The other day as I was driving home from work, heading east on 98th street in Bloomington, I noticed a police officer clocking traffic. Well, I hadn’t been paying close attention to my speed and when I looked down I noticed I was doing close to 50mph. That would have been fine, had the speed limit not been 35. Well, I thought for sure I was going to get stopped, and indeed I did. The officer came up to my car, asked for license and registration, asked if I knew why I had been stopped and I said “yes.” To which he responded, “so why did I stop you then.” “Because I was speeding,” I answered. Well, to make a long story a little shorter, he said he was going to take my license back to the car to “close it out.” I fully anticipated getting a ticket which I knew would be deserved. I wasn’t intentionally speeding, but I knew that was a lousy excuse so I didn’t even try it. Well, moments later the officer came back and said, “well, it looks like you’ve got a clean record and I’d like to help you keep it that way so just pay closer attention to your speed because this is a residential street, ok?” I was pleasantly surprised, thanked the kind officer, and went on my way home.
As I reflected on the mercy shown to me by the officer, I couldn’t help relate it to the mercy we’ve been shown by God in Christ. Though we continually break God’s law – though we continually do things we shouldn’t and forget to do things we should, He has given us a “clean record” through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In fact, as I reflected more, I realized that even in terms of my traffic record, it may be technically clean, but I guarantee there are plenty of other violations I’ve commited – some I’m aware of, some I’m not – that I’ve never been caught for. Regardless, in those instances I’m still guilty of breaking the law. It’s the same way with sin. There are plenty of times I’ve sinned without even knowing it, or times that I’ve sinned where it was only known to me (and God, of course) The reality is, those times are still sin. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds us that even if we haven’t committed physcial acts of murder and adultery, we’re still guilty of committing those sins by our very thoughts. The bottom line is, we have lives that are tainted with sin through and through. We’re told that if we break the law at just one point, we’re guilty of breaking it all. Not a very pleasant picture. When I think of sin in those terms, it’s very convicting and left there, could even be very oppressive and depressing. But you see, that’s why the Gospel quite literally is the “good news” because as Paul writes in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Even though we have sinned against a Holy God; even though – try as we may – we can’t perfect our lives (see Romans 7 for more on the battle against our sinful nature), God has promised forgiveness and everlasting life to those who trust in the shed blood of Christ for their redemption. As I’ve discussed here and elsewhere, this doesn’t absolve us from doing good thigns or trying our best. Rather, what Christ has done for us transforms us and reshapes us to fall more in line with God’s will. And it’s not about coercion, it’s a natural byproduct; it starts happening more and more naturally – not perfectly – but more naturally. It’s what we call the process of sanctification. At the end of the day though, what it’s really about is that our salvation depends not on how much we do or don’t do or how hard we try; at the end of the day our salvation depends wholly on Christ’s perfect sacrifice for us. So I don’t know about you, but as much of a relief as it was to get a pardon for my speeding violation, the comfort I have knowing that all my sins before a righteous God have been pardoned in Christ is a relief that’s infinitely sweeter. Thanks be to God for His mercy, love, and grace showing in Christ! And thanks again to that police officer in Bloomington, MN for showing me grace in a tangible way.