December 29, 2021

Guilty and Free

How does that happen?

Cameron L. Johnston

Life has its unexpected and surprising moments. I had been pulled over by police before, but this  was the most memorable. The police officer pushed his head through the open window of my car and, in my face—eyeball to eyeball—repeated in a loud, exasperated voice, “Do you have any idea how fast you were going? The minimum fine is one thousand dollars and nine of your 10 driving points.”

I was guilty. Caught red-handed. There was no escape. This is my story of redemption from an enormous traffic violation by grace alone, a gift from an infuriated Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officer in 100 Mile House, British Columbia. I had recently accepted an assignment to pastor two churches in central British Columbia. It would be three months before we could actually move. Therefore, twice a month I drove the six hours and spent several days ministering in these communities.

It was rugged and unusual terrain. Driving through scenic, mostly rural countryside, from southern to northern British Columbia, you must pass through the small town of 100 Mile House. The unique name comes from the Cariboo Gold Rush days when a boardinghouse serving miners was there 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of where the miners left water and walked or rode horseback to the mine fields another 320 kilometers (200 miles) beyond.

Today, as you drive into 100 Mile House you come down a long steep hill where the speed limit is 100 kilometers (60 miles) per hour until you get to the edge of town. There is an extremely short space to heed the warning and slow down to 50 kilometers (30 miles) per hour through town. If you are not alert, you will not slow down. Thus, the police are extremely vigilant.

“Do you have any idea how fast you were going? The fine at minimum is one thousand dollars and nine points.”

It was early evening on a Friday in late November; it was dark; and I was running late. With many things on my mind, we came down that hill and into town. I was new to the area, and my brain had not yet received the memo to slow down well in advance of town. I came into town at full speed, maybe faster. Immediately I saw in my mirror the dreaded police lights flashing and pulled over.

The police officer slowly and carefully approached my car, and when he got to my window, he asked, “Do you have any idea how fast you were going? The minimum fine is one thousand dollars and nine points.”

My heart sank, and I was speechless. He looked in the car and then, suddenly, poked his head through the window, squarely in my face, and asked again, in a loud, exasperated voice, “Do you have any idea how fast you were going? The fine at minimum is one thousand dollars and nine points.” This was the second time he said this. Then, pulling his head out of the car, he repeated himself again. I had taken in the point, but he was not done.

He asked for my driver’s license and vehicle registration, which I had ready. Looking briefly at it, he again said, still exasperated, “Do you have any idea how fast you were going? The minimum fine is one thousand dollars and nine points; you were way over the limit.” I humbly said, “I know now.”

Then he asked, “What are you doing up here, anyway?” I told him I was one of the new pastors in Williams Lake and was just coming up for the weekend. “You’re a pastor? You’re a pastor and driving that fast!” He exclaimed with shock and alarm and repeated, for the fifth time, the thousand-dollar penalty.

As he turned to go back to his car, I said, “Sir, it is clear, I am guilty. I hope you have some grace.”

For some reason, when police officers return to their car, they take a long time checking you out, phoning and writing the ticket. My wife and I just looked at each other in shock and wondered if we would eat for the next month.

Finally the officer returned. He immediately stuck his head fully into the car in front of my face, looked over to my wife, and asked, “Who is this?”

“My wife, Shirley,” I responded.

He said, “Shirley, do you realize how fast your husband was going? The minimum fine is one thousand dollars and nine points.” She quietly said, “Yes.”

Then he continued, “Shirley, what would you think if, instead of giving your husband a one-thousand-dollar fine and taking nine points off his license, I tell him that he must take you out this evening and buy you dinner?”

Stunned, she said, “I think that would be great.”

Then he turned his head and right in front of my face asked, “What do you think about that?”

I responded, “Happy to do it.”

He backed out of the window, gave me a written warning, and said, “Take her out to dinner, slow down, and drive carefully,” and he was gone. What an incredible illustration of our undeserved deliverance by our Lord Jesus Christ by grace alone from the power of sin and death.

I Experienced Grace

We sat there in shock for a few minutes. I am sure that officer smiled as he got back into his car, feeling good. He had seriously disciplined a pastor who needed it. I would not recognize him if we met again, nor do I know if he is a Christian, but that night he gave an illustration of salvation by grace.

The law declared the penalty, but having all the power at his discretion, he let me go free, releasing me from the penalty: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17, NIV).

Obedience, Inspired by Grace

I drove the remaining 100 kilometers (60 miles) differently that Friday night. I never came close to exceeding the speed limit. I gratefully took my wife out to dinner. And having come down that hill into 100 Mile House hundreds of times during the past 12 years, I remember every time, with thankfulness and joy, that police officer, the reduced speed limit coming up, and the grace I was shown.

Deliverance by grace brings joy and changes lives. In this case it impacted my driving for the better. Punishment would no doubt have made me angry, resentful, and fretting at the unfairness of the huge fine. Instead, grace made me a better and more careful driver.

Grace for All Humanity

Long ago the human race rebelled against God’s law of love and brought death on ourselves: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”(Rom. 6:23, NIV). “Nothing you did could ever earn this salvation, for it was the love giftfrom God that brought us to Christ!” (Eph. 2:8, TPT).* My grace was undeserved that night. So is God’s grace for fallen humanity, providing, through the death of Jesus, undeserved and unearned forgiveness, freely given to all who will accept it. And grace does more than forgive: it brings with it the desire and power to do better. It creates within us a love response for God Himself. We are guilty lawbreakers deserving our death penalty. But grace forgives us; grace transforms us; and grace empowers us to obey.

I did not argue with the officer that night; I joyously took his gift. But God’s gift of freedom and pardon is both more available and more rewarding, contrary to any slanderous lie the enemy—or your wickedness—will tell you. So rather than argue, accept. Rejoice in the gift of forgiveness, and celebrate your liberation from sin and death: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16, 17).

* Scripture quotations marked TPT are from The Passion Translation.Copyright © 2017, 2018, 2020 by Passion & Fire Ministries, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Cameron L. Johnston, is a retired pastor of the British Columbia
Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, headquartered in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada.

Cameron L. Johnston
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