"No Condemnation" Is a Big Deal

Today while we frequently encourage everyone to “just get along” we actually rarely know how to do that with people whom we disagree. We promote tolerance of views and beliefs in the abstract, but when it comes to actual day to day living we are often ruthless with those we disagree with. In the course of a week, I’m sure we’ve all promoted tolerance towards people of different religious dispositions and at the same time ridiculed those who vote, parent, or educate differently than us. And unfortunately this is often just as true within the church as it is outside of the church. This should not be so, and I think the church would do better at leading the way in love if they kept before them how Jesus cures the disease of sin, leaving it as a mere entanglement.

Sin is a very contagious disease. Hear these words from the first Psalm, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers.” And Paul writes, “The wages of sin is death.” Sin is a disease that leads towards death, and of course you would want to avoid it, but we can’t. And Jesus did something about it. As Paul writes, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).  

Sin is a disease that has been put to death in the cross of Jesus. Sin still exists, as the writer of Hebrews 12 suggests, and is something that easily entangles us, even if we have been set free from the disease-leading-to-death aspect of sin. This, I think, is an accurate picture of sin. Sin is thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes that entangle us, and and these thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes cause harm to ourselves and the world around us. But we can only freely see sin as a mere entanglement if we know that Jesus has put our own sin to death and that we are not condemned by our sin anymore.

If we continue think of sin as a disease, we will quarantine those whom we deem sinners from us. This is how we typically treat those who act or think differently than us - we label them as people with this disease and we quarantine them; then we are free to ridicule, mock, and insult them all we want. Not only that, but because we don’t want to be condemned like the others we pretend as if we have no contact with sin, constantly trying to cover up and hide our sins acting like they don’t exist. This results in what Dr. Henry Cloud calls merry-go-round Christianity. He writes, “Many Christians stay on the old merry-go-round, where they think they go from a forgiven state to a guilty state, back to a forgiven state, and so on.” What we often fail to realize is “Jesus has made us acceptable ‘once for all.’ This is not something we lose, slipping into a ‘bad’ state with God. The question is not, ‘Are we good or bad?’ but the question is, ‘What are we doing?’”

The alternative is experiencing no condemnation from a community of people who know just as Paul declared, “there is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ” (Romans 8:1). If we know and are loved by a community who knows us and our faults and yet still loves us, we have the chance to honestly face our sins and throw them off of us when they begin to entangle us. When we are not consumed by the question of “are we good enough?,” we become free to see how our sin hinders our ability to love others, and we can let grief and guilt of our actions move us toward change instead of allowing them to cripple and paralyze us.

Many in the church have little experience with this world of “no condemnation” because they are not taught that it exists, or because they are unwilling to enter into a community of others to experience it for themselves. But for those that do, they can experience the wonderful power of being free from the disease of sin and free towards more fully loving God and our neighbor.

The First Step to Change

Later this month will mark the two year anniversary of me and my family arriving at Cobblestone. After we made the decision to move across the country, the next questions were “What do we do now? What do we actually need to do to move all that we own across the country?” We knew where we were going, but we just didn’t know how we, along with all of our stuff, were going to get there. This feeling of confusion can happen to all of us when we begin a journey of growth. Whether you’re somebody who is just wanting to be less angry, or if you are a Christian and you see certain commands that you would like to follow, deciding where you want to go is not as hard as figuring out how to get there. So how do we get there? The best way to get where we want to is just like accomplishing any major goal, one small step at a time. But what is that first crucial step?

This first step is often ignored to our own detriment. This results in either burn out or recognizing that failure is imminent before we even start. Many of us, when we want to grow in character, begin by simply doing what we want to become, and this occasionally works. For example, if we decide we want to be more grateful, we start practicing gratitude, and if we are able to stick to it over time studies have shown that it works. However, if we try to grow in areas that are a bit more challenging, let’s say forgiving people who have deeply hurt us or loving our neighbor, we will typically stumble and fall. We may get up and try again and again and again, but more than likely we will get exhausted from all this effort and give up.

Other times when we want to grow we just know we are going to fail from the beginning, and so we don’t even try. We don’t even try to be better neighbors because, if we are honest, we don’t actually like our neighbors. We don’t want really want to forgive because we get a little pleasure from our anger towards those who have hurt us.

The first step is simple; it almost sounds too simple to state. We are to ask that God would change the desires in us to be people who love our neighbors or who actually want to forgive those who have deeply hurt us.

For those who are Christians we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourself and, once again, if we are honest when we look at that command we just know that we cannot do it. Knowing that we cannot do it leads us either to not even attempt to do it, or to summon enough gumption to grit our teeth through it, which may work for the short term, but will fail over the long haul.

In the book of James in the New Testament he writes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” The wisdom that James is talking about isn’t some type of mystical intuition, it is simply knowing what is right and having the power to do it. God loves to give generously to all so ask him to change you and to enable you to be the person you desire (and He desires) for you to be.

This small prayer may seem trite but it will begin a process that is much bigger than we can imagine. C.S. Lewis gives a great illustration. “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew these jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of… You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself…. The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command.”

This message of the sometimes painful transforming grace of God is in James’s letter that we will be looking at for the next several weeks.