I recently heard from a person who became enraged by the failure of a product they had just purchased. In their fury, they told a friend that they were going to drive back to the store and really vent their anger at the salesperson.
The friend, a fellow believer, leaned over and quietly spoke, “We are not supposed to do that anymore”. That put an abrupt end to their plan for retaliation.
When we come to Christ, we become a new creation. As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:
17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NASB)
The old things do pass away, but unfortunately, we have a hard time getting rid of all of our old sinful nature. Even now, we continually fail to measure up to God’s divine standards. We need constant cleansing and forgiveness as we journey along life’s path to follow after Christ.
God’s standards are extremely high. Any person trying to live up to them on their own without relying on God’s abundant grace and mercy has their work cut out for them. It is hard enough live a righteous life with the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit we receive upon believing in Jesus.
In the Old Testament, Ezekiel spoke about the Lord’s holy requirements to his fellow exiles in Babylon:
12 “Son of man, give your people this message: The righteous behavior of righteous people will not save them if they turn to sin, nor will the wicked behavior of wicked people destroy them if they repent and turn from their sins. 13 When I tell righteous people that they will live, but then they sin, expecting their past righteousness to save them, then none of their righteous acts will be remembered. I will destroy them for their sins. Ezekiel 33:12-13 (NLT)
Wow, what a hard statement! If we rely on our own righteousness and fall along the way, all of our contributions and work for God in the past will be forgotten! As each one of us continues to have failures in our daily life, this may be one of the hardest statements in the Bible.
But there is good news. Jesus Christ came and suffered a sacrificial death for us because none of us can live up to God’s difficult standard of holiness. The Old Testament law was hard enough to follow as it was written in the Ten Commandments. Then Jesus raised the bar by telling us that if we even desire to break the law, that is as bad as actually doing it!
The good news is that in Christ, we receive the gift of His divine righteousness, which always greatly exceeds our own. Our righteousness will not save us because we will always fall short of divine purity.
There is a more encouraging side to God’s holy standards – the principle of complete forgiveness when there is heartfelt repentance. Ezekiel continues:
14 And suppose I tell some wicked people that they will surely die, but then they turn from their sins and do what is just and right. 15 For instance, they might give back a debtor’s security, return what they have stolen, and obey my life-giving laws, no longer doing what is evil. If they do this, then they will surely live and not die. 16 None of their past sins will be brought up again, for they have done what is just and right, and they will surely live. Ezekiel 33:14-16 (NLT)
Many a prison inmate has had an encounter with the living God during their incarceration, and many of these have gone on to live new and changed lives. These have discovered the wonderful promise of being a new creation in Christ, a promise that is extended to us all.
God’s standard for repentance was also seen in Christ’s time. As Jesus was passing through the city of Jericho, He searched out a person who had been stealing from those around him. Jesus saw something good in this person, something that perhaps even this individual had not recognized.
1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. 3 Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and he was unable due to the crowd, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up a sycamore tree in order to see Him, because He was about to pass through that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 And he hurried and came down, and received Him joyfully. 7 When the people saw this, they all began to complain, saying, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner!” 8 But Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I am giving to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone, I am giving back four times as much.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19:1-10 (NASB)
As Jesus came searching for Zaccheus, Zaccheus recognized his own emptiness and need for Christ’s forgiveness. Jesus is also searching for you and I today, and He desires to make us into new and forgiven creations. What will be our response?
What thoughts and actions in my life are leading me away from a love for God and others? God is reaching out for me in unconditional love and mercy – today is a good day to come to the cross to become a new or renewed creation.
Father, we bring all of our sins and shortcomings to the cross of Christ. You continually do for us what we could never do for ourselves. Thank You for loving me in a way that overwhelms and overcomes all of my failures and unrighteous behavior. Help me to move forward, cleansed and forgiven, to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.