For as terrible as it got, it had a rather innocuous start. Two days after contact, I noticed two small bumps on my arm and wondered about them. Over the course of the next few days, more bumps appeared. Then more. Then there were some on my sides. My arms and both sides of my abdomen were covered with blistering sores, and during the dog days of summer I was relegated to wearing long sleeves to cover the gauze that hid the ugly red sores and scabs that lasted the better part of a month. What caused all this discomfort and pain? Poison ivy.

Anyone who’s ever had a bad reaction to poison ivy can relate to my experience. And the real kicker is that I didn’t even touch the stuff personally. I got it from my nursing baby, who had been held by someone who touched the stuff and got the oils on their clothes. So the oils were transferred onto my baby’s clothes and then onto me while I held and nursed her. Thankfully, she didn’t break out, but I sure did. And it was ugly. I looked like a leper; like something was eating my flesh away. I thought my arms would be permanently scarred. Even my birthmark on my right arm peeled off as the reaction progressed. There was no possible way my skin would ever return to normal and be healed.

And yet it did.

Today, my arms bear no sign of the poison ivy reaction from three years ago. I have nary a scar from that awful time. Even my birthmark has grown back. It’s as if nothing happened at all.

It is, quite simply, amazing.

I can’t help but see in that whole experience a comparison to sin and forgiveness in the life of a believer. Like that poison ivy, sin is tricky. We all know the old adage, “Leaves of three, let it be,” but that’s easier said than done. Likewise, you “know” better than to mess with sin, yet you do it anyhow. And you may not even realize right away that you’ve been affected. You may think your little pet sin hasn’t caught up to you or that you’re safe from the danger it poses. When the first few “bumps” appear, it’s not a big deal.  But then more and more pop up, and soon enough, you have a big, ugly mess. Sin will do that to you. And it’s easy to despair when you realize what a mess you’ve made of your life. When you truly search your heart and mind and compare it to the absolute perfection God demands in His Law, you can’t help but despair, because you fail in so many ways every single day. You have something far more deadly than a bout of poison ivy—you are spiritually sick. There’s no possible way you can ever be healed.

And yet you are.

You are cleansed of the guilt of sin not because of something you’ve done, but because of the perfect sacrifice of God’s Son, Jesus. He took all the ugliness of sin upon Himself on the cross, and in exchange gave you His righteousness. As my arms have been completely healed with no scarring, so God has washed you completely. You are spotless. Thanks to Jesus, it’s as if nothing happened at all.

It is, quite simply, amazing.

Photo is Poison Ivy by Chiot’s Run