One of the most significant moments of life was when I understood that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross paid the penalty for all my sins – past, present & future. “After all, I was told, when Jesus died, all my sins were in the future!” If he didn’t pay for my future sins then he will have to come back and die again for those! What fantastic news that was to me that even my future sins had been paid for already! It radically changed my life by altering the way I related to God from guilt to gratitude.

Ok, now that you’re forgiven, this means you can act as immoral as you choose, right? This worry that this will motivate people to be immoral knowing that they are forgiven anyway is not really as big a concern as one first might think. God is no fool! God knows whether someone is genuinely sorry for their sins or not.

We can’t pretend to be sorry and still be forgiven by God! We can’t pull the wool over God’s eyes! If someone is really trying to do that, say Hitler or some serial killer on an alleged death bed ‘conversion’, God knows if it is genuine or not.

Or, on the other hand, when someone who claims to be a Christian yet deliberately commits evil acts believing that they are forgiven by God, but there is no acknowledgment that these acts are evil and no true repentance for them, they should have no expectation of being forgiven. In fact, they are most likely not true believers, even if they think they are.

The writer of most of the New Testament, the apostle Paul, thought about this issue of sinning more and continuing to sin because of the forgiveness we have through God’s grace, but he strongly rejected it. He explains why in Romans Chapter 6 of the Bible.

It is only a refusal to acknowledge one’s sins and the need for their removal, as well as the refusal to accept God’s solution to this problem, Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, that keeps us from God in this life and the afterlife.

This does not mean that Christians are perfect in their daily practice. Heaven knows that I am far from perfect in my daily life. My self-centredness rears its ugly head every day. Rather it means that those who acknowledge their sin and need for forgiveness and humbly accept what Jesus has done for them on the cross are considered forgiven and justified. They are considered legally perfect before God. It means that God is not counting their sins against them anymore. In fact, God goes a step further and gives them the righteousness of Christ and treats them as such (Romans 4:22-25).

In daily practice, God works in the life of genuine believers who trust him moment by moment, to mold them into the image of Christ, but it is a lifelong process. For the believer, consistent moral behavior results from responding to God with gratitude and trust instead of fear. I want to do what is right out of heartfelt appreciation for what God has done for me. Jesus has proved he loves me by dying on the cross for my sins! Because I know he loves me, I trust him and obey his commands. Because I know he loves me, I believe his moral commands are truly for my own good as well as those around me.

In fact, when I finally fully understood that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross paid the penalty for all my sins past, present and future, I became a better, not a worse person morally – not all at once, but a process of change was begun in me which was built on trust & thankfulness towards God rather than guilt & fear.

The process of change then builds on these repeated responses of trust in God which give rise to habits of behavior that produce virtue and character in us over time.

The idea that God has, through his love, paid the penalty for our sins is a magnificent idea! Any good idea can be abused, but we need to be careful not to judge the idea based on the potential for abuse but rather on the actual idea itself.

But if one is going to use the potential for abuse to judge an idea, then my atheist friends are in much worse shape. For those who are moral relativists the potential for abuse is far more real, since moral relativism is the view that what is immoral isn’t objectively true anyway, but only ‘true’ relative to personal or cultural opinion. Moral judgments cannot be applied to someone outside of that circle of opinion. Just because it is your opinion or your culture’s opinion that torturing toddlers for sport is morally wrong, you would have no basis for claiming that someone else who thought it was great sport was morally wrong about that! The potential for abuse in moral relativism dwarfs anything in Christianity.

For atheists who are moral realists, that is, those who acknowledge the existence of objective moral standards, there still is the problem of the absence of a final standard of accountability, an accountability that is present in a theistic foundation for moral realism. In atheistic moral realism, there is no one to hold people ultimately accountable for violating objective moral values and obligations; and therefore there is more potential for abuse in this situation than the Christian theistic situation where God will hold all accountable.

As the late Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand wrote about his experience with communist torturers, “The cruelty of atheism is hard to believe when man has no faith in the reward of good or the punishment of evil. There is no reason to be human. There is no restraint from the depths of evil which is in man. The communist torturers often said, ‘There is no God, no hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish.’ I have heard one torturer even say, ‘I thank God, in whom I don’t believe, that I have lived to this hour when I can express all the evil that is in my heart.’ He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture inflicted on prisoners.”

If you are truly concerned about people acting immorally after they have been forgiven, understand that the teaching of the Christian Scriptures speaks out strongly against such potential abuse of forgiveness. Moreover, moral relativism or atheistic moral realism have far more potential for abuse than someone believing they are forgiven by God.

So would you rather have God judge you justly according to your behavior or would you rather humbly accept what his love for you impelled him to do — pay the just penalty for your sins? You can choose the first option if you like, but it seems quite foolish when God himself has solved this problem of the tension between his justice and his love, and there is no need for us to suffer separation from God now or for eternity. This is the splendour, the beauty, the glory, and the magnificence of the Good News of Jesus Christ. I pray that my atheist friends will not stumble over it.

How about you? What is holding you back from the forgiveness God is offering you in Jesus?

Photo Credit: Duncan Sanchez