Thankfully, the gospel message doesn’t end with the goodness of God and the sinfulness of man. That wouldn’t be good news. But, in fact, God has done something about our awful condition. God sent his Son to live for us and die for us and rise again for us. Now there is a way for us to have a loving, reciprocal relationship with him. One day he will come again and make all things new, and we will enjoy unending fellowship together with all his saints and the heavenly host.
What will make my heart sing louder is the knowledge of what it cost him to do this for me. Knowing that Christ died for my sins brings with it a great emotional release. God really does care about the “little” people. It offers me real hope, a lifeline and a way out of the victim mentality trap. Those of us who have negative experiences of family life can cling to the greatest example of self-sacrificial love in the history of the universe.
As one of our friends puts it: “Jesus puts everything into perspective. I used to feel sorry for myself. I used to feel hard done by. I didn’t really know my dad and he left me even though I didn’t do anything wrong. I used to get angry about that. But now God is my Father and he loves me even though I still do wrong. And that gives me security. God won’t walk away from me when the going gets tough. In fact, he sent his own Son to die a cruel death to sort me out.”
It all seems so incomprehensible. So many people who were supposed to love us have done just the opposite. But here is someone who was supposed to be angry at us . . . dying on the cross for us! Not only that, but he pursued us when we were running from him. It’s like having a big, protective brother who has your back now, except he’s the King of the Universe!
As a young man, I grew up in countless care homes and foster families and abusive circumstances. Things happened to me and I did things that left me guilty, shamed, and confused as a boy and then a young man. And frankly, I wanted revenge. I found that even early in my Christian life I was praying for many people responsible for my suffering to burn in hell.
Obviously, I had not really understood grace at that point. I had not really understood the atonement, that this newly found peace I had with God came at the cost of his own Son. But over time God opened my eyes to see that his supreme sacrifice meant that all of my sins had been dealt with; they were no longer the defining reality in my life. I was not allowed to wallow in them anymore.
That supreme act of forgiveness began to percolate into the way that I prayed for family members, old acquaintances, and foster carers. As the Spirit worked in my life, prayers for their damnation were replaced with tearful prayers for their salvation. His great sacrifice so overwhelmed my soul with love that I was unable to keep up that barrage of hatred in my own soul. His love conquered my hate and freed me from the cycle that had been the cause of my self-destruction for so long.
Being confronted with the almost incomprehensible beauty of his sacrifice forces us to review our place in the world, step away from self-pity, find freedom in his love, and through his Spirit find forgiveness and love even for those who have seriously damaged us. Stephen compares it to “winning the spiritual lottery. I used to dream of winning the lottery when I was a kid to pay back all the wrong things I had done. But in Jesus I have been forgiven, my sins have been paid for, and even though I can’t pay people back, I can pray for their souls and hope they find what I have.”
This is the Jesus that the poor need: a sin-bearing, atonement-making, guilt-cleansing, living Redeemer. A Christ who merely affirms us as we are is a Savior who doesn’t actually save us from much of anything.
This post is adapted from Church in Hard Places: How the Local Church Brings Life to the Poor and Needy by Mez McConnell and Mike McKinley.