Thursday, July 5, 2012

Stealing, Judging, Criminals And The Gospel

Stealing Stuff

What would you say if you found out the young woman sitting next to you in church was stealing?  What thoughts would go through your mind?  [and let's just pretend for a moment that someone sitting next to you in church would actually feel safe enough to share that with you]  Would you report her?  Would you make sure to keep your children seated safely on the other side of you?  Would you speak with someone in leadership to ensure that this person does not volunteer to count the offering?

Judging Others

I can think of several judgments I would make, but one stands out and it's this: "The fact that they have stolen from someone just reveals their heart".  Trust me, I have had that thought so many times over the years since I've been a Christian - it's embarrassing really.  Have you ever thought that?  Have you ever considered someone elses' sin and concluded that they certainly do not know God - how could they?  Because, isn't that what we're really saying when we refer to how a particular sin "exposes the heart"?  I have [wrongly] concluded that certain sins are proof that someone is not saved!  ugh...I've done it with my son - too many times than I'd like to admit!  How ridiculous sounding it is and yet this judgement gets played out over and over again in the hearts and minds of well meaning Christians.  We consider some outward sin and then we categorize it as being worse than others - thereby indicating serious problems and most likely a heart that's far from God or worse yet, unknown by God.  Maybe we pray for them to come to know God, or slip them some Bible verses or invite them to a bible study.  We think [to ourselves], they need help.

Who Is The Criminal?

The young woman I mentioned is a criminal.  Strong word you say - sounds kind of harsh. But, by all accounts she is breaking the law. If she were caught she would be arrested, prosecuted, and if found guilty she would be convicted, sentenced and she would pay the penalty - a prison term or fine.  That's a criminal.  Her record would forever reveal the truth that she had broken the law.

This young woman is real.  I recently learned of her story and I was surprised by what I heard.  She recounted her growing up years - 12 years in a Christian High School.  Raised in a Christian home.  Attending a church she liked.  I have not been able to get her story out of my mind.  Not so much because of what she had done, but because of my own thoughts.  Here was a real life depiction of the truth of who we are.  Criminals.  We are all criminals.  But here's the rub - we don't see ourselves as criminals.  An outward criminal act of theft is obvious.  An inward criminal act of coveting is not.  So we deceive ourselves and believe that some sins are not as bad as others.  And it gets worse.  We desire justice.  Someone has to pay for the crime...just not us.  Justice is for everyone else, but we cringe to think that our own "white lies" deserve justice.

The Gospel

As I listened to this young woman recount her story I found myself shocked at the thoughts in my mind.  Since that day I have recited in my mind the rulings I have set forth in judgement of others.  Stealing? Guilty - you don't know God.  Addiction? Guilty - you don't know God. Pre-marital sex? Guilty - you don't know God.  You fill in the blank.  What are the sins you consider to be evidences of unbelief?

This is what the gospel has to say about sin. No one is righteous, no not one. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. If others could see past the perfect-looking external veneer they would see right into the heart of a pharisee, an unbeliever. Calvin said we're all "partly unbelievers until we die". The root of every sin is unbelief. We may get that Christ died for us and our eternal salvation is sealed, but we have not believed that the power of the gospel has anything to say about our current temptations, our sin and how it so easily entangles us. We have forgotten that we are all sinners, the same - grace levels the playing field.

If we were left with only that gospel truth, we'd all stand as condemned criminals awaiting our sentence.  We'd have no where to run, no where to hide.  My sin of judging others is level with another's sin of theft.  My struggle with covetousness is on par with my neighbor's battle with alcoholism.  Listen to the conversation between the criminals hanging on either side of Jesus at their crucifixion:
"One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds"
We are all guilty - deserving of receiving the due reward of our deeds.  The good news is, we are not left in our sin.  There was One who came to rescue criminals.  He came in the person of Jesus, a friend to sinners like you and like me.  He lived a perfect life - sinless, not sinful like ours.  And yet, he was treated as a criminal and received the treatment we deserve.  He was tried and convicted for our transgressions.  He was sentenced and imprisoned - paying an unjust penalty which would have been justly placed on us.  He was crucified for our atrocities so that we might never even be tried. Love is His name. Listen again as we hear one of the thieves speaking to Jesus:
 "And he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.' And he [Jesus] said to him, 'Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise'.”

Instead of our record forever revealing the truth that we had broken the law...

...our record is now the pure and perfect record of Jesus!

I would like to say that I don't judge like I used to. I wish that were true. I may be a bit slower to speak, but my heart is still judgmental and although no one knows the thoughts in my mind, God knows. So more and more I am thankful for the righteousness of Christ. This beautiful spotless robe covers criminals like me and like you if you are in Christ.

I bet that young woman struggling with the temptation to steal would have been glad to hear this:

Do you realize that it is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance?~ Tim Keller

The verdict is are innocent, blameless, perfect.  Christ has come.  It is finished.  This is the fuel that motivates my heart to love [and not judge].  

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:6-8

This is the verdict I need to hear over and over.  Although I'm a criminal, Jesus and His perfect record are mine!  

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