Jesus offers. Freedom to allow the Spirit of God to work in our life. "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:17)
Are you good?
Or do you get it?