A church in my city has a unique welcome card that captures the love and grace of God for everyone. It says, “If You Are A . . . saint, sinner, loser, winner”—followed by many other terms used to describe struggling people—“alcoholic, hypocrite, cheater, fearful, misfit . . . . You are welcome here.” One of the pastors told me, “We read the card aloud together in our worship services every Sunday.”
How often we accept labels and allow them to define who we are. And how easily we assign them to others. But God’s grace defies labels because it is rooted in His love, not in our self-perception. Whether we see ourselves as wonderful or terrible, capable or helpless, we can receive eternal life as a gift from Him. The apostle Paul reminded the followers of Jesus in Rome that “at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6).
The Lord does not require us to change by our own power. Instead He invites us to come as we are to find hope, healing, and freedom in Him. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8). The Lord is ready and willing to receive us just as we are.
After being kidnapped, held hostage for 13 days, and released, New Zealand news cameraman Olaf Wiig, with a broad smile on his face, announced, “I feel more alive now than I have in my entire life.”
For reasons difficult to understand, being freed is more exhilarating than being free.
For those who enjoy freedom every day, Olaf’s joy was a good reminder of how easily we forget how blessed we are. This is also true spiritually. Those of us who have been Christians for a long time often forget what it’s like to be held hostage by sin. We can become complacent and even ungrateful. But then God sends a reminder in the form of a new believer who gives an exuberant testimony of what God has done in his or her life, and once again we see the joy that is ours when we are “free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2).
If freedom has become boring to you, or if you tend to focus on what you can’t do, consider this: Not only are you no longer a slave to sin, but you are freed to be holy and to enjoy eternal life with Christ Jesus! (6:22).
Celebrate your freedom in Christ by taking the time to thank God for the things you are able and free to do as His servant.
Last spring I decided to cut down the rose bush by our back door. In the three years we’d lived in our home, it hadn’t produced many flowers, and its ugly, fruitless branches were now creeping in all directions.
But life got busy, and my gardening plan got delayed. It was just as well—only a few weeks later that rose bush burst into bloom like I’d never seen before. Hundreds of big white flowers, rich in perfume, hung over the back door, flowed into our yard, and showered the ground with beautiful petals.
My rose bush’s revival reminded me of Jesus’s parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6–9. In Israel, it was customary to give fig trees three years to produce fruit. If they didn’t, they were cut down so the soil could be better used. In Jesus’s story, a gardener asks his boss to give one particular tree a fourth year to produce. In context (vv. 1–5), the parable implies this: the Israelites hadn’t lived as they should, and God could justly judge them. But God is patient and had given extra time for them to turn to Him, be forgiven, and bloom.
God wants all people to flourish and has given extra time so that they can. Whether we are still journeying toward faith or are praying for unbelieving family and friends, His patience is good news for all of us.
When I look at my hands, I am reminded that I lost my wedding and engagement rings. I was multitasking as I packed for a trip, and I still have no idea where they ended up.
I dreaded telling my husband about my careless mistake—worried how the news would affect him. But he responded with more compassion and care for me than concern over the rings. However, there are times when I still want to do something to earn his grace! He, on the contrary, doesn’t hold this episode against me.
So many times we remember our sins and feel we must do something to earn God’s forgiveness. But God has said it is by grace, not by works that we are saved (Eph. 2:8–9). Speaking of a new covenant, God promised Israel, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jer. 31:34). We have a God who forgives and no longer calls to mind the wrongs we have done.
We may still feel sad about our past, but we need to trust His promise and believe His grace and forgiveness is real through faith in Jesus Christ. This news should lead us to thankfulness and the assurance faith brings. When God forgives, He forgets.
Kintsugi is a centuries old Japanese art of mending broken pottery. Gold dust mixed with resin is used to reattach broken pieces or fill in cracks, resulting in a striking bond. Instead of trying to hide the repair, the art makes something beautiful out of brokenness.
The Bible tells us that God also values our brokenness, when we are genuinely sorry for a sin we have committed. After David engaged in adultery with Bathsheba and plotted the death of her husband, the prophet Nathan confronted him, and he repented. David’s prayer afterwards gives us insight into what God desires when we have sinned: “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Ps. 51:16–17).
When our heart is broken over a sin, God mends it with the priceless forgiveness generously offered by our Savior at the cross. He receives us with love when we humble ourselves before Him, and closeness is restored.
How merciful is God! Given His desire for a humble heart and the breathtaking beauty of His kindness, may another scriptural prayer be ours today: “Search me, God, and know my heart. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23–24).
Shortly before Jesus was crucified, a woman named Mary poured a bottle of expensive perfume on His feet. Then, in what may have been an even more daring act, she wiped His feet with her hair (John 12:3). Not only did Mary sacrifice what may have been her life’s savings, she also sacrificed her reputation. In first-century Middle Eastern culture, respectable women never let down their hair in public. But true worship is not concerned about what others think of us (2 Sam. 6:21-22). To worship Jesus, Mary was willing to be thought of as immodest, perhaps even immoral.
Some of us may feel pressured to be perfect when we go to church so that people will think well of us. Metaphorically speaking, we work hard to make sure we have every hair in place. But a healthy church is a place where we can let down our hair and not hide our flaws behind a façade of perfection. In church, we should be able to reveal our weaknesses to find strength rather than conceal our faults to appear strong.
Worship doesn’t involve behaving as if nothing is wrong; it’s making sure everything is right—right with God and with one another. When our greatest fear is letting down our hair, perhaps our greatest sin is keeping it up.
“Mistakes were made,” said the CEO as he discussed the illegal activity his company had been involved in. He looked regretful, yet he kept blame at arm’s length and couldn’t admit he had personally done anything wrong.
Some “mistakes” are just mistakes: driving in the wrong direction, forgetting to set a timer and burning dinner, miscalculating your checkbook balance. But then there are the deliberate deeds that go far beyond—God calls those sin. When God questioned Adam and Eve about why they had disobeyed Him, they quickly tried to shift the blame to another (Gen. 3:8–13). Aaron took no personal responsibility when the people built a golden calf to worship in the desert. He explained to Moses, “[The people] gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came the calf!” (Ex. 32:24).
He might as well have muttered, “Mistakes were made.”
Sometimes it seems easier to blame someone else rather than admitting our own failings. Equally dangerous is to try to minimize our sin by calling it “just a mistake” instead of acknowledging its true nature.
But when we take responsibility—acknowledging our sin—and confessing it, the One who “is faithful and just . . . will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Our God offers His children forgiveness and restoration.
The Greek philosopher Plato (c. 427–c. 348
In John’s gospel we find Jesus taking this idea in a different direction. There, Jesus, known as the Good Shepherd, speaks of hearts that stay in the cover of darkness to hide what they are doing (John 3:19-20). He isn’t calling attention to our desire for cover-up to condemn us, but to offer us salvation through Him (v. 17). As the Shepherd of our hearts, He brings the worst of our human nature to light to show us how much God loves us (v. 16).
God in His mercy calls us out of our darkness and invites us to follow Him in the light.
From a Florida prison cell in June 1962, Clarence Earl Gideon wrote a note asking the United States Supreme Court to review his conviction for a crime he said he didn’t commit. He added that he didn’t have the means to hire a lawyer.
One year later, in the historic case of Gideon v. Wainright, the Supreme Court ruled that people who cannot afford the cost of their own defense must be given a public defender—an advocate—provided by the state. With this decision, and with the help of a court-appointed lawyer, Clarence Gideon was retried and acquitted.
But what if we are not innocent? According to the apostle Paul, we are all guilty. But the court of heaven provides an Advocate who, at God’s expense, offers to defend and care for our soul (1 John 2:2). On behalf of his Father, Jesus comes to us offering a freedom that even prison inmates have described as better than anything they’ve experienced on the outside. It is a freedom of heart and mind.
Whether suffering for wrongs done by us or to us, we all can be represented by Jesus. By the highest of authority He responds to every request for mercy, forgiveness, and comfort.
Jesus, our Advocate, can turn a prison of lost hope, fear, or regret into the place of his presence.