By Ed Gallagher

Prayer is completely nondiscriminatory. Skin color, gender, nationality, age, financial status, education, social standing, church relationship—none of these matters. “This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles” (Psalm 34:6). The word translated “poor” can also mean depressed, weak, afflicted, lowly or needy. It means you and me— just as we are.

The sorrow-filled criminal on the cross next to Jesus fit this description. How unholy and unqualified can you get? But the criminal’s prayer of nine words jetted into the heart of God, who was dying for him six feet away. The criminal’s prayer ushered him immediately into the assurance of eternal life. Heaven showed no hesitation (Luke 23:40-43).

Good news from Calvary: The sense of being unqualified to pray is the very qualification we need in order to pray. This is why true praying is not in our name, but in the name of Jesus. “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:13-14). The “name” is the password, the authority, the right, the ticket, the passport. Jesus is that name.

We might indeed say holiness is required to enter the courts of heaven. But it is not our holiness, because we have none that we can call our own. Only the holiness of Jesus gets us into the presence of God. It is His qualification we present for entry—every time.

Let’s make it personal. Jesus came to live and die as a human being, succeeding in every point where you have failed. He did this not for His own sake, but for your sake. It was all on your behalf, a gift of His love. He is your go-between, your representative, your priest. The moment you accept His provision for you, He sees you as perfect, even while He undertakes the tough job of making you holy (Hebrews 10:14). Because of this, we can “draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience” (Hebrews 10:22).

The question is settled. Never again should we wonder if we’re acceptable. “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). It is critical that we sense our need, that we feel sorrow for sin and that we have a willingness to “turn from our wicked ways” (2 Chronicles 7:14).This is what we bring—sorrow for our sin and a desire for change. This is truth.

Now let’s remember a complementary truth. We come into salvation not to escape holiness, but to realize holiness. “The grace of God that brings salvation … teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:11-14).

It’s a marvelous understanding. If we in any way rebel against God’s holiness, we won’t stay in His presence for long. But if we stay—if we ask for and receive His work of cleansing and training—our joy and our usefulness for God increase dramatically.

Republished from the October 2006 issue of Outlook magazine.

All texts are from the New International Version©.