Several years ago, I was asked a very good question from one of the students in our teen ministry. He was wrestling with the behavior and consequences a friend faced and trying to make sense of it all according to what he understood from the Bible. His friend was involved in some truly immoral stuff — making decisions what were not only hurting his family, but his friends (including the one asking the question). In the midst of all this, the wayward young man was completely rejecting God and any semblance of a godly lifestyle.
The young man before me was hurting. But he also was positive that our God was a forgiving God. As the situation began to now bubble over, he asked about God’s love and forgiveness for such a person. Why does God find sin so unacceptable — why wrath? And why doesn’t Jesus’ sacrifice cover people like his grace-rejecting friend?
I really had to pray before answering. I knew the truth — but I needed a way to communicate it to this young man so he could not only understand it, but so that it would guide him and others like him in the future when faced with similar circumstances. The illustration the Spirit gave me that afternoon is something I have used many times since. As with all illustrations, it’s imperfect; however, I believe it gives us a brief glimpse into the heart of our God on matters like this.
The word “Holy” is an important word. I’ve found that most Christians really do not understand its meaning well. “Holy,” as translated from the biblical languages, means “set apart.” It refers to people and things that God has reserved for his special purposes. God’s people are called to be holy (1 Peter 1:16) — to be set apart for his special purposes.
We don’t use the word holy much today — at least not outside of religious references. But I assured my young student that day that he, like God, lived his life holding certain things in authentic holiness. He looked at me funny as I explained.
“I assume you brush your teeth every day?” I asked.
“Morning and night.” He replied with a quizzical expression.
“How often do you change your toothbrush?” I inquired.
“Every time I go to the dentist.” He offered.
“Your toothbrush is holy to you.” I noted. He immediately laughed in apparent unbelief. “I’ll prove it to you. What would you do if I came to your house this afternoon and took your toothbrush from its place in the bathroom and then proceeded to use it to scrub the bathroom and kitchen floors? What if I then used it to clean your toilet?”
At this point he reacted, “That’s totally gross!”
“What?” I asked, “I will give it back to you in time to brush your teeth tonight.”
“No way! I wouldn’t touch it after you used it for cleaning the toilet — I certainly wouldn’t use it to brush my teeth ever again!”
“So, in some small way, you feel about your toothbrush how God feels about his prize creation of mankind. He designed and created us as special. We are the only part of creation that is made in the image and likeness of God — the Creator. God has had special plans for humanity from the very beginning — plans to rule with him over all creation for all time. He could relate to us in a way nothing else in creation could copy.”
I could see he was beginning to understand. “When humanity chooses to step outside of God’s intended (and beautiful) design and use ourselves for things God finds sinful and offensive, we take that special beauty and calling and defile it — much like I would defile the toothbrush if I used it for a purpose for which you find offensive.” The lightbulb clearly went on.
My young friend noted that he would never use the toothbrush to brush his teeth again if I cleaned the toilet with it. I expect you and I feel the same way. This, in an admittedly limited way, is how God feels about mankind after sin. He loves us (just as we may have a “favorite toothbrush”), but cannot stand to allow us back into his intended relationship and purpose. We’re defiled. We’re grotesque. We’re vile. This is the bad news.
The good news is that God decided (and he didn’t have to do this!) to make a way to restore us. This is not like cleansing us with scalding hot water and then soaking us in Listerine for a week. No, this is employing his incredible majesty and power to actually make us brand new again. (2 Corinthians 5:17). He doesn’t just make us clean. He makes us new! (2 Cor 5:21)
Worldly people hate the exclusivity of God’s way of redemption (John 14:6-7). I cannot tell you how many times someone has in some way remarked that if God were truly loving, he would not make Jesus’ the only way of salvation. Just this week I heard someone call this fact “so unfair.” But it’s not. I can’t speak for you, but if my toothbrush was defiled, I would not redeem it — I’d through it out and replace it. Our illustration breaks down a bit here — but this would be akin to toothbrush hell, cast away from our presence forever in “fire and landfill.” God has never been under ANY obligation to save humanity. I believe our revulsion of a defiled toothbrush is likely minuscule in comparison to what God experiences as he sees the defilement of the crown of creation — us. He didn’t have to do anything on our behalf. That makes Jesus’ sacrifice even more incredible!
When someone like this teen’s friend openly rejects God’s offer for forgiveness and restoration — for being made new again in Christ — It’s a second affront to God. God gave the life of his Son, Jesus, in order to eradicate our defilement. Sin is an inconceivable defilement requiring an inconceivable solution. Such defilement, if not reversed, must be ultimately removed from God’s presence and his creation through the unyielding incineration of God’s wrath (Hebrews 12:29; Revelation 12:20; 20:10, 14-15). Jesus’ sacrifice is indeed enough to restore any human being back to holiness before God, but only if God’s offer for sin’s eradication is accepted. That’s the way of it. Humanity chose defilement. We must now choose restoration in Christ.
My young friend was quiet for a long time. In another similar conversation some weeks later, he would even weep for his friend. I never learned how this particular story ended, but I do know that this student’s passion for sharing Christ increased that day.
We aren’t toothbrushes, thrown away when we become old, used or defiled. We are worth the life of God’s only native Son, Jesus. We are special. We are loved. We are redeemable. God’s love transcends his wrath for us — but the choice is still ours.
What is your decision?