Will we ever run out of grace?
Written by: Lemuel Teo (Photo by: Ronald Lim)
Will my sons be raised well while I’m in jail?
Will my wife wait for me or run off with another man?
Am I a good father?
These were probably the questions of anguish and pain running through the mind of a middle-aged man whom I was assisting at the charity organisation I work at. Having pled guilty to several crimes, he was about to undergo his final hearing and receive the exact duration of his sentence. Nothing could ever fully prepare him to “go in” and leave behind his two sons — one just an infant and the other a young boy — and the woman he loves.
In accompanying him through the legal process, I have seen how he has had to take the stand, have the charges read against him, and decide whether to plead guilty or not. For every word he chooses to say or withhold will eventually influence the final verdict. The laws are clearly expounded on the range of penalties applicable to each of his alleged crimes.
Sitting silently in the courtroom, it struck me that I am not that different from him. From a broader perspective, especially in light of eternity, I am also a criminal. One day, I will have to give an account of my actions before the judgment seat of God (Romans 14:12).
The proceedings in the courtroom reminded me of the heavenly courtroom scene in Zechariah 3. Satan accused Joshua the High Priest, who was representing the entire company of Israel, before God, the judge. Satan’s accusations stood true. Joshua’s crime was self-evident — he was guilty as charged, exemplified by his filthy clothes, which symbolised sin. Yet an angel of God got his dirty clothes replaced with fine garments.
We are all criminals deserving of death, for this is the result of our sin (Romans 6:23). Even but for the smallest wrongs we’ve done, the consequence before a holy God is death! A just God cannot tolerate any sin and must punish the wrongdoer.
This eternal death has further-reaching implications than being imprisoned in jail on earth — it entails complete separation from God and perpetual suffering and misery. In Scripture, this is referred to as the “lake of fire,” for those of us who choose to live in sin (Revelation 20:11–15).
It is only through the work of Christ on the cross and His resurrection that the penalty for our sin is taken away (2 Corinthians 5:21), in which we exchange our “filthy clothes” for “fine garments.” Have you ever considered that without Christ, we would never have been rescued from the consequences of our sin and will never be able to be with Him in paradise?
In the interim, while we await the glorious return of Christ, we are “out on bail.” In an earthly sense, this in the period between the first mention of a case before the court and the final verdict where the judge will mete out an appropriate sentence. Judges would counsel defendants to stay on the right side of the law and not re-offend during this time.
In the spiritual realm, as believers in Christ, we actually know what the verdict will be for us: freedom! Yet in the meantime, we must stay on the “right side of the law.” In other words, we should be blameless — that is to live in such a way that our character and actions cannot be called into question. Out of our gratitude for receiving Christ’s salvation on the cross, we should live our lives as a reflection of the transforming work of God’s grace — instead of squandering His grace in hedonistic living.
Personally, I have realised recently that I do not value being blameless in my life because I already know that I can escape the consequence of my sin. Why need I try so hard to be pure when I will be acquitted at the end? I was at a point in my life when my public persona seemed more put together and holy than what was really going on inside. From the exterior, no one would know about my struggles with lust or pride.
One day, in my personal devotion time, I was studying Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Whilst encouraging a church that was undergoing persecution but was wayward in many aspects, Paul said, “(God) will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful…” (1 Corinthians 1:8–9 NIV).
In our daily lives, even if we try to do our best, we often fail. But in His mercy, God says that He will continually strengthen us in the face of trials and temptations, so that — throughout our journey here on earth towards eternity — our words and thoughts will be pleasing to Him.
I had to search my heart and let the Holy Spirit surface this unhealthy attitude. My love had grown cold (Matthew 24:12) and the burning desire for purity before God had faded. In being familiar with His goodness, I had disregarded His grace.
The writer of Hebrews warned: “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:12–13 NIV). Our hearts can be calloused by the cunning of sin to turn away from God.
As I contemplated my heart’s orientation, I realised that it was not centred on God and had shifted away from Him. I had forgotten the immensity and depth of His mercy — I have truly been spared from an eternity in broken relationship with the Father because my sins were all paid for at the cross. As you meditate on the intersection between God’s justice (in leaving no sin unpunished) and His love (in leaving no person without hope), may you be inspired as you stand amazed at the acquittal you have received through Jesus.