When I was a senior in high school I got the opportunity to travel to the Philippines with my church for a mission trip. We went around Easter time, which meant that there were going to be a lot of Easter rituals going on in this nation drenched in Catholicism. I wasn’t ready for what I saw.
In the middle of the city there was a road, about a mile long, that stretched from one end of the city to the other. As we were walking through some of the shopping areas we came to this road. And walking along the road were two men. They were shirtless, with bags on their heads covering their faces, and in their hands they had a cat of nine tails—a whip with nine strands. They were walking the mile-long road and with every step that they took, they would whip themselves.
When we arrived on the scene, their backs were raw flesh and their shorts were so drenched with blood they were dripping on the road as they walked. I was so amazed by what was happening that I got too close, and it wasn’t until later that I looked down at my shirt and noticed the crimson red splatter of blood. In their system of belief, they had to pay for the guilt of their sins by flogging themselves bloody.
They believed Jesus was the Son of God. They believed in his death. They believed in his resurrection. What they missed was the gospel. They didn’t believe that faith alone could justify them before God. They thought they still had to pay for their own sins.
Listen—if people had to pay for their own sins, we’d all be damned. If you had to pay for your sins, let me tell you it’d cost a whole lot more than the skin on your back. There’s only one way to pay for your own sins: go to hell for eternity. That’s how you pay for your sins. You can’t pay for your sins by flogging yourself. Penance doesn’t work.
The gospel of grace is the better option, right? We are justified by faith. Faith. Not works. Not penance. Not attempts at self-righteousness. Not money. Not status. Not being nice. Not being well-behaved. None of those things has every power to save. We are completely justified by faith. Not partially justified. Completely, utterly, absolutely, totally justified when we take Jesus as our Lord.