Freed From the Penalty: CONFIDENCE

I don’t know where you are as you read this today, but I will tell you where I am—I’ve fled to God for refuge. I am well aware that in my past, my present, and my future, I’m incapable of meeting God’s standards on my own. Every day, I fall short. I am in full agreement—I don’t deserve refuge or mercy or pardon.

But as our Psalm prayer this week says, I am counting on the Lord. I’m counting on Him keeping His promise. My bridge of hope leads to the refuge of His mercy and kindness.

So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary (Hebrews 6:18-19).

This hope gives us great confidence. It is the anchor that holds us steady through both the storms of life and the peaceful times of rest. It is the refuge when we’re reminded of our past and we face our failings today and tomorrow. It leads us into a sanctuary of God’s presence where there is peace.

As we listen to God’s promises concerning our guilt, we find stability for our lives; we can leave yesterday behind and live today and tomorrow with boldness and strength, held on course because we believe what God says about our standing with Him. We may have many regrets about our past, and we may be living out the consequences of bad choices we made, but we can let the past lie in peace because we have trusted God’s declaration that, regardless of what we’ve done, we are now in good standing with Him.  Our guilt is gone.

And what about today and tomorrow? Even though we have this new relationship with God, we daily fall short of His perfect plan for us. He has declared us righteous, but we admit that our thoughts and actions are all too often not blameless. We admit that we still have those times when we are willful and disobedient.

God forgives. The price for our offenses has been paid once, for all time. The wise King Solomon wrote: “People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). In the New Testament, John writes:

…if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
(1 John 1:9)

Confession brings cleansing. He can wipe out the stains. There is forgiveness and mercy every day—because the penalty has already been paid.

This is how we live in peace and confidence, imperfect though we are. God has brought us back to Himself, our guilt has been taken away, and we are declared blameless in His sight.

Jude says it best. God holds us securely, and He brings us, with great joy, into His glorious presence without a single fault (Jude 24).  (Did you see the “great joy” in that verse?)

This hope frees us from the prison of guilt — to live a new life, at peace with God, looking forward with great expectation.

Amen.

 

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Psalm Prayer:

LORD, if you kept a record of our sins,
   who, O LORD, could ever survive?
But you offer forgiveness,
   that we might learn to fear you.
I am counting on [you] LORD;
   yes, I am counting on [you].
   I have put my hope in [your] word (Psalm 130:3-5).

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Soak up more of this hope (Some amazing words here):  

Psalm 103:10-12; Psalm 107:10,14-15; Psalm 130:7; Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 53:5-6, 10-11; Luke 24:47; John 3:17-19; Acts 13:38-39; Romans 3:23-26; Romans 4:4-6, 16-25;  Romans 5:6, 8, 9, 14-19; Romans 8:1; Romans 8:33-34; 1 Corinthians 1:2, 30; 1 Corinthians 6:11; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Galatians 3:13; Ephesians 2:1-5, 8; Ephesians 5:26; Colossians 1:13-14; Colossians 1:19-22; 1 Thessalonians 1:10b; 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; Titus 3:3-7; Hebrews 2:16-18; Hebrews 7:22-25; Hebrews 9:11-15, 28; Hebrews 10:10-18; Hebrews 12:24; 1 Peter 1:18-19; 1 Peter 2:24; Jude 1:24.

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© Elaine Starner 2015

Freed From the Penalty: HOME

Have you wondered why God would offer a rescue plan for people who have spit in His face? Why would Jesus pay such a price to buy our freedom, even though we had no interest in a relationship with God? For that matter, why do we have to be freed?

Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God
(1 Peter 3:18).

The country music singer Collin Raye performed a song about an eighteen-year-old leaving home, ready to live his own life, and “glad to be gone.” Off he goes to a strange and lonely city where, unpacking his things, he finds a note from his mother, a Bible, and a bus ticket home.

The simple story told in Collin Raye’s “A Bible and a Bus Ticket Home” is the story of Adam and Eve and all their children. Eager to choose our own paths, we turned our backs on the One who offered us life to the fullest. But even then, even as we were still running away and rebelling against Him, He gave us a plan to get back home and He purchased the ticket we would need.

Most of us can understand a mother’s love that paves the way for her son to come back home if and when he wishes. Still we ask, Why would Almighty God come to earth as a human and be willing to take our punishment? Why not just leave this world to destroy itself? The answer is simple and yet so deep that we will never fully understand it until we see all things clearly: the God who made the universe loves us and wants us to come home to Him. We were made to live in and return His love. 

He gave us that ticket back home even while we were still rebelling and running away.

Scripture presents this picture: God had great and glorious plans for His creation. Instead, Adam and Eve and all of their family decided to choose their own paths. We’ve twisted and broken all of what God originally pronounced “good.” We’ve ignored God and purposely turned out backs to Him. God’s wayward creation deserves anger and condemnation. But instead we’re offered mercy and forgiveness and an invitation that says, “Come back to Me. Your way has been paid. It’s safe to come home.”

He still has great and glorious plans for His people. He will free us from everything else, so that we can come home to Him and inherit what He created us to have in the first place.

This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all (Acts 10:36).

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Psalm Prayer:

LORD, if you kept a record of our sins,
   who, O LORD, could ever survive?
But you offer forgiveness,
   that we might learn to fear you.
I am counting on [you] LORD;
   yes, I am counting on [you].
   I have put my hope in [your] word (Psalm 130:3-5).

*

© Elaine Starner 2015

Freed From the Penalty: DECLARES

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins (Romans 3:23-24).

The amazing word to focus on today is declares. 

God declares we are righteous. Other verses say that God declares we are holy, cleansed, blameless, and without a fault.  

Wow.

I know perfectly well that I am not blameless. I suspect you also will have no hesitation in admitting to that. We can recall all too vividly how we have intentionally chosen to turn our backs on God’s ways and His standards and have gone running down paths of our own choosing.

Yet He declares that we are without fault. And cleansed. And blameless.

How can we understand such an astonishing thing?

Our national news media spotlighted the trial of a man accused of murder. As we read all the media reports, it appeared that everyone knew this man was guilty. Thus, everyone was shocked and outraged when the jury and judge declared him “not guilty.” But no matter what everyone thought or felt, no matter whether he actually committed murder or not, the declaration came at the end of the trial and the accused was free to go—because the declaration was “not guilty.”

God does not say we are not guilty—we are guilty of much disobedience. But His declaration is that in spite of whatever we have done, we are righteous. That is, He asserts that we are in good standing with Him; the price for our waywardness has been paid once and for all and He offers us forgiveness as a free gift. If we accept that forgiveness, if we trust our lives to it, then God makes the declaration: “This one who believes is in good standing with Me.”

God’s free gift [of forgiveness through Jesus] leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins (Romans 5:16).

This is why we can look back at our past—no matter what it holds—and still know hope.

On our own, we admit we’ll never be good enough, never do enough to deserve a verdict of righteous. On our own, we can never set ourselves right and be the image of God that we were created to be.

But our standing with God is not dependent on what we can or can’t do for ourselves. Everything depends on the declaration that hope constantly hears: “Forgiven and blameless!”

 

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Psalm Prayer:

LORD, if you kept a record of our sins,
   who, O LORD, could ever survive?
But you offer forgiveness,
   that we might learn to fear you.
I am counting on [you] LORD;
   yes, I am counting on [you].
   I have put my hope in [your] word (Psalm 130:3-5).

*

© Elaine Starner 2015

Freed From the Penalty: BELIEVE

One of the loneliest, darkest dungeons is the prison of guilt. We cannot forget the things we’ve done. We are convinced that we must somehow pay for our misdeeds. We know we don’t deserve anyone’s forgiveness, much less that of a holy and just God.

We live with consequences of past sin and tell ourselves that our circumstances are punishment for what we’ve done—we cannot hope for anything more, we’ve made our bed and we must lie in it.

The memory of our past taunts us with our guilt and strangles any flimsy hope that dares to flicker and look for a better tomorrow.

Those who are shackled by guilt sit “in darkness and deepest gloom, imprisoned in iron chains of misery” (Psalm 107:10). The poisonous vapor of guilt seeps into every part of our being, saps our strength, and blots out the clean air and sunshine that God’s forgiveness provides for His children.

How can we be free when we carry such a heavy burden?

 

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The Jewish religious establishment didn’t like Jesus’ message. He said God had a new plan. The new hope was this: Being in good standing with God does not depend on following a set of laws or ritual sacrifices. Instead, release from God’s condemnation depends solely on believing Jesus.

“I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life”
(John 5:24). 

Individuals who have lost an arm or a leg may often still experience the sensation of pain or itching in that limb. The reality is that the leg is gone, but the sense of pain is very real. In the same way, we often still carry a heavy burden of guilt—but the reality is that Jesus has already taken that burden off of us to carry it Himself.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down…He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed…We have left God’s path to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on him the sins of us all (Isaiah 53:4,5). 

That chapter in Isaiah goes on to tell us that what Jesus did made it possible for us to be counted as righteous, because He took all our sins—and the penalty for them—on Himself. (53:11). 

And so, “Everyone who believes in him is declared right with God” (Acts 13:39). Everyone who believes in the sacrifice of Jesus gets a clean relationship with God that we could never deserve on our own.

He picked up the heavy load of my guilt and took the punishment my guilt deserved. He carried it Himself, so He could dispose of it and give me freedom.

We don’t need to drag around our burdens of the past. Jesus says to us, “I picked up that guilt and died because of it … why are you still lugging it around?”

 

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Psalm Prayer:

LORD, if you kept a record of our sins,
   who, O LORD, could ever survive?
But you offer forgiveness,
   that we might learn to fear you.
I am counting on [you] LORD;
   yes, I am counting on [you].
   I have put my hope in [your] word (Psalm 130:3-5).

*

© Elaine Starner 2015

Freed From the Penalty: CANCELED

Some people have tried to run away. Some have wanted to, but could never pull it off. The community, their family, and (Jesus, forgive us!) even the church did not let them forget the sins of their past. Moving away, trying to build another life, seemed the only alternative.

There’s just one glitch in that plan—too often, we cannot forgive ourselves or let ourselves forget. And the shackles of guilt forged in our own mind hold us more tightly than any chains a community or family group can wrap around us.

But before we go too far, I’d like to retract a word from yesterday’s thoughts. Let’s not speak of God giving us “clean slates.”

Why not? Because talking about a “slate” somehow carries the subtle threat: there’s a record being kept against you! There’s always the chance that the slate, cleaned today, by tomorrow evening will again be full of big, angry black marks. (A really good chance, for most of us.)

That is, after all, the accepted way of thinking in the kingdom of darkness – a record is kept of your wrongs. That record hangs over you like a cloud, brands you like a scarlet letter, or marches before you like a big slate filled with shameful black marks. You’ll wear it or carry it for the rest of your life, and every new misstep simply enlarges the memories of what you’ve done in the past.

(And right here, I’d like to plead with the church: This is probably the one most effective way you can be Christ in this world: cancel. Cancel. Cancel the record.)

When I considered my own guilt, this was the most important word I discovered in Scripture—canceled. If you’re aching for freedom from a heavy burden of guilt, soak yourself in God’s words, and you will hear a word or two or three that most resonants in your heart and soul. For me, that word was canceled.  

Because the world does not cancel. In the attitudes promoted in the kingdom of darkness, our slate is never clean.

But the hope we have is this: When Christ brings us to His kingdom of light, the list of charges against us is canceled. Wiped out. Torn up. Erased. Shredded. Blotted out.

He [God] canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:14)

In the most meaningful Easter service of my life, each person in the congregation was given a slip of paper and invited to jot down anything in their lives that they knew did not measure up to God’s standards. As we sat with paper and pencil that morning, every heart focused on personal, private sins and failures. Then those slips of paper were taken to the front of the sanctuary (unread) and nailed to a wooden cross. The hammers rang out as we went on with the service.

The guilt of my sins was nailed to Christ’s cross long ago. Those things that weigh heavily on our hearts and consciences, the dark corners of our minds that still exist in spite of our devotion to Christ, the memories of how we have wronged others and rebelled against God’s standards—all of those things are blotted out by Christ’s agony on the cross.

My hope knows the list of charges against me has been canceled.
I certainly didn’t deserve it, but that record was nailed to the cross along with Christ, and
His suffering obliterated all my guilt.
Wiped it out. Erased it forever.

I am free of that record. And I begin to see great joy ahead!

 

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Psalm Prayer:

LORD, if you kept a record of our sins,
   who, O LORD, could ever survive?
But you offer forgiveness,
   that we might learn to fear you.
I am counting on [you] LORD;
   yes, I am counting on [you].
   I have put my hope in [your] word (Psalm 130:3-5).

*

© Elaine Starner 2015