And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
My new favorite movie is True Grit. Not the old one with John Wayne in it; (that one was pretty terrible if you ask me…) the new one with Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. I’ve always loved a good western. When I was a kid my parents bought me 10 VHS tapes worth of westerns and I watched them almost everyday wearing my signature attire: cowboy boots with shorts and a Mickey Mouse t-shirt. That’s not really important to this post; I just wanted you to know how cool I was as a kid.
True Grit took the place of Gladiator as my favorite movie for a few reasons, but one of those is definitely the Gospel threads that make up the fabric of the story. There is one scene in particular that I want to highlight. The young and bold Mattie Ross finds herself captured by an outlaw deep in the Texas wilderness while pursuing her father’s killer. She begins a curious conversation with the outlaw, Lucky Ned Pepper, around a campfire in which they make an intriguing connection.
After a brief exchange of straight-talk, Mattie extends an offering to the outlaw, “Do you need a good lawyer?”
The heavy-laden fugitive quickly replied, “I need a good judge.”
That line struck me from the first time I heard it. Ned Pepper knew he stood so condemned because of his lawless actions that no lawyer on the earth could defend his case. His only hope for freedom would be in a judge that would look over his transgressions and pardon him.
As I watched this scene I was reminded of condemnation due me before I trusted in the finished work of Christ on the cross. This is the state of separation from God that we are all born into.
Romans 3:23 tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Just ONE of our sins is enough to condemn us fully. David Platt states it clearly, ”The measure of sin is determined by the magnitude of the One who is sinned against.” We have sinned against the Creator of the universe, the Rock of Ages, the Lion of Judah, the King of Kings—the penalty is death.
Ministers: every person you encounter will fall into one of two categories. Either they have trusted in the Christ to be their righteousness, and are, thus, acquitted before God, or they are guilty of charges that no lawyer (or minister) could ever build a case against. My encouragement to you is to avoid playing the role of lawyer for sinners. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to clean up their exteriors so they will look presentable.
1 Samuel 16:7 says, …For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
We cannot allow our churches to become centers for behavior modification. Many youth ministers and parents in America seem to take this approach to ministry. Just as a lawyer would attempt to dress up their defendants and coach them on the words to say, many youth ministers attempt the same with their students.
There’s a problem with this approach. It is by FAITH that we are saved, not by our WORKS. Faith is the anti-work. There is nothing the guilty can DO to be made right before a Righteous Judge.
Thankfully, our God is both the Just and the Justifier. We are guilty and sentenced to death, yet the Father sacrificed his Son in our place. John 3:17-18 says,
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Allow sinners to see their depravity. Only when we feel the weight of our sin can we fully experience the joy of our pardon. I pray that people in your ministry come face-to-face with the price of their rebellion and then lift their eyes to see a Savior who has already paid their debt!
Brothers and sisters, don’t be afraid to preach the full Gospel, in all its power. Trust in the power of the Gospel enough to allow the Word to do the work. Scripture is filled beautiful stories of redemption, yet so many of our churches have drained the Word of its power by focusing on the “do’s” and “don’ts” of the Law without preaching about the One who fulfilled the Law. John Stott says that the Law points us to Christ to be justified and Christ points us back to the Law to be sanctified. This process cannot be reversed.
Finally, rest in the knowledge that the lost don’t need a good lawyer, they need a good judge. As ministers of the Gospel we are simply called to lead others to the only Righteous Judge and plead to Him on their behalf.
One thing I love about working with youth ministers at Student Life is seeing the passion they have for their student’s spiritual lives. Unfortunately, I have also seen youth ministers crumble under the weight of this responsibility. Certainly, there is great responsibility with this position, but know that ultimately the salvation of souls is the work of the Lord.
True Grit begins and ends with a beautiful rendition of the hymn, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”. Only because our God is the Just and the Justifier, we can trust Him fully. We can lean on His everlasting Arms.