Grace & Redemption

A friend approached me recently with a struggle she was experiencing; in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, some “Christians” were suggesting that those who were murdered deserved what happened to them because they were gay. This broke her heart (and mine), and she wanted to know what to do with this. How does one handle someone wearing the moniker of absolute love, total forgiveness, and undeserved redemption but spews a message of hate? How do we respond to that? How do we wrap our minds around that concept?

There are several key realizations which must occur here. The first is that all of us deserve the harshest judgment for our sins, and being shot to death is probably the most pleasant thing any of us deserve. These victims deserved it no more than any of the rest of us.

The second is that during Jesus’ time of ministry the harshest judgment, criticism, and outright physical beatings he administered were reserved for the most religious. In the midst of a ministry Jesus explicitly declared as not for the purpose of condemnation (John 3:17), he explicitly and repeatedly condemned those who spread a message of hate, condemnation, and legalistic adherence to a set of rules they could neither explain nor follow themselves.

“They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.” – Matthew 23:4

In fact, the religious members of the day actually tried to “trap” Jesus several times by putting sick people in front of him and watching to see if he would heal them, so they could condemn him for doing so. Talk about perversion.

This is the second realization: no harsher judgment will occur than that which is reserved for those whose responsibility is the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18), whose sole identity is found in the basis of love (John 13:35), and whose highest standard is remembering the sin from which we have been saved and extending that same love and forgiveness to others (Matthew 18:21-35, emphasis on verse 35).

The third thing we’ve got to wrestle with is how we approach actions that others are engaged in which we disagree with, and which we may consider to be morally questionable, objectionable, or perhaps even reprehensible. How do we approach this issue with Christians and non-Christians?

The latter first: how do we deal with what we believe to be sin in the lives of non-believers? First and foremost we absolutely must recognize the different roles of those involved. It is the natural tendency of humans who believe they have truth to convict others of their sin. All of us do it; if we believe something is right and true, we want to go on a crusade and set the world straight. In Christianity, however, that’s not our job. In John 16:8 Jesus specifically states that it is the role of the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment. It is not our job to convict others of what we think is their sin.

We humans and Christians also excel in judgment. It’s natural to have opinions, and there’s nothing wrong with wrestling with issues and deciding in our own mind where we stand on something. However, when we begin to judge our neighbors and decide for them where they stand before God, we are the ones guilty of the greater sin.

I have a friend who is vocally and blatantly pro-choice. When you get to know her; when you dig into her life and hear her story, you find out that she was raped, held hostage, and denied medical services until abortion was no longer an option – and she doesn’t believe that anyone should be forced to be a parent. Sure, the issue may seem black and white to us who have never been there… but what of her?

Another buddy of mine is divorced, and his wife divorced him because he was repeatedly unfaithful to her. Seems black and white to us. That is, until you find out that his wife kidnapped his kids when he was at work one day, took them 2,000 miles away, and held them hostage with a list of demands and threatened to withhold any contact with his kids until he caved. He didn’t even know if his kids were alive for almost four days. Once they got back together, she threatened to repeat this on a weekly, and sometimes daily basis, until he was driven so far into anxiety and depression, not knowing whether his kids would be at home at the end of each workday, that he attempted suicide. When he woke to the reality of the selfishness of suicide and his kids’ need to have him there, he pulled himself up by his bootstraps and asked for a divorce – his wife threatened to mentally and emotionally abuse the kids if he left, and proceeded to start to do so right in front of him. So partially in an effort to cope, and partially because he knew it would make him so repulsive to her that she would finally agree to the divorce and not take it out on the kids – he cheated. He cheated repeatedly until she divorced him. And now Christians look at him as a divorced adulterer, a failure as a husband and a father, who is too worthless to redeem or love.

What does God have to say about our tendency as humans and Christians to judge others as failing to abide by God’s laws?

“There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” – James 4:12.

Billy Graham put it this way: “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love.” It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Holy Spirit's Job

Nowhere in the New Testament are we commanded to judge. However, do you know what Jesus’ final charge to his disciples was before he died?

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) Jesus explicitly states that our primary responsibility and our sole identity in him is love. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. This commandment may seem quaint, and even naïve to us, unfortunately – that is, until you realize the context.

If you want to know what underscores this even more, go to this passage in the Bible (John 13) and scan above this. Do you know what Jesus did immediately before he said this? He washed the feet of all of the disciples, including Judas Iscariot, and then looked Judas in the eye and told him he knew Judas was going to betray him to his death, and then turned and looked his other disciples in the eye and immediately told them their primary responsibility was to love! And then immediately he turned to his #1 guy, his closest disciple, and simply and clearly states that within the next 12 hours his #1 guy is going to utterly, completely, and vocally abandon him to his death. And still Jesus loves, and doesn’t condemn.

Jesus did not give us his primary commandment in an environment of comfort, in a place of victory in his ministry, or in a moment of elation. Jesus told us to love others as he washed the feet of the man he knew was about to betray him to be tortured to death within the next 24 hours, and Jesus was so overcome with physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual stress that within an hour he was literally sweating blood and the Son of God was literally begging his Father to not make him go through with this. With that as the background for his message, he chooses to tell us that our primary job on this earth is simply this: love.

Lest we be tempted to judge the struggling believer as someone who should have it all together, let us remember a few examples from the Bible.

  • Abraham is remembered in Scripture as a man of faith, but when the Bible tells the story of Abraham’s 175 year life it only tells the 25 year period of when he was most faithless, and struggling to live up to what God had called him to do – and God was repeatedly faithful in the midst of Abraham’s repeated lies, betrayals, and mistakes.
  • David is called the man after God’s own heart, and after God had given him everything he lied, cheated, and murdered. This was after he became a believer – and God describes him as a man after his own heart after David acted in this way.
  • Elijah was so close to God that he was one of only two men to never die, yet he was suicidal in the midst of his ministry.

If you read through the “heroes” of the faith it reads like an orchestra of broken instruments; people who claimed to be redeemed and were utterly broken, sometimes beyond recognition. These were people who totally did not have their shit together. Yet in the midst of this litany of fragmented, cracked, damaged, and ruined instruments, God orchestrated the most beautiful love song the world has ever heard.

The song of redemption.

And this song is the one song he has charged us to play during our time on earth.

In the end, Jesus is the God of the skinned knee, the Lord of the bruised shin, and the Savior of the stubbed toe. I’m convinced that his proudest moments come when those who have failed, who are naturally weak, and who have no redeeming factors simply try – and fail. And try again. And fail. And try again.

And our only job is to be there to help each other stand back up after we’ve fallen. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.


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