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Salvation in the soot of sin.
This article was originally written for Christ Hold Fast.
There you are. You did it again. You reached for that bottle and swilled away your sorrows. You looked at that image to feel a semblance of pleasure and power. You uttered those words, imposing your will on those perceived less than you. In the moment it felt good. It felt right. There was a justification for that drink, that picture, that threat. But now the moment has passed and whatever fulfillment you thought you would get did not come. The aftermath of sinful gain is anything but what is promised. There is no glitz, only ash. There is no fullness, only emptiness. There is no satisfaction, only soot.
Right about now, you might feel lower than dirt. And about as worthless too. You feel despicable. Like a no good, sorry excuse for a saint. In fact, you are probably feeling as though it is impossible that God could ever love you. How the heck could this be what Jesus died for? Have you ever thought that? Have you ever felt haunted by fear, shame, and guilt? Have you ever worried that Jesus could never love you anymore? I have. But such is the devil’s master plan. His entire scheme is beguiling us into doubting the certainty of grace. Satan is a master at taking our past sins and present failures to paint a sordid future. He wants you to feel useless, worthless. He wants nothing more than absolution to feel incomprehensible for you, especially after what you did.
But I think we forget just how scandalous God’s grace really is.
Whether you grew up in Sunday School your entire life and the worst thing on your résumé is covertly watching MTV against your parent’s wishes or swiping a pack of gum from the supermarket; or whether your life is racked with the scars of shooting heroin and selling your body for dollars, God’s grace is for you. Notwithstanding what you have done, what your past holds, God grace is his promise of “salvation to the uttermost,” of complete cleansing and full acceptance. Period. Full stop. No questions asked.
No soul is too vile for Jesus to cleanse . . . None are too empty for Jesus to fill . . . No sinner upon earth, no sinner on this side of hell, can be beyond his power to save. His salvation goes to the very uttermost extremity of human ruin . . . Though our sins be truly infinite in number; though they be more than the hairs of our head, or the sands on the sea-shore, or the drops of the ocean, or the leaves of the forest, or the stars of heaven, or all of these multiplied together, yet still this salvation goes infinitely above and beyond them all . . . infinitely beyond the farthest that man’s guilt has compassed, is the power of Jesus to save!
God knows who we are and dies for us anyway. (Rom 5:8) He knew what he was getting when he bought you with his blood. And he’s not frustrated with his investment now. He’s not shocked when you screw up. You’re a sinner, after all, and that’s what sinners do. Thankfully, God loves sinners. Dies for sinners. Saves sinners. Delights in rescuing sinners. (Ps 18:19) All the ghoulish, ghastly things in your heart — the filth you try to hide, the dark corners you pretend don’t exist when you come into church — Jesus died for all of them, taking them as his own. He exchanges all the soot and ash of our sin-ridden lives for the salvation and affection of his Father. (Is 61:1–7) All the regrets of yesterday and all the failures of tomorrow are engulfed in his all-consuming death.
God, help me to believe in your forgiveness for my filth. Help me to believe it is there for me. That there is salvation in the soot of my sin. That even in the ashes, you are gracious. Before the dust settles on my iniquity, you have absolved and absorbed it completely in your body on the tree. Help me to abide in your abiding love. Help me to believe, Lord. I believe. But help my unbelief.
Horatius Bonar, “No. 23—Salvation to the Uttermost,” Kelso Tracts (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1851), 3–5.