Every Tuesday, I get the joy of spending two hours at the local jail with women who want to learn about Jesus, helping them figure out how to do life again once they are released. It's a seven-week program. We talk with them about creating a resume, dressing for a job interview, finding safe housing, getting a bus pass, finding a rehab center – all the things they need for re-entry into the world.
But we also talk with them about Jesus in one way or another. Some weeks we share Him through our prayers and conversations. Other weeks it's through presenting the gospel to them in a way that hopefully makes sense. Because more than anything, we pray their lives will be changed. More than we want them to get good jobs, we want them to know how much they are loved, adored, cared for, and treasured by the Creator of the universe. We want them to know that their true freedom comes from Jesus.
One week after class, a few of us were chatting, and Sara (one of the women we'd met there) was sharing with us her plans for the next few years. After her release, she hoped to get into a certain program that would help her get back on her feet. She desperately wanted this to work, and I sensed she was actually hopeful for her future. She had been in jail before, been in rehab before, even been in the program before that she was now so eager to get into again.
But beyond hoping she was finally on the right track this time, she was wrestling with a much deeper question as well. Would God, when He looked at her – when she was on the outside – would He still see her crimes? Would He still expect her to pay time for her sins, the way she was doing now in jail?
Makes sense, doesn't it, why she would ask that. Why wouldn't the same principle that held her in jail translate into her future? Why wouldn't she need to keep paying for her sins until a holy God decided she'd paid enough?
She was certainly right about one thing. Our sins do need to be paid for. But not by us, we told her. That was done by Jesus on the cross. We need to believe in what He's done and stop trying to do the impossible ourselves. Because when we are followers of Jesus, the only thing God sees when He looks at us is the righteousness of Christ, not the guilt of our sins.
For a split second, I saw something in her eyes I hadn't seen before. A sigh of relief went almost visibly through her body. You could tell the gospel had clicked with her.
Freedom. Forgiveness. No more guilt and shame.
And even as we were explaining this to Sara, her reaction reminded me how I'd felt, too, in my early years of following Jesus. I'd known I was covered in His righteousness. I'd known I didn't deserve it and couldn't do anything to earn it. I'd known salvation was a free gift from God. But sometimes I wondered if I could be good enough to take away all the bad things I had done in my life.
Truly, Sara is just like us. As a follower of Jesus, she is free. Clean and forgiven. Righteous before God. When He looks at her, He doesn't see her past; He sees only the girl He loves because of what Jesus did over two thousand years ago.