We Need a Pardon

Published by DonDavidson on

I’m sure most of us are familiar with the story of Adam and Eve (if you aren’t, you can read it in Genesis chapters two and three). Paul tells us in Romans 5:12-14 that because of Adam’s disobedience we are all tainted with sin. As a result, everyone falls short of God’s standard of perfection.[1] We all recognize the truth of that last statement, as evidenced by that famous expression, “Nobody’s perfect.”

But then Paul goes on to say in Romans 5:15-20 that because of Christ’s obedience God’s grace is available to all who will accept it.

Grace means unmerited favor—including forgiveness that we certainly do not deserve. But God gives it to us as a free gift because he loves us and doesn’t want us to perish.

How is this possible? How can Jesus’ act of self-sacrifice reconcile mankind to God, changing us from God’s enemies into his friends, turning us from outcasts into sons and daughters?

C.S. Lewis (and others) compared it to a person who is hopelessly in debt—like the servant in Jesus’ parable who owed the king ten-thousand talents.[2] Because of our disobedience, we have incurred a huge debt to God that we have no way to pay. But Christ’s death produced a wealth of grace that he can use to pay our debt for us. With that debt paid, we are freed from our estrangement from God and are reconciled to him.

Being a retired criminal defense attorney, I have trouble with Lewis’ metaphor because I view our situation as more analogous to that of a condemned criminal. My actions and choices violated God’s laws by hurting myself and others. Justice demands that I suffer the just punishment which I deserve. And Paul tells us that the appropriate punishment is death.[3]

I need a pardon.

However, a condemned criminal cannot grant himself a pardon, nor can his victims. It must come from someone authorized to act on behalf of the society whose laws we have broken, such as the king, the president, or the governor. In this case, we have broken God’s laws, so the pardon must come from him. Fortunately for us, his law provides a way for him to pardon us, through the shedding of blood. As Hebrews 9:22 says: “almost all things are cleansed with blood, according to the Law, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”

In the Old Testament, the blood which was shed was animal blood, in the form of ritual sacrifices. But in the New Testament this imperfect substitute is replaced by the blood of God’s son, Jesus Christ.

As I wrote in Chapter Ten of my book, Beyond Shallow Faith:

If we think of Jesus as merely an innocent bystander, or as the victim of our crimes, or even as our judge, then justice would not be satisfied. But he is much more. He is the king who wrote the law. And he decreed as part of that law that violations could be atoned for—and could only be atoned for—through the shedding of innocent blood. Jesus could accept our punishment in our place because his own law says that he can.

[1]. Romans 3:23

[2]. See Matthew 18:23-35. A “talent” was equivalent to more than 15 years of wages for a laborer.

[3]. Romans 6:16. As God told Adam in Genesis 2:17: “from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for on the day that you eat from it you will certainly die.”


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