Romans 6: 20-23 “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
A young man that I know relapsed recently and smoked a lot of dope. He is deeply ashamed of his relapse and all the toxic shame of his past has flooded back to him, threatening to overwhelm him. It is so easy to say (or think and not say); “Serves him right – what a jerk? What a backslider! If he keeps that up he’ll die some day! He’ll never get it right!” This is so easy for me to say because I’m a judger. I’ve never smoked dope. I’ve never done bad stuff like he did. I’m way better than he is. Yet in spite of my tendency to condemn and judge we all know what God thinks about this young man’s relapse; “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write those words for my young friend who relapsed. The Living Word of God reaches out across thousands of years and thousands of miles to all of us who fall down and do ‘bad’ things. Paul was describing the spiritual economic facts of life in a fallen world – wages paid out for services rendered be it death or redemption. Judgement doesn’t enter into the calculations on this side of eternity. To all those who would condemn and judge, Jesus said, ‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone’ (John 8:7). We can ask King David (2 Samuel 12:9) and we can ask Peter (Matthew 26:75) what it means to fall down. We can ask the thief on his cross beside Jesus on His cross what it feels like to be condemned by a world of judgers like me while being embraced by His love (Luke 23:43).
The road to holiness isn’t smooth, broad and wide. The road to holiness is narrow, rough and filled with slips, relapses and tears of repentance. It is marked by cut and bleeding feet, bruised knees and brokenness. The people who walk it are often outcasts, rejects and unclean. What of those who die on it – who really die on it? Do we say they didn’t make it? Do we say they were not good enough? Do we say that they tried to carry their cross but didn’t make it? Jesus said; “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) What does that mean? The ultimate denial of self is the realisation of your true spiritual condition – that you can’t make it on your own. Jesus will always have to close the gap between you and God! The self-righteous, no matter how good they are (or pretend to be) cannot walk the narrow way to brokenness.
A few days ago my wife and I went to the hospital to visit another young man and his family. The young man was a close friend of my son’s. They started rehab together. I spent a lot of time with him as well. There he lay comatose in intensive care. My son had gone ahead and was comforting his mom and siblings when we arrived. We went into pray over the young man. I placed my hand on the side of his head and quietly prayed by his ear. In my mind’s eye I could see my son overlain on this young fellow’s face. But for a few different choices, it could have been my son laying there! They were such good friends. He had just gotten out of prison some weeks earlier. Emotions of compassion for him, his mother and family swept over me. For a brief moment my love for my son and for this young man were indistinguishable. Is this, in a small way a taste of how God loves us? He sees us through His love for His own Son. And He embraces us.
I don’t know what recent events transpired to bring this young man to be lying comatose in intensive care. I know that he had a disease called addiction that he struggled with it on a daily basis. He was a slave to drugs because of his fallen condition. I know that he loved Jesus and accepted Him. He struggled to follow Jesus but his addiction kept dragging at him. Some would say he didn’t make it far down the road to holiness. He made it far enough to know that he was a sinner and he admitted it. Like Paul, he often failed; “ For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19) As best he could, he repented of his actions and attitudes. He knew he had no hope of ‘being good’ on his own. He had no righteousness of his own so he clung to Jesus. Not having gone down the holiness path any great distance he left a wake of wreckage behind him. Limping, shamed and in filthy rags he finally collapsed alone and broken, broken, broken.
When he was in recovery this young man read the Bible and as best he could lived out the promises in scripture. He loved his friends and shared his faith at every opportunity. After my experience in the intensive care unit, seeing my son even ever so briefly in his place how can I judge the boy – I can only love him and call out to Jesus for mercy. He made some really bad mistakes because of his disease and the world may yet pay him his wages of death in full. The world has judged and condemned him – just another junkie.
Addiction like any other disease can kill. We can only keep a vigil and support his family as we wait for the outcome. I believe that Jesus covered his debt in full – full knowing him and all his shortcomings. Like the repentant thief dying on his cross because of his ‘lifestyle choices’ we cannot know what conversation this young man had with Jesus just prior to his coma. I believe my son’s friend will claim his gift from God – soon or later. The bottom line is that it’s in God’s hands.
Jesus made this promise; “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live . . .”
Praise the Lord!