Few lies have kept more sinners from coming to Christ, whether for the first time or after a terrible fall, than this one: I am an exception to the promises of God.
You may know and confess that Jesus saves sinners. You may hear a hundred testimonies of his triumphant grace in saving others. You may feel a burning desire to belong to him. Yet somewhere in the shadows of the soul, half-conscious hesitations hold you back: “I would come to Jesus, but . . .
“I’m too weak to obey him until the end.”
“My sins are too shameful.”
“I’ve despised his grace too often.”
“My heart is too hard.”
“I’ve been fake for far too long.”
“My faith is so small.”
Such reasoning is plausible. It is also poisonous. The devil never tires of shutting desperate sinners up behind prison bars built from the words “But I . . .” Exceptions are his expertise.
Over against that devilish suggestion, the Lord Jesus goes to war.
God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. (John 5:24)
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. (John 6:47)
Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. (John 11:25)
Who fits under this banner of whoever? Who gets to have such promises? Young sinners and old sinners, shameful sinners and polite sinners, secret sinners and brazen sinners, newly converted sinners and justified-but-not-yet-glorified sinners — in short, all sinners. Whoever you are, Christ is yours for the believing. No exceptions.
Maybe you’ve heard all this before. Maybe you’ve tried grabbing hold of promises like these, but a throbbing conscience and a relentless adversary keep knocking them out of your hands. Somehow, you can hear Jesus say whoever a dozen times, yet walk away still whispering, “But I . . .”
Jesus knows. So alongside his promises, he gives us pictures.
Among the Invalids
Have you ever wondered why Jesus healed so many so often? If he came to preach good news, which he did (Luke 4:43), why did he spend so much time among feverish women, withered men, dying children, diseased crowds? In part, because healings were his sermon illustrations, pressing home promises we might otherwise doubt (Mark 2:9–11). Consider a typical scene from the Gospel of Luke:
Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. (Luke 4:40)
All came who had any who were sick. They came with various diseases. And Jesus healed every one of them. Sickness flees from the hands of the Son of God — whatever the affliction, whoever the person.
Did some in the crowd secretly wonder as they waited their turn, “Yes, I see Jesus’s compassion and power. But can he heal my disease? I’ve been sick for so long. The others here don’t seem half so ill. Maybe I’m incurable?” If so, Jesus soon put all such questions to rest. The blind saw. The deaf heard. Paralytics walked. The demon-possessed returned to their right mind. Whoever they were.
The day has never arrived, nor will it ever, when Jesus does not know how to heal someone who comes to him.
As we watch Jesus heal the sick — all the sick — the word whoever becomes more vivid, more real. So too does the word believe. “Whoever believes has eternal life” (John 6:47). What does believing look like?
We see immediately that believe does not mean “Look to something in yourself for confidence that Christ can save you.” An insane idea, to be sure — yet many a soul bears the well-worn tracks of searching, searching, searching for something to make us say, “Okay, maybe he can save me.”
Whenever we attempt such a search, we are like lepers looking at our rotting skin for hope that Christ can heal us. Nothing in a leper’s skin offered hope that Christ could heal him. Nothing. His only hope was to forget about himself and go — sores and all — to the only hands that can heal.
As long as you fix your gaze inward rather than outward — on your sins and weaknesses rather than Christ’s grace and power — you will find reason to consider yourself an exception. But faith teaches you to follow the leper: turn from self, shut your ears to every excuse, hold the promise fast against the clawing hands of conscience, and, in hope against hope, cry to Jesus, “If you will, you can make me clean!” (Luke 5:12).
No inward glance at self can give us hope before Christ — and if it has, then we have not really seen self very deeply. We are, every one of us, a howling waste of hopelessness apart from him.
So if we are to believe and keep believing, we must resist every suggestion of “But I” with a forceful “Yes, but Christ.”
“But I am too weak to obey Jesus.” “Yes, but Christ gives strength.”
“But I have lived as a hypocrite.” “Yes, but Christ forgives hypocrites too.”
“But I have too hard a heart.” “Yes, but Christ promises a new one.”
“But my faith is so small.” “Yes, but Christ saves those with little faith as much as those with great faith.”
To be sure, believing welcomes us into an expansive world of loving our neighbors, feeding on God’s word, serving our church family, killing our sin, and keeping — fitfully but increasingly — Christ’s other commands. But the power to walk in those paths, and the pardon for every stumble, comes through one channel: believing.
Whoever you are, then, let nothing about yourself hinder you from believing in Jesus — whether for the first time or all over again. No matter how persistent, how dark, how blasphemous, how shameful, how destructive your sin, hear the promise of Jesus Christ: “Whoever believes has eternal life” (John 6:47) — including you.