A Story of New Life at Christmas

This is an excerpt from “We are the Beloved,” by Ken Blanchard.

In 1985 I’d met Bob Buford at some events where Margie (Ken’s wife) and I had been asked to speak, so I knew of his commitment to a personal ministry to help the ministers of large churches and be a special coach for many business leaders.

On the way to a conference in Mexico City we saw the Bufords between flights, and on the plane, Bob’s seat was across the aisle from mine. Earlier in the day I had found tucked away among the bills in my wallet a little booklet about the spiritual laws of Christianity.  I don’t recall putting it there but there it was!

So I said to Bob, “Maybe this means we should talk about Christianity. I have a few questions I’d like to ask you.”

“I’ll do my best, Ken,” Bob said. But remember, I’m only a layman.”

There in the sky we started going over the booklet together. The first spiritual law stated:  God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.

I could buy that one, but the second law was where my questions started. It contends we are all sinners. From my standpoint, the concept of original sin was too negative. I’d always thought that people should be considered to have “original potentiality.” That is, as human beings we have the potential to be good or bad.

When I asked Bob about original sin, he said, “Let me ask you a question, Ken.  Do you think you’re as good as God?”

“Of course not,” I said. “The concept of God has to do with perfection.”

“Okay. On a scale of 1 to 100, let’s give God 100.  We’ll give Mother Theresa 90, and an ax murderer 5. Ken, you’re a decent sort and are trying to help others.  I’ll give you 75. Now, the special thing about Christianity is that God sent Jesus to make up the difference between you and 100.”

That appealed to me. I’d never heard Christianity explained that way.

“Now, a lot of people don’t like the fact that the ax murderer gets the same shot as Mother Teresa,” Bob said, “but that’s what grace is. It’s not about deeds. If you accept Jesus as your Savior, no matter what your past has been, he rids you of your sins and brings you closer to 100.”

For the rest of the flight I peppered Bob with questions.  As we deplaned in Mexico City, Bob said, “I’ve got a friend that can answer your questions much better than I can.  His name is Bill Hybels . . . he’s speaking at this conference.”

Bill Hybels and I had lunch, and he later described our conversation in his inspirational book “Seven Wonders of the Spiritual world.” I led off with the same question I’d asked Bob: “Why original sin? It’s too negative.”

Bill said, “Ken, let me explain the difference between Christianity and religion. Religion is spelled d-o. That means there are all kinds of things you must do to receive the Lord’s grace.  Religion stresses what you need to do to deserve God’s favor. What new leaf can you turn over? What new commitment can you make to get yourself right with God? The problem with religion and the ‘do’ philosophy is that most people quit because they never know when enough is enough. Suppose you do 2,500 good things in your life, and then you get to judgment day and the Lord says, ‘Not bad but you needed to do 3,000?'”

Bill went on. “Christianity is spelled d-o-n-e,” he said. “The Lord sent Jesus to earth to take care of it. You can’t perform well enough or do enough good things to get into heaven. The only entry is by admitting you are a sinner (that is, falling short of a 100 in Bob Buford’s terms) and accepting Jesus as your Savior.  He is the only one who can cleanse your past.  You cannot do it yourself.”

Bill talked about a personal relationship with Christ, which I’d not experienced even in the days I was active in church. “Not only can He save you, He can become your guide and your friend. He can energize your life and transform it,” Bill said.

The simplicity of Bill’s explanation hit me. I had attended church for years but had never heard the message of grace with such clarity and power. All my misgivings about original sin fell away. I wasn’t a bad person; I just fell short of God’s perfection and only by accepting Jesus as my savior could I be given grace. Then I could reach 100 and be right with the Lord through God’s forgiveness of my imperfections.

When I asked Bill how I could accept grace, he said, “All you have to do is bow your head and say, ‘Lord, I can’t save myself. I am a sinner. I accept Jesus Christ as my Savior and bridge between me and you. From this day forward, I turn my life over to him.”

While I was excited, I was reluctant to jump in, and Bill could sense it. I told him I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to follow through.

Bill took out a pen and wrote the words “commit” and “follow through” on a paper napkin. He said, “Please don’t ever use those two terms. Becoming a Christian is not committing and it’s not following through. God knows you can’t keep your commitment. God knows you can’t follow through.  Christianity is a matter of two different words: receive and trust. Romans 6:23 says, ‘For the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.'”

Bill said to me, “What is a gift?”

I said, “Something you receive.”

“That’s right,” he said. “Salvation, regeneration, newness of life, and forgiveness of sin are things that can only be received. And once you receive grace, once you receive forgiveness, you’ve got them.  Your next step is to trust God and say, ‘I don’t know what all this means, and I don’t know where I am going, but I am going to trust you each step of the way and see what happens.'”

It’s hard for human beings to let go completely. We think we can figure out everything for ourselves.  I kept on thinking about what Bob and Bill had said but it wasn’t until a year later that I acknowledged I was seriously ready to “suit up.”