"He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
His blood availed for me."
Those familiar words are from the third verse of arguably one of Christendom’s most recognized hymns – "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing." The words were penned by Charles Wesley as a celebration of the first anniversary of his having accepted Christ as savior.
As I think back on the people and events I’ve experienced during my 46 years as a born again Christian, I wonder sometimes how many of us understand what it means that Jesus Christ “breaks the power of cancelled sin.” Do we see that He not only cancels sin, He can completely destroy its power over us. Charles Wesley understood. Before he was genuinely converted, he had a problem with alcohol. When Christ filled his heart, he found its power broken.
But the next line truly says it all: "His blood can make the foulest clean."
Do we believe that?
As a police beat reporter many years ago, one of the officers I knew discovered that my family once belonged to a conservative church he and his wife had visited. They were welcomed with open arms, friendly smiles and handshakes all around, he said. Until they found out he drove a beer truck. The warmth dissipated quickly. He and his wife watched the welcome mat disappear and the extended hands retreat. The effect was profound. That officer died a few years ago. To the best of my knowledge, he died in sin.
Then there was the elderly gentleman and his wife in my mother’s church. They were one of the finest couples I’ve ever met. Gentle and sincere, honest and loving. And, oh, how they loved Jesus. They were in this church because he discovered he was not welcome to do so much as take up the offering in a previous house of God. You see, before he was ever saved – many, many years ago – he had experienced divorce.
And then there was Jerry. I met Jerry during trade school training in the mid-70s. He struggled with his sexual identity and was preyed upon by those to whom he was both attracted and yet hated. He moved to another state and after visiting a church, became a born again Christian. He joined the church. Shortly thereafter, he committed suicide.
I could go on – just weeks ago a friend told me about a man in his church who complained loudly when the husband of a young couple filled in for a children’s Sunday School class teacher. The young man and his wife had been faithful for some time; they had proven themselves to have hearts for the Lord. But he dressed a little on the hip-hop side. And the day he taught the children, he had his hair in dreadlocks. What was he teaching the children, that father exclaimed.
The Bible instructs us to dress modestly and appropriately and futher tells us that men look on the outward appearance, that God looks on the heart (I Samuel 16:7). Was that not good enough for the father who was so concerned about his children?
It saddens me that we who have what the world most needs find exceptions to the rule of grace. In every generation, in every denomination, we find someone for whom the blood of Jesus is not enough; someone for whom the past becomes a stigma, someone for whom sin cannot be cancelled and its power cannot be broken.
Dear Lord, may I ever remember that my sin is as great as that of anyone standing next to me, for all my righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). May I ever remember that when Your loving arms were extended, they reached out to offer salvation from the guttermost to the uttermost. May I always remember that if your grace is sufficient for me, it is sufficient for the foulest who needs to be clean.
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