desire to save me personally
By Timani Reynolds
I grew up in Eugene and attended a church that my extended family founded in 1955. It was a small church with sweet people, who loved God. We sang old hymns and gospel choruses. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t know that Jesus died for me. We attended Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday evening, and attended/helped in the preschool, vacation Bible schools, and summer camps.
In Sunday School, we learned about heroes of the faith and were told, “Be like David! Be like Abraham! Make God proud!” Somehow, we skipped over the sinfulness of these heroes and focused only on the ways they obeyed God — except for the occasional sinner who was struck down dead, just to make sure we knew the stakes. We talked a lot about our responsibility to show our friends and neighbors the joy that came from knowing Jesus and about how much better our lives were for having Him in our hearts. “You never know,” we were told, “you just might be the only face of Jesus they ever see.”
At summer camp, speakers would lament a former life of sin that knowing Christ had completely taken away. “I used drugs, but then I met Jesus and now I don’t want them anymore!” What I surmised was that salvation equaled perfection, a sinless, perfect life so attractive that everyone around you was compelled to ask what was different about you. There was only one problem. I was not perfect. I remember singing the familiar chorus He Paid a Debt:
He paid a debt He did not owe;
I owed a debt I could not pay;
I needed someone to wash my sins away.
As I would sing this song with my fellow congregants, I wondered if they knew that I still got angry with my brother. I often read my new library books instead of my Bible. I still disobeyed my parents. My debt was still there — and growing!
At school I tried to show everyone how joyful I was, even when I was lonely. I added perfect grades to my list of “must do’s for God.” By high school, the list of proving tasks had grown longer, and I failed over and over. Every night, I confessed more sins to God and asked Him to give me another chance. There were probably ways I’d sinned that I didn’t even remember. God, please forgive those too! Rinse and repeat.
When there was an altar call, I was there, rededicating my life to sinlessness and perfection, shamefully asking God to hit the “reset” button on my debt, and allow me to start over at zero. Then, deep breath, big smile, and back to school the next day I’d go to show everyone that I was winning with Jesus!
By the time I got to college, I felt a deep chasm separating me from the love of God. I was weary of the cycle of motivation, condemnation, and rededication. The long, long list of works that I believed I was accountable for — and the shame of my portion that nailed Jesus’ hands and feet to the cross — were growing by the day. I was depressed and hopeless, knowing how weary God must be with me. How many more resets until He would reach His limit? I wondered. Even when I wasn’t struggling with a particular sin, I felt guilty for all of the things I should be doing.
One weekend I was asked to lead worship for a conference at church. The speaker shook me to my core as he interpreted Romans 8:1-2: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
I grew angry with him. This man was leading people astray, telling them that they didn’t need to keep rededicating their lives to Christ! Didn’t he hear the verse he had just read? We have to walk perfectly in the Spirit of life to be in Christ. I was slipping in and out of Christ ALL THE TIME!
I went to argue with the speaker privately during a break, and he gently but firmly posed a thought: “You keep asking Jesus to get back up on the cross every time you sin. But how many times did Christ have to die before God considered the work accomplished?”
I was stunned. I still didn’t understand, but I meekly went back to my seat. That weekend I realized that I had been trying all of those years to find joy in a lifestyle, not in Christ Himself. Just as you don’t “try” to become a Christian, you can’t “try” to be a Christian. You either are or you aren’t!
All of those nights, I had been asking Jesus to die again for me — some nights were a multi-cross offense! But if His blood was pure and holy enough to die only once, that meant God knew fully who I was and will be and Jesus already paid the price for ALL of it. Past, present and future. His love for me was unconditional, not transactional. He was not ashamed of me. For the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross and scorned my shame, then sat down — because His work was finished — at the right hand of the Father.
Suddenly, things began to change in my day-to-day walk with the Lord. My feelings of duty and obligation toward reading my Bible transformed into a personal invitation from God, my kind Father, to know Him and understand His purposes. It was as if I began reading a new Bible, one whose words were letters to me from a loving, forgiving God. My prayer life was transformed, too. Instead of long sessions of confession, there was deep joy in praising the God who loves me and deeply knows me, and sharing the cries of my heart with Him.
Additionally, the truth of God’s constant presence was a new reassurance for me. I was not left alone in my sin, working to earn back the presence and comfort of the Holy Spirit. Being in Christ meant that He was with me always and would not abandon me when I failed. There was now no condemnation, because I was in Christ at the very moment of the cross, not back and forth depending on my performance. Praise God for His unspeakable gift!
In the years following, the Holy Spirit has continued to do deep, transformative work in my heart, freeing me from the bonds of self-sufficiency to understand His grace. Sometimes when the going gets tough, it is easy to slip back into the feelings of condemnation I felt in the past, and I want to use works to make it go away. Sanctification is a lifelong process! But He promises to finish the good work He started in me. The Holy Spirit is transforming me day by day from a person who says, “Help me keep Your rules” to one who says, “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it” (I Thessalonians 5:24). And having this knowledge that I am forgiven, frees my heart to live joyfully.
Timani Reynolds was born and raised in Eugene and met the Lord before she can remember. She is thankful to God for the many people He placed in her life, who invested in her faith growing up. Timani has been married to Mark for 22 years. They have four kids: Ellie (20), Chase (17), Finn (15), and Joel (11). You can often find Timani cheering the kids on in school, dance or robotics, musing about something funny they’ve said, or keeping her promise to them to “always make it awkward.”