Yesterday I went to our local big box hardware store to buy some plywood panels and 1x2x8's for a DIY carpentry project I was supposed to do last year. I located a cart with the obligatory bad wheel, loaded it down with lumber I handpicked from the available stock, and strong-armed it to a densely populated checkout line. Several price checks, manager overrides, and plastic card swipes later, I was finally up to bat. The cashier rang up my purchases and announced the grand total (grand as in larceny, not as in slam, canyon, or Ole Opry) with all the flourish of a teenager bored out of her mind. I opened my wallet, pulled out the wad of bills I had transferred that morning from a kitchen envelope to my billfold, and applied them to the palm of her hand. My part complete, I set to making some minor adjustments on the cart, repositioning the weight load in preparation of the final leg of the journey from register to truck. The cashier leaned over the counter, every gum-smacking ounce of her indignant at the nuisance I had proven to be. "Um, this isn't real money." Separated from the American twenties her right hand was now guarding close to her body were several oddly colored bills she held extended in her left; roughly the same size and shape as American twenties, but not American twenties. She swiveled her head back and forth, the international sign for never-gonna-happen. "I can't take this."
I knew right away what had happened. We went on a trip two years ago, and like I've always done when travelling abroad, we bought something small and insignificant, more for the change it would bring than for the thing itself. See, we collect foreign money as mementos of the places we've been and a few of those memento bills somehow wound up in our regular cash stash mixed in with the 'real money,' In a rush to get out the door, I hadn't even noticed, inadvertently mistaking them for American currency because of their similar dimensions and feel. The cashier was not making the same mistake.
Part of me wanted to stand up for the bills she was holding out as if they'd been liberally dusted in Anthrax. It's not as if they were counterfeit. I wanted to tell her that if she was to get on a plane and fly about 600 miles southeast, she would find herself in a beautiful island country that would be only too happy to take the bills she was snubbing. Of course on the other hand, from a practical standpoint, I knew she was right. She couldn't take it because domestic businesses (and their gum-smacking sales associates) do not recognize foreign currency as legal tender. Cut and dry. No wiggle room. Had I tried to pay my bill in French francs, British pounds, or Japanese yen, I would have been met with that same icy stare, that obstinate headshake until I could pay what I owed with an acceptable form of payment.
The Bible teaches that sin is a universal problem (Romans 3:23, 5:12, 8:7-8, James 2:10), with severe and eternal consequences (Romans 6:23, James 1:14-15). It equates sin to personal indebtedness (Matthew 6:12, Colossians 2:13-14). It tells us that all of us are in debt up to our eyeballs in sin. When our turn comes around in the cosmic checkout line and we stand before God, our grand total will be calculated and announced. The Bible warns that we owe more than we can ever repay. But it also points us to the only source of debt relief. If the problem of sin is great, it says, the solution God puts forth is far greater (Romans 5:20-21, 1 Peter 2:24). Colossians 2:14 tells us that Jesus "canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross." In his eponymous first letter, Peter writes: "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Though it is one of the most unpopular and hated doctrines, you cannot read the New Testament and escape the exclusivity of Christ as the only means of salvation; it is taught repeatedly throughout the New Testament. If Jesus was merely a good man or a good teacher as many people have postulated, we might expect the text to read something like influential philosopher and religious pluralist John Hick's declaration: "There is not merely one way but a plurality of ways of salvation...taking place in different ways within the contexts of all the great religious traditions." But we don't find anything so vague or nebulous or morally relativistic here. Jesus teaches in John 14:6 that coming to Him and through Him is the mandatory prerequisite to personal salvation. There are no indefinite articles to be found. Jesus does not say "I am a way, a truth, and a life" but "I am the way, the truth, and the life," making a pointed, theological lesson out of His selective and repeated use of the definite article the. They strike like a hammer, hard and clear and resounding with exclusivity. And just to drive home the point He emphasizes, "No one comes to the Father except through Me." In Acts 4:12, the Spirit-filled Peter restated Christ's exclusive claim to Saviorhood: "Salvation is found in no one else [but Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved." John wrote, "He who does not believe the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36). So crucial and central and foundational was the exclusivity of Jesus as the only hope of salvation that when the Apostle Paul distilled the entire gospel down, what it boiled down to was the Person of Christ and His work on the Cross: "For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2); later, in his first letter to Timothy he wrote, "For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Jesus Christ" (1 Timothy 2:5). God has publicly designated, commissioned, and sent His Son as our substitutionary sacrifice (Isaiah 53, John 3:16, Romans 8:3, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 2:24), our gracious stand-in, our donation sufficient enough to cover in full the grand total of our sin-debt. Romans 8:2 says, "For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death." Since only Jesus Christ can atone for sin, only Jesus Christ can legitimately offer salvation and sufficiently provide it in the form of His lifeblood shed for us at Calvary. The blood of Jesus is the only acceptable form of payment for sin, and the only currency God accepts as legal tender.
Superficially, worldly currency might look and feel like God's currency. Self-righteousness, trusting in our own good works and deeds and merit to get us through checkout, might just be the Canadian penny of the money world — such a good impersonator that it slips unnoticed in and out of coin purses and earthly cash registers everywhere. Maybe you think you will get through checkout on charm alone; you have no money in your pockets other than the denomination of I'm-not-that-bad-a-person. Maybe you only have foreign currency in your wallet, or maybe you're one who, like I did the other day at the hardware store, got your currencies mixed together — a little Jesus and a little Buddha, or New Age spirituality, or self-help personal-power philosophies, health-and-wealth prosperity teachings...etc.
The checkout line is long and deep in waiting people who think they have enough in their wallet to cover the grand total. But when they finally get up to the register, receive the damage report, and open up their billfolds, many will only find foreign currency that God does not accept. The good news is that if you're reading this, you're still in the waiting line; you have time before you get up to the register. But now is the time to open your wallet and check your form of payment. This same urgency is what Paul was appealing to when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:2, "I tell you, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation." When you get to the register it will be too late. So hold up your currency to the light, spread it all out on the floor, examine it closely. Cull what's counterfeit and false and replace it with the tender God's policy clearly states to be the only form of payment that He accepts.
To borrow a current advertising slogan, what's in your wallet?