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Nine-year-old Braun lived in a little village not far from London. Braun’s parents were agnostics, but they felt that at least once in his life, he ought to go to church. So they dressed him up in his little black suit and black bow tie and asked the governess to take him.

That Sunday, the parson preached about the crucifixion of a Man. He described the nails driven through the Man’s hands, the crown of thorns jammed upon His head, the blood that ran down His face, and the spear that ripped into His side. He described the agony in His eyes and the sorrow in His voice when He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Halfway through the sermon, little Braun was crying. Wouldn’t somebody do something? Wouldn’t the congregation rise up together and take the Man down from the cross? But as he looked around in astonished surprise, he saw that the people were complacent. “What’s the matter with these people, Nanny?” he asked. “Why doesn’t somebody do something about that Man on the cross?”

Patting Braun on the shoulder, his nanny nervously whispered in reply, “Braun, Braun, be quiet. It’s just a story. Don’t let it trouble you. Just listen quietly. You’ll soon forget about this old story when we go home.”

What is the story of the cross to you?

Is it just something you sometimes sing about? Something you occasionally mention in prayer? Something you hear glibly referred to in sermons? What difference does the cross make when you have feelings of condemnation and guilt? Does it enable you to cope with despair and discouragement?

Made to be sin

The cross leads us to a lesson of love too deep for our minds to fathom. In one of the most profound passages in the New Testament, Paul put it this way: “God made him who had no sin [Christ] to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

God made Christ to be sin for us. Did Jesus ever sin? Did He ever think an evil thought? Did He ever commit a selfish act? Certainly not. But “God made him . . . to be sin for us” (italics added). What does this mean? What are the deep lessons of the cross—those lessons that, once understood, will transform our thinking and change our entire beings?

Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” The curse of the law is death. When we sin, not only do we deserve the physical death that every individual experiences because of sin, but we also deserve eternal death. When Christ hung on the cross, He bore the cumulative guilt of the sins of the world. He was willing to go into the grave, experience the second death, and be separated from His Father forever—for us.

Salvation comes as we personally receive by faith Christ’s death on our behalf. Salvation is not something that we earn. It is not based on our works. The apostle Paul eagerly declared, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

Salvation is rooted in Christ’s death on the cross. He died the death that was ours. Accepting by faith His death on our behalf, we pass from death to life. We become His sons and His daughters. From that point on, the Father treats us as if we had never sinned. Scripture says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:9). Paul added, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1), and later, he wrote to the Ephesians, “He has made us accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6, NKJV).*

When we’re forgiven, our guilt is gone. Free from condemnation, we are God’s sons and daughters. And even if we stumble in our attempt to serve Him, He still regards us as His children. He doesn’t cast us off when we fail.

My adult son is just as much my son when he makes mistakes as when he doesn’t. Of course, he can choose to separate himself from the family. He has the perfect right to change his name. But unless he rashly chooses to sever his relationship with the family, he’ll always remain my son. He has the assurance that I won’t angrily dismiss him from the family simply because he has failed.

Our relationship to our heavenly Father is like that of my son and me. When, in our effort to live godly lives, we fail, God will no more cast us out than I would my son. And it is the realization of this forgiveness, this acceptance, that motivates us to live in obedience to Him.

Security in Christ

“But,” some may ask, “isn’t there a danger in becoming too secure in Christ? Isn’t it possible that some will conclude that God will accept and save them no matter what, and therefore they are free to live as they please? If we become too secure, won’t that remove our incentive to grow?”

One thing is certain: we’re not likely to grow as Christians if we have no security in Christ. On the other hand, when we realize what our security is based on, we’re not likely to take that security as a license to plunge headlong into sin. Any individual who uses God’s grace as license to sin does not understand grace.

When we come to Christ and are accepted by His unmerited mercy, when we receive His gracious forgiveness and realize that we are His children, we’re overwhelmed by love for Him. His love breaks our hardened hearts. It leads to repentance. He grants us new hearts (Ezekiel 36:26). He writes the principles of His law in both our hearts and our minds (Hebrews 8:10) and gives us His Spirit, who empowers us to obey (John 16:7; Romans 8:13). Secure in His grace as His sons and daughters, we desire to please Jesus. The chief desire of our lives is to do His will, as His desire was to do the Father’s will (Matthew 26:39; John 8:29). Duty becomes a delight, and sacrifice, a pleasure.

Let me repeat: Our spiritual security is not based on our behavior. We don’t gain security through doing good things. If our security were based on our accomplishments, we’d be constantly wondering whether we’d done enough. We’d always be asking, “At what stage am I safe?” Our security always comes from what Christ has done for us—the life He lived, the death He died. Once we understand and accept this security, Christ helps us to grow. As we surrender our will to Him, He begins in us the work of developing a character like His. And what He begins, He finishes; He is the “author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2, NKJV).

Each student in a school has different learning abilities and different problem-solving skills. But if they faithfully do the lessons the teacher assigns, in time they’ll graduate. Likewise, if I faithfully accept the lessons my heavenly Father assigns me, I will grow in knowledge and character, and He will see to it that I graduate.

God of the new start

So when I lose my temper and become angry, God still accepts me as His child. He simply invites me to repent and confess my sin. He’s willing to pick me up. He’s the God of the new start. He’s the God of the second chance—and the third chance and the fourth chance. Failure doesn’t make me any less dear to His heart.

Ellen White wrote these encouraging words: “If in our ignorance we make missteps, the Savior does not forsake us. . . . When sin struggles for the mastery in the heart, when guilt oppresses the soul and burdens the conscience, when unbelief clouds the mind, remember that Christ’s grace is sufficient to subdue sin and banish the darkness. Entering into communion with the Savior, we enter the region of peace.”

Are you suffering under a burden of guilt because you know that you’ve sinned? Do you long for forgiveness? Does your heart cry out for acceptance with God? Would you like to be His son or His daughter? Maybe you’re even a Christian, but you’ve failed, and now you feel extremely distant from God, separated from His love. He says to you, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28, 29).

Come to Him by faith, and kneel at the foot of the cross. In your imagination, see the nails driven through His hands. Behold the crown of thorns jammed upon His head and the blood running down His face. Look at the agony in His eyes. Look at the grief on His face. Listen to His suffering groans. Why does He suffer so? He is taking my place and yours. He is dying in our behalf. He, the perfect, righteous One, is dying for those who are unrighteous. Will His death for you be in vain?

Come to Him right now. Confess your sins. Believe that the burden of guilt is removed from your shoulders. Believe that the condemnation of sin passes from you to Him. Accept His grace. Believe that you are made whole. Believe that you are now His son, His daughter, a child of God, and that nothing—not even a demon from hell—can take you out of His hand.

He will never let you go. He will never take His hand from yours. Place your hand in the strong grip of His love, and walk on, confident that you are His child

* Scriptures quoted from NKJV are from the New King James Version®, copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

God of the Second Chance

by Mark Finley
From the March 2015 Signs