It Only Takes One Mistake

Bad choices – even a single bad choice – can lead to death and destruction.

Recently, a coworker and friend was sentenced to several years in prison for killing a man in a drunk-driving accident.

Brian (not his real name) left work a little after 10:30 one night a few days before Christmas, and stopped by a bar for a few beers and a few games of pool. After having more than just a few beers, he got in his car to go home. On the way, he hit another car, pushing it into oncoming traffic. The driver of the car he hit died; Brian nearly died as well.

Brian had no criminal history prior to this incident. He’s a quiet, laid back, hard-working guy in his late twenties. The closest he’d ever come to a brush with the law was a ticket for an expired tag on his license plate. Because he made one mistake – one very bad decision – a man is dead, and a family has been shattered by the loss of a husband and father. Brian’s life has been ruined as well, and his own family has been devastated.

As much as I grieve for the victim and his family, I was hoping the judge would go easy on Brian. After all, he’s a good guy, with a nearly perfect driving record up until the accident. He made a single bad decision. He’s apologized, and is truly sorry for the mistake he made. Surely, the judge could take into consideration all the good Brian has done in his life, and let him off easy.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that for the judge to go easy on Brian, maybe giving him probation and community service, would be unjust. Brian’s actions that night cost a man his life. Brian’s one bad choice overrides all of the good he had done in his life; he deserved the sentence he received. Justice demanded that the judge send Brian to prison.

The more I’ve thought about it, the more I realize, it’s much the same with us and God.

Most people do more good stuff than bad. Most of us wouldn’t intentionally hurt someone else. We do a lot of good things for other people. Sure, we make mistakes, but we do a lot more good than bad. And, most of us haven’t killed anyone. Surely, when we die, and face God for judgement, a loving God will look at the good and the bad, and the good will outweigh the bad, and He will let us into Heaven, especially if we’re really sorry and apologize.

Really?

Much like in Brian’s case, one bad choice makes all the difference.

God is not only loving; He is also holy and just. God’s holiness demands that the standard for goodness is perfection. And, God’s perfect justice demands punishment for anything short of perfection. As it says in James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all.” A single sin condemns a person to an eternity separated from God.

Many of my readers are probably thinking, “But that’s not fair! How can a single sin outweigh a lifetime of good?”

How can Brian’s one bad choice outweigh all the good things he has done?

Doing good things does not erase the bad things we do. Apologizing, feeling remorse, and promising not to sin again does not erase the guilt. No matter how many good things I’ve done in my life, I still deserve to be punished for the things I am guilty of. And,it’s not just one thing I’ve done wrong; over the course of my life, I’ve done thousands of things wrong, maybe even millions.

Also, it’s not just other people I’ve sinned against; it’s God Himself, my Creator, that I’ve offended. It’s one thing to sin against another person; it’s quite another to sin against God.

Here’s an analogy: If I shove a random stranger on the street, I could be charged with a misdemeanor assault charge. However, if I shove a police officer, I’ve now committed a felony. Why the difference? It’s due to the police officer’s position of authority over me. It is a greater offense to shove a police officer, because the officer has been placed in a position of authority. And, the greater the authority, the greater the offense. Shoving an everyday citizen is a misdemeanor, and shoving a police officer is a felony. And, if I were to shove the President of the United States, the penalty would be much greater than for shoving a police officer, because the President’s authority is much greater.

When I sin against God, I am guilty of committing an offense against an infinite authority. A single offense outweighs all the good stuff I’ve done for God, because God is infinitely just and infinitely holy. And, I’ve committed a lot more than one offense. Therefore, the penalty is an infinite penalty – eternal damnation.

Thankfully, in addition to being infinitely holy and infinitely just, God is also infinitely loving. God’s justice demands payment for sin. In His infinite love, God has provided an alternative to paying for sin ourselves – He has given us Jesus Christ.

Each of us is guilty of rebellion against God. Each of us has violated the perfect standard required by the perfect God, Who stands in infinite authority over us. Yet, because He loves us infinitely, God has given us his only Son, Jesus Christ, as a substitute. Jesus Christ has taken my sin upon Himself, and paid the penalty on my behalf. Because I have trusted Jesus Christ as my Savior, the penalty for my sin has already been paid. My guilt has been erased. God no longer holds me eternally responsible for the offenses I’ve committed against Him. It’s not because of anything good I’ve done to deserve God’s forgiveness, but in spite of the fact that I deserve nothing. Just as there is nothing my friend Brian can do to deserve being let off without punishment, there is nothing I can do to deserve God’s forgiveness. Yet, God offers forgiveness freely, through the blood of His precious Son, Jesus Christ. I have received God’s forgiveness, not because of anything good I’ve done, but simply because I chose to receive the Gift. God makes the same offer to everyone. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

A just judge could not simply set Brian free, and the family of his victim may never forgive him. However, God offers Brian – and every other person on earth – freedom and forgiveness. I pray that Brian seeks forgiveness from God through Jesus Christ. I pray that God uses this horrific tragedy to reach Brian with His love, mercy, and grace, and that Brian comes to know God in a personal and intimate manner through Jesus Christ. I also pray God’s peace and healing on the victim’s family, and that they would also come to know Jesus.

I also pray that if you, my reader, have not yet found forgiveness and mercy from God through Jesus Christ, that you would seek Him, and come to know Him in a personal, intimate way. It’s as simple as acknowledging before Him that you’ve sinned against Him, believing that Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, died to pay for your sin and take your sins from you, and receiving His forgiveness. You can then begin an incredible journey of getting to know the Creator of the universe, and of becoming more like Him.

It only takes one mistake to deserve Hell. It only takes one choice to receive forgiveness. Make that choice today.

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