A person is made right with God through faith, not through obeying the law. — Romans 3:28
Remember the good ol’ days when credit cards were imprinted by hand? The clerk would take your plastic and place it in the imprint machine, and rrack-rrack, the numbers would be registered, and the purchase would be made. I learned to operate such a device in a gasoline station on the corner of Broadway and Fourth when I was fourteen years old. For a dollar an hour I cleaned windshields, pumped gas, and checked the oil. (Yes, Virginia, gas station attendants did those things back then.)
My favorite task, however, was imprinting credit cards. There’s nothing like the surge of power you feel when you run the imprinter over the plastic. I’d always steal a glance at the customer to watch him wince as I rrack-rracked his card.
Credit card purchases today aren’t nearly as dramatic. Nowadays the magnetic strip is swiped through the slot, or the numbers are entered on the keyboard. No noise. No drama. No pain. Bring back the rrack rrack days when the purchase was announced for all to hear.
You buy gas, rrack-rrack.
You charge some clothes, rrack-rrack.
You pay for dinner, rrack-rrack.
If the noise didn’t get you, the statement at the end of the month would. Thirty days is ample time to rrack up enough purchases to rrack your budget.
And a lifetime is enough to rrack up some major debt in heaven.
You yell at your kids, rrack-rrack.
You covet a friend’s car, rrack-rrack.
You envy your neighbor’s success, rrack-rrack.
You break a promise, rrack-rrack.
You lie, rrack-rrack.
You lose control, rrack-rrack.
You doze off reading this book, rrack-rrack, rrack-rrack, rrack-rrack.
Further and further in debt. Initially, we attempt to repay what we owe. (Remember the rockstacker?) Every prayer is a check written, and each good deed is a payment made. If we can do one good act for every bad act, then won’t our account balance out in the end? If I can counter my cussing with compliments, my lusts with loyalties, my complaints with contributions, my vices with victories—then won’t my account be justified?
It would, except for two problems.
First, I don’t know the cost of each sin. The price of gas is easy to find. Would that it were so clear with sin. It’s not. What, for example, is the charge for getting mad in traffic? I get ticked off at some fellow who cuts in front of me, what do I do to pay for my crime? Drive fifty in a fifty-five zone? Give a wave and a smile to ten consecutive cars? Who knows? Or what if I wake up in a bad mood? What’s the charge for a couple of mopey hours? Will one church service next Sunday offset one grumpy morning today? And what qualifies for a bad mood? Is the charge for grumpiness less on cloudy days than clear? Or am I permitted a certain number of grouchy days per year?
This can get confusing, you know.
And not only don’t I know the cost of my sins, I don’t always know the occasion of my sins. There are times when I sin and I don’t even know it! I was twelve years old before I realized it was a sin to hate your enemy. My bike was stolen when I was eight. I hated the thief for four years! How do I pay for those sins? Do I get an exemption based on ignorance?
And what about the sins I’m committing now without realizing it? What if somebody somewhere discovers it is a sin to play golf? Or what if God thinks the way I play golf is a sin? Oh, boy. I’ll have some serious settling up to do.
And what about our secret sins? Even as I write this chapter, I’m sinning. I’d like to think I’m writing to the glory of God, but am I? Am I free of vanity? Does this vessel have only concern for contents and no concern for the container? Hardly. I wonder if people will agree, if they’ll approve, if they’ll appreciate all the long, painstaking, tedious, exhausting, tortuous hours I am humbly putting into these watershed, historic thoughts.
And what of you? Any sins of omission on this month’s statement? Did you miss any chance to do good? Overlook an opportunity to forgive? Neglect an open door to serve? Did you seize every chance to encourage your friends?
Rrack-rrack, rrack-rrack, rrack-rrack.
And there are other concerns. The grace period, for example. My credit card allows a minimal payment and then rolls the debt into the next month. Does God? Will he let me pay off today’s greed next year? What about interest? If I leave a sin on my statement for several months, does it incur more sin? And speaking of the statement… where is it? Can I see it? Who has it? How do I pay the blasted thing off?
There it is. That’s the question. How do I deal with the debt I owe to God?
Deny it? My conscience won’t let me.
Find worse sins in others? God won’t fall for that.
Claim lineage immunity? Family pride won’t help.
Try to pay it off? I could, but that takes us back to the problem. We don’t know the cost of sin. We don’t even know how much we owe.
Then what do we do? Listen to Paul’s answer in what one scholar says is “possibly the most important single paragraph ever written.”1
All need to be made right with God by his grace, which is a free gift. They need to be made free from sin through Jesus Christ. God gave him as a way to forgive sin through faith in the blood of Jesus. (Romans 3:24–25)
Simply put: The cost of your sins is more than you can pay. The gift of your God is more than you can imagine. “A person is made right with God through faith,” Paul explains, “not through obeying the law” (v. 28).
This may very well be the most difficult spiritual truth for us to embrace. For some reason, people accept Jesus as Lord before they accept him as Savior. It’s easier to comprehend his power than his mercy. We’ll celebrate the empty tomb long before we’ll kneel at the cross. We, like Thomas, would die for Christ before we’d let Christ die for us.
We aren’t alone. We aren’t the first to struggle with Paul’s presentation of grace. Apparently, the first ones to doubt the epistle to the Romans were the first to read it. In fact, you get the impression Paul can hear their questions. The apostle lifts his pen from the page and imagines his readers: some squirming, some doubting, some denying. Anticipating their thoughts, he deals with their objections.
Excerpted with permission from The Grip of Grace by Max Lucado, copyright Max Lucado.
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Grace is risky. There is the chance that people will take it to an extreme. There is the possibility that people will abuse God’s goodness. In what ways have you seen that grace is risky? How have you seen people abuse God’s goodness? Have you ever done so? Come share on our blog!
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