Sorry folks, but this is gross. I cannot believe I’m going to write a post about a zit. Not just any zit, one of my very own. Despite my reluctance, here goes…
I am not a big make-up person. Really, I’m not. Yet, every Sunday morning I throw some on. And every Sunday morning, as I gaze into the mirror, I’m asking myself the same questions: why can’t I just let my face be my face? Why can’t I just let my face show? Spots, speckles, redness and all. Why am I compelled to hide what I look like?
Yet, Sunday after Sunday, when I look into the mirror, I see those spots, speckles and redness, and I dab and dust away at all those things I deem imperfect.
One Sunday in particular, the entire process seemed futile. Nah, it didn’t just seem futile – it was futile. I had a zit. Now, I’m 37. Not too many 37 year olds still get acne, but I’m one who does. Usually it’s nothing too major, but on this exact morning it was. I won’t go to great lengths to describe this blemish, but let me be clear – it was a monster: huge, swollen, red – and obvious.
It’s laughable that I even attempted to hide it. There was absolutely nothing I could do to cover it. There was no trick up my sleeve, no miracle product, no optical illusion I could pull-off to cover this thing up. (At least not convincingly, but believe me, I still tried!)
This experience really got me thinking.
There’s so much I try to hide about myself. I wear my hair in such a way as to hide the scalp beneath my thin spots. I pick the style of my shirts to cover the ‘muffin top’ that spills over the waistband of my jeans. I hate high-heels, but I wear boots with a lift, because that illusion of extra height takes about 5-10 lbs off my appearance. I don’t post many photos of myself, because I don’t always like how they look.
But, the real me has thin hair, extra pounds and all manner of blemishes.
The real me, is also riddled with blemishes on the inside.
I’m talking about deep down, in the core of who I am – I am flawed – majorly so. Sure, in many ways, I have learned the art of ‘impression management.’ I’m usually more effective at this art when I’m well rested, well fed and relatively unannoyed by the regular occurrences of life. Like those visible on my outside, I also go to great lengths to conceal the blemishes within me. But, much like that ghastly zit – there is absolutely nothing I can do to cover that stuff up.
Unlike the blemishes on my face – for which no flawless coverage exists – there is a miracle that covers the junk deep within me.
His name is Jesus.
When trying to put this post together, and trying to make a beginning and end to the discussion of how Jesus does this – I realize that it is far too magnificent a reality to sum up quickly, or neatly. So please do not consider this a complete exposition, but rather an overview…barely scraping the surface, if even that.
I’m going to start with the ‘s’ word. Sin. If we’re going to talk about the junk inside of me, I’m going to call it what it is, and it’s called sin.
The word ‘sin’ means failure, missing the mark, falling short. The Bible is clear about who has sin: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). If we’re honest with ourselves, I think we all understand this to be true, even if we don’t clearly grasp the fullness of what this means.
If sin is something we all have, we need to understand what it is. Sin is any way we fall short of God’s standards. If you think of it in terms of a target – anything and everything other than the strict bulls-eye itself, even if only off by a teeny tiny smidgen – is sin.
So what determines the mark we are supposed to hit? Simply put – it’s God’s nature.
God gave this instruction to us in the book of Leviticus (11:44): Be Holy, for I am Holy. God calls us to be like Him, and His very nature is the perfect standard. In fact, the word holy means to be different, to be unlike anything else, and completely set apart. There is literally nothing like God.
The call to be as holy as God is, is shocking. Why? Because it is impossible!
No amount of human effort can ever achieve this standard. The Bible actually tells us that even our very, very best acts do not just fall short by a little bit- they are in fact, filthy. “Our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (Isaiah 64:6). This sounds anything but hopeful. Except: Jesus.
Jesus, who is fully God, became flesh and came into this world among us. When Jesus started teaching publicly, at around age 30, he had an awful lot to say about God’s laws. The Jews were already accustomed to the 613 laws of the Old Testament. On top of it, the more recent ‘keepers of the law’, the Pharisees heaped more and more rules onto the people. In light of these rules, Jesus seemed to be a walking paradox. On one hand, He preached about the law, but on the other, He defied the legalistic culture of the day. He associated with the unclean outcasts. He halted the stoning of an adulterous woman. He touched the sick, and healed them. He was friends with sinners. He plucked grain, in passing, on the Sabbath day of rest. The religious leaders accused Jesus of being lawless; He defied the frivolous rules and legalism imposed by men (which was usually only to make themselves appear more righteous in the eyes of others). But on that other hand, Jesus took the standards of Old Testament law, and raised the bar even higher.
In the famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22). Then, concerning adultery, he said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (v. 27-28). He took the law much deeper than the outward actions. Jesus got right down to the deepest, hidden secrets of the heart. He wasn’t only concerned with the letter of the law, but above all, the spirit behind it.
In his book called, ‘The Jesus I Never Knew’, Philip Yancey says “Jesus made the law impossible for anyone to keep and then charged us to keep it” (p.132). Yancey writes, “There is only one way for any of us to resolve the tension between the high ideals of the gospel and the grim reality of ourselves: to accept that we will never measure up, but that we do not have to. We are judged by the righteousness of Christ who lives within, not our own” (p. 142).* (emphasis is mine)
Jesus never removed God’s standard. He didn’t lower it. What He did was live up to it completely.
Although Jesus is (and always has been) fully God in every way, He came to this world as a man, just like you and me. He experienced every kind of temptation during His life, but never ever sinned. Jesus remained completely blameless.
Then – and here is the miracle – Jesus offered to trade accounts with us: our sins, for His spotless record.
As an act of perfect love, God gave His only Son for us – Jesus Christ – so all who believe in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is exchange happened at the cross, offering a coverage for sin that goes far beyond any skin-deep, top-layer cover-up job. Jesus’ cover-up involves a judicial and binding transaction: give me your account, give me your debt, give the entire balance to me. Now, here is my record, in place of yours. There. It is finished. It was these final words, ‘it is finished’, Jesus uttered in the final moments before He gave up his life and died on that cross.
Jesus’ offer to trade accounts is available to all.
What happened on that cross offers us a divine exchange. All the filth of humanity – every sin that ever was, is, or ever will be, was placed on Jesus….each and every one of our wrap sheets, added to the death sentence He fulfilled. Jesus was blameless, but in love, He took the punishment we deserve upon ourselves and He paid for it. In full. His account was without blemish – the balance owing was zero. That account balance can be ours too. This transaction was enacted once, but available for all people, for all time to come. It’s a simple thing to opt-in for. By faith we believe, and we receive His righteousness in place of our own.
Let me illustrate how simple this is.
Jesus was crucified alongside two criminals. One of them, mocked Jesus. The other one acknowledged Jesus as God, acknowledged his own guilt, declared that he deserved the punishment he was receiving, but asked Jesus to remember him in His kingdom. Right then and there, Jesus told this man: “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:39-43).
I put to you, that each and every one of us takes the posture of one of these two criminals: we either mock Jesus and what He did, or we acknowledge our sin, and by faith we accept that He offered himself to pay our ransom.
Those who reject Jesus keep their own records of sin, and are responsible to pay the wages: the eternal separation from God.
Those who accept Jesus become justified through Him. We receive His righteousness in place of our own. This trade is a gift, freely given from God, and accepted only by faith in Jesus.
This is how Jesus covers our sins. When it comes to the judgement and standing with God, for those of us born again ‘in Christ’, our sins have been removed. We are judged by Jesus’ righteousness, not ours. When we see God face to face, He will see us, pure and blameless.
Like Jesus, we will be unblemished.
Note 1: As I mentioned above, it is so so tricky to know where this kind of topic starts and stops. Because I am stopped the post where I did, I don’t want to leave the impression that the work of God in our lives is finished once we decide to follow Jesus. No way! I also want to mention that the Christian (follower of Christ) does not stop sinning then and for all time. Sadly enough. We don’t suddenly become perfect. Christians do not live spotless and blameless lives; again, holiness is not something any human can achieve. Rather, we are forgiven for our sins, and we fear no condemnation from God. We become a new creation, born again, in Jesus. The Holy Spirit begins a work in us, a process called sanctification, to shape us more into the likeness of Christ and His holiness. I included a wonderful excerpt from the book of Romans, below. Read it over. I love how the author, the Apostle Paul, describes Jesus’ death as breaking the power of sin forever. While Christians are incapable of living sin-free, the power of sin over us is dead. We can take hold of this truth, but Paul also urges believers not to let sin control their lives.
Note 2: As I wrote this post, I felt like sometimes Christians (myself included!) can be reluctant to talk openly about the ugliness on the inside. We don’t like to let on that we still sin. It’s hard for us to admit that we can feel selfishness and pride, that we do the wrong thing when we wish we didn’t. Personally, I want to become more open about this. Why? Well, for one – pretending we are without fault is a barrier – both between ourselves and God, and also between ourselves and other people who may not know Jesus. Pretending we don’t have faults inside us is a bit like saying we didn’t need Christ’s sacrifice in the first place. When we act like we didn’t need redemption, we minimize the miracle that Christ did on that cross.Christians all need a revelation of grace – to truly understand that we did nothing to deserve righteousness. When we keep this understanding at heart, it will also make us less likely to be ungracious towards towards. We received God’s grace for free, and should give it freely too. When we find ourselves in a position to comment on any flaw in another person, while trying to conceal our flaws by our own efforts – we’re not really giving Jesus the credit that He’s due. The moment we begin to consider ourselves more deserving of God’s grace than another, is the moment we mock everything Jesus accomplished on the cross.
I feel it is necessary to include the complete Chapter 6 from the Book of Romans. This was written by the Apostle Paul, who incidentally – was a self-confessed, big-time sinner. One encounter with Jesus changed him forever and he devoted the rest of his life to spreading the word about Jesus Chris.
Romans 6 – Sin’s Power Is Broken
6 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? 2 Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? 3 Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death?4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.
5 Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. 6 We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. 7 For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. 8 And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. 9 We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him.10 When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. 11 So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.
12 Do not let sin control the way you live;[a] do not give in to sinful desires. 13 Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. 14 Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.
15 Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! 16 Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. 17 Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. 18 Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.
19 Because of the weakness of your human nature, I am using the illustration of slavery to help you understand all this. Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy.
20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the obligation to do right. 21 And what was the result? You are now ashamed of the things you used to do, things that end in eternal doom. 22 But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
*Yancey, Philip. The Jesus I Never Knew. Strand, 2000.