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“while We Were Still Sinners”
Topic Started: Jul 7 2009, 08:47 PM (560 Views)
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“While We Were Still Sinners”
by Tony Dekker (Version 1.1, October 2004).

Copyright © 2004 by Anthony Dekker. Permission is given to distribute this essay freely for non-profit use, provided that it is not altered and that this copyright notice remains intact. See also http://members.ozemail.com.au/~dekker/essays

English Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. See http://www.gospelcom.net/ibs/niv/

I felt compelled to write a few words recently after re-reading what Paul writes to the Ephesians:

“… I pray that you … may have power … to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” (Ephesians 3:17–18)
In spite of knowing our faults better than we possibly could, Jesus thought we were precious and valuable enough to die a painful death for:

“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:7–8)
And not only out of love for us: God was giving Jesus a birthday present. And what was this precious, this magnificent gift? It was you and me:

“I pray for them … for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. …
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. ” (John 17:9–10; Ephesians 2:6–7)
Throughout history it has seemed to the more idealistic and introspective individuals that their flaws require some kind of payment, or punishment, or suffering, which is why there have always been extreme ascetics. C. S. Lewis in his intensely personal (but rather difficult) book “The Pilgrim’s Regress,” captures the idea this way:

“… what can the real rule be except to live here as little as possible, to commit ourselves as little as we can to the system of this world? I used to talk of innocent pleasures, fool that I was … Can even eating, even the coarsest food and the barest pittance, be justified? … I am going up into the rocks till I find where the wind is coldest and the ground hardest and the life of man furthest away. … I shall still be part of that dark cloud which offends the white light: but I shall make that part of the cloud which is called Me as thin, as nearly not a cloud, as I can. Body and mind shall pay for the crime of that existence. If there is any fasting, or watching, any mutilation or self-torture more harsh to nature than another, I shall find it out. … ”
People who think this way may find themselves compelled to starve themselves literally to death, or deny themselves friendships, or cut themselves, or obsessively perform religious rituals over and over again. In some cases they feel (or a voice in their head tells them) that if they fail to atone for the crime of existing, others around them will suffer somehow.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

As the Bible says:

“… {Jesus} sacrificed for {our} sins once for all when he offered himself. … {Jesus} has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. … we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 7:27b, 9:26b, 10:10b)
This is a message of tremendous comfort to Christians, which should be shouted from the rooftops: our sins are forgiven (all of them, past, present, and future) because of the death of Jesus. No other payment is required.

Catholics are perhaps fortunate to be reminded of this by the daily or weekly celebration of the Mass, which “makes present the one sacrifice of Christ the Savior” (Catholic Catechism, 1330, http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p2s2c1a3.htm#1330). Protestants, though usually celebrating Communion less often, are regularly reminded of this through a wonderful collection of beautiful hymns:

“I will sing of my Redeemer,
And His wondrous love to me;
On the cruel cross He suffered,
From the curse to set me free.

Sing, oh sing, of my Redeemer,
With His blood, He purchased me.
On the cross, He sealed my pardon,
Paid the debt, and made me free.

I will tell the wondrous story,
How my lost estate to save,
In His boundless love and mercy,
He the ransom freely gave.

Sing, oh sing, of my Redeemer,
With His blood, He purchased me.
On the cross, He sealed my pardon,
Paid the debt, and made me free.

I will praise my dear Redeemer,
His triumphant power I’ll tell,
How the victory He giveth
Over sin, and death, and hell.

Sing, oh sing, of my Redeemer,
With His blood, He purchased me.
On the cross, He sealed my pardon,
Paid the debt, and made me free.

I will sing of my Redeemer,
And His heav’nly love to me;
He from death to life hath brought me,
Son of God with Him to be.

Sing, oh sing, of my Redeemer,
With His blood, He purchased me.
On the cross, He sealed my pardon,
Paid the debt, and made me free.” (Philip Bliss, 1876, http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/m/y/myrdeemr.htm)
So anything that we might feel guilty about, any flaws that we are aware of (and even ones we are not aware of), any deviation from perfection, anything we have done that seems to demand payment—it has all been paid for.

It is a great tragedy that many Christians don’t understand, or haven’t been told of, this great source of comfort.

But does this mean that there is nothing for us to do? In one sense, yes: it has all been done. And in another sense, no: God has allowed us to join in the Divine birthday present by giving ourselves, and by helping to add a little extra sparkle to the gift.

How can we do that? By doing things which help us to grow spiritually: by reading the Bible, by singing, by praying, by participating in the life of the Church, by private devotion, by acts of love. These things “help configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all” (Catholic Catechism, 1460, http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p2s2c2a4.htm#1460). And while this process is “very decidedly a supernatural work of God, the believer can and should cooperate in it by a diligent use of the means which God has placed at his disposal” (Louis Berkhoff, A Summary of Christian Doctrine).

But this participation differs enormously from trying to atone for our own faults.

Trying to atone for our faults is done in a mood of fear and self-hatred, with the Devil (the “accuser of our brothers {and sisters},” Rev 12:10) constantly whispering in our ears that we are worthless, and that we aren’t doing enough. That road is both impossible to walk, and unnecessary.

Participating in the Divine birthday present is done in a mood of joy that all the work has been done by Jesus; and thankfulness that, even with our faults, we were precious enough for Jesus to die for; and confidence that one day, when we are with Jesus in Heaven, we will indeed be everything that we were meant to be.

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