Last Christmas my wife and I bought our eight-year-old girl a bike. She was ecstatic. Imagine, however, an alternate universe in which she runs downstairs Christmas morning and shreds through presents, pleading, “Daddy, where’s my bike?” “Right in front of you, darlin,” I reply, pointing to the red-bowed Huffy next to the tree. Glancing past it, she repeats her plea, “Where’s my bike?” “Uh, right here,” I say, lifting her onto the seat. “That’s great dad, but can I have my bike now? Pushing her down the driveway on her new wheels, she yells over her shoulder, “Daddy, can I pretty please have a bike for Christmas?” As a dad, I’d be thinking, “Stop asking over-and-over for a gift that you already have. I’ve already paid full price for it. It’s all yours. Quit asking for it and start enjoying it!”
I had become this alternate universe eight-year-old over the years, especially in the way I would ask God for forgiveness. I would ask God to forgive a sin, then ask again, and again, and all for a gift that was right in front of me to enjoy. Asking for forgiveness is, of course, biblical and essential. My asking, however, had become a kind of twisted penance system. In a penance system you must perform a prescribed religious ritual to effectively merit God’s forgiveness. The hopeless logic of penance says, “Maybe if I say sorry enough, I will eventually compensate for my moral blunders.” My fixation was on myself, not Christ. It was more about relieving my own subjective guilt-feelings by my performance than celebrating Christ and His resolution of my objective guilt problem by His performance. The obsessive asking of Thad-o-centric penance left little room for the authentic enjoying of Christ-o-centric prayer.
The scriptures slowly shifted my focus back to Christ. If you’ve ever gotten too caught up asking to start enjoying, then I encourage you to focus your prayers on specific biblical images of Jesus and the forgiveness that He WRAPS for us to discover and enjoy anew each morning. Here are five penance-busting, joy-elevating, biblical images of Jesus. He is our…
…Wrath-Taker: In 1 John 2:2 we see Jesus as our “propitiation.” Related to the ancient Jewish world of temple sacrifices, the core meaning of propitiation speaks of Christ as one who bears the lethal brunt of divine justice on our behalf.
…Redeemer: In Ephesians 1:7 we meet Jesus as our “redemption.” Related to the ancient world of slave trading, Christ paid full price to purchase freedom from sin for slaves (like us) who are utterly incapable of self-liberation.
…Attorney: 1 John 2:1 describes Jesus with a term used in first century courtrooms for an “advocate” or defense attorney. Jesus passionately argues for our justification—our ‘not guilty’ verdict—before His Father. And His case is irrefutable, because His clinching argument is His own completed death sentence as sufficient, final payment for our law breaking.
…Peacemaker: 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 reveals Jesus as our “reconciliation.” This image from the ancient social milieu, captures a sense of relational peace where there used to be war. Christ mends the relational rift between a just God and law-breaking rebels like us, creating a deep love connection where there was once a vast disconnect.
…Substitute. Drawing from the Hebrew sacrificial system, 2 Corinthians 5:21 speaks of the substitionary work of Jesus so that “in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Not only did our sin become His, but His perfection becomes our perfection, His reward becomes our reward, His confident standing before the Father becomes our confident standing before the Father.
Unwrap these presents with the wide-eyed wonder of an eight-year-old every day. Take a breather from the daily mayhem to prayerfully personalize those five biblical images of who Christ is for you. May our asking for forgiveness lead us into actually enjoying forgiveness, paid in full and made ours by Christ—our great Wrath-Taker, Redeemer, Attorney, Peacemaker, and Substitute.
Dr. Thaddeus Williams teaches Theology I and II at Biola University. You can access more of his resources and a free digital copy of his latest book, The Exchange (AIMBooks, 2012) at www.rereform.com.