For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. – Hebrews 10:14
Sometimes I am two people. Johnny is the nice one. Cash causes all the trouble. They fight.
Have you ever heard of Johnny Cash? I’m sure you have. At the height of his career, Cash was the biggest selling recording artist on the planet, with a notoriety to match. In the middle of America’s Bible belt, he took up with another woman, June Carter, also a recording artist, and eventually divorced his wife so he could marry her (June was also divorced). As well as his great music, Johnny was also famous for his irreverence. He loved to wind up sanctimonious media-types who insisted on setting the moral standard of the day. He swore frequently, and told things as they were.
He became really famous when he played to inmates at some of America’s maximum security gaols, and although tense occasions, he managed to get away with it – they were eating from his hand by the end of each concert. People everywhere, especially the oppressed, loved Johnny. Johnny Cash, Live at Folsom, is one of the best selling live albums to this day.
Cash’s life though was marred by much unhappiness. He was addicted to illicit drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol and tobacco, often all at once. For much of the time, his life was a mess. It was only because of his wife, that he eventually managed to clean himself up. Perhaps that’s why he felt so comfortable in a prison. The addictions, the broken relationships were the cause of much pain, and at the end of his life he recorded a beautiful song, ‘Hurt.’ If you ever get a chance, listen to it.
But here’s something else you may not know about him. In the late 70’s, Johnny Cash became even more irreverent when he stood on a podium with Billy Graham and told of his devotion to Jesus Christ. Few people ever realised that Cash was a believer. Along the way, thanks again to his wife June Carter, the seeds of God’s love were sown into his life and he found faith in the only person who could rescue him, Jesus Christ.
Recently I watched a documentary of his life, and towards the end of it, in one of his last interviews shortly after the death of his wife, he said; “I’ve finally realised that God has forgiven me, and so I’ve had to come to terms with forgiving myself.” Johnny Cash died within 4 months of June’s passing, unable to live without her. To his death, he testified to the saving grace of Jesus.
Many reading this today, will struggle with the same thing asking, has God really forgiven me? This could be the most crucial blog I ever write. We simply struggle to see how God could possibly love us and wipe the slate clean. We know we sin each and every day and offend our Father in some way. It is devastating.
When we talk to people about Christ, conservatively 8 out of 10 people believe they are good enough to meet God. Where did that notion come from? Simply I think, decades or centuries of wrong teaching about sin. It is alarming that so many believers refuse to talk of ‘Sin’ when they share the Gospel, preferring only to speak of God’s love. You cannot speak of his love, without talking of our sin. The Gospel without sin, is no gospel at all.
But I can say without doubt that there is a sense of relief amongst people when we share with them the fact they are grave sinners in God’s eyes. A quick review of the 10 commandments has most running for cover; or the new iPhone app that records the worst 5 minutes of your life in full video, and which will be played before a Holy God when we stand before him. Think you’re still good enough? We smile when we see the reaction.
When we begin to grasp the extent of our sin, we can begin to grasp the extent of God’s grace at the cost of his Son, and so the huge extent of his love begins to dawn on us. It seems staggering he has forgiven me.
This passage in Hebrews tells us that grace through his Son has made us Holy, perfect in his eyes. It says we are completely and totally forgiven. As if to emphasise the point Jesus told his disciples they were now his friends – friends of God; nobody is a friend of God unless they are first made pure, Holy.
But this verse also tells us we are being made perfect, like the Son. One day when we see him John tells us, we shall be like him, perfect, sinless. I suspect we will always know where our salvation comes from, and it will keep us humble. In the meantime, like Johnny Cash, our loving Father continues to shape us and perfect us.
Explaining this to people is the source of more relief in people’s lives (including believers) than most anything else. To finally come face to face with who we are, and the fact that we are not alone and don’t have to carry the burden of our failure is life changing to all who experience it. God has saved me. To face our sin, to accept our vagrant state before God, is to find total release into his love, his forgiveness. The effort is all his, all we need do is sign up to his endless grace.
The next time you want to talk to someone of God’s love, make sure they understand that sin is important in that equation, else who needs a Saviour? Oh, and don’t forget to listen to that song by Johnny Cash, Hurt.
More than most he understood the devastation and consequence of sin, but also the transforming power of a God who loved him because of his Son, Jesus Christ. No more Hurt now though Johnny.