Joe Delaney was a star running back for the Kansas City Chiefs back in the 1980s. On a summer outing in his native Louisiana, Joe suddenly turned his head when he heard shouts from a nearby construction site. Three young boys had been playing in the area and decided to jump into a pool of water formed by a recent downpour. Unknown to them, the pool turned out to be twenty feet deep and they were crying out for help. Hustling over, Joe reacted instinctively by jumping into the pool to save them. To stand on the bank would be unthinkable to him. The problem? He didn’t know how to swim very well. Somehow, his efforts allowed one of the boys to be rescued. But not Joe. In the attempt to save the lives of three children, he lost his own.
I can’t imagine the grief that befell this small community. They had lost their hero. And his mother? Though proud of his son’s heroic act, I’m sure she was devastated by his sudden death.
Let’s say that several months later, the father of the young boy who was saved by Joe’s heroic act was deeply troubled by the conflicting emotions of guilt and gratitude. Not knowing what to do, he may have sought out Joe’s mother and asked if there is anything he could do to help ease his conscience. A great cost was given to save his son’s life. Could he ever repay the debt? What could this man do that could ever come close to adequately satisfy her loss?
Sensing his anguish, Joe’s mother could have told him, “Honestly, sir, you can never pay me back for my loss—and that is something I have to live with. And that is something you will have to live with, too. Instead of being burdened by guilt that you owe me a debt, perhaps you can think of this as an opportunity to live with thanksgiving from a sacrifice that was already given. Your son’s life was worth saving, not because of what he did but who he is—a precious young soul more valuable than any treasure on earth. Out of appreciation for what my son, Joe, did for him, tell him to live out his life full of the grace and mercy that my son displayed. In doing so, you are thanking me—and my son.”
I can picture this exchange in an attempt to describe God’s forgiveness and mercy. Our response to forgiveness typically depends on how much was forgiven. In the father’s case, he knew full well the sacrifice that was given in exchange for his son. He knew the consequences if the rescue had not taken place. This was intensely personal for him.
And so is the case with our eternal life. It’s intensely personal. Christ rescued us from eternal torment and it cost His life. Our response is to not be burdened by guilt, nor pay Him back as a debt we owe—but to live out our lives with thanksgiving and gratitude for what has already been done on our behalf. The sacrifice has already been made and no other sacrifice is needed. Faith miraculously receives the full benefit of Christ’s completed work on the cross. Faith is what God desires and our life of thanksgiving is the appropriate response that God truly seeks. Our motivation to do good works is what honors God. Doing anything else in order to earn God’s favor would dishonor the sacrifice Christ has already given.
Dave Malnes is with Truth in Love Ministry based in Idaho and coordinator of the beyeperfect.org campaign launched in Provo last summer. He authors the blog witnesswell.net.