Posts Tagged forgiveness
It’s not just a shocking title to get you to read this post.
It’s probably not something very popular to say these days. The horrendous deeds of a sick man have rocked not only the Penn State football program, not only the sports world, but our entire culture. They have brought down a legend and challenged to the core the institutional idolatry of entertainment and sports so rampant in our culture.
But God loves Jerry Sandusky. Not just “kinda loves”. He deeply, passionately, completely, and eternally loves Jerry Sandusky. Thousands of years ago, when the world was without form and void, God new Jerry would fall into his trap of lust and darkness, and He moved heaven and earth to send His Son to die for Jerry. And when Jerry was in that shower stall (and who knows where else) God’s heart broke with love and compassion for Him, just as it does over his victims.
But I’ll tell you what’s most shocking to me about this whole tragedy is the reaction I’ve seen from most of my Christian friends. “Fry in hell” or some similar sentiment are words I’ve heard more than once, and those who didn’t say the words showed them on their faces. I’m not being self-righteous here, I’ve thought it too. We act as though we’d be happy to see Jerry Sandusky face eternal damnation for what He’s done. And while we’re at it, throw in all the other perverts, drunkards, and sinners!
What do we have to gain by Jerry frying in hell? Do you think that man hasn’t been living in hell every day of his life? Will the world suddenly be free from pedophiles if we hang Jerry in the public square? Or will it just make me feel better to see a sinner punished for his sin?
Guess what…I have skeletons in my closet too. And so do you. They might not rise to the level of Jerry’s, but I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t want them exposed publicly.
And guess what…God loves you just as passionately, deeply, unconditionally and eternally as he does Jerry Sandusky. He’s looked beyond your lust, my greed, our self-righteous pride and accepted us. Yet somehow we take pleasure in the fact that we’re not like the Jerry Sandusky’s of the world. We’re part of the secret club that gets a free pass. But not him…not after what he’s done.
I think we’re all a lot more like the brother in the Prodigal Son story than we’d like to believe. We’re the good kids, and it’s not fair that the rebels, sinners and losers are embraced by the Father just like we are. We’re angry that they get a ring and a feast when they finally come to their senses and come home. They get a free pass, and it’s not right, is it?
You can keep your accusations that I’m being soft on sin, or that I don’t care about the victims of his crimes. You and I both know that’s not true. It’s a horrible thing that’s happened, and lives have been ruined. But if you want to think that about me, then so be it. If you think I should burn in hell with Jerry, so be it. If you want to obfuscate the issue with doctrinal arguments or politics, so be it.
But I’ve made my choice.
And just like Jesus I’m casting my lot with the sinners, losers and those who deserve His love the least. I don’t know Jerry Sandusky, but I’m throwing open the door to him to experience the unconditional love and grace that can be found by falling on the mercy of a Jesus who died for people exactly like Jerry.
And while I’m at it, all the other prostitutes, pedophiles, porn addicts, adulterers and anyone else trapped in a darkness they feel like they can’t escape are welcome as well. Fall at the feet of Jesus and experience what apparently most of His people aren’t willing to offer…love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
There was once a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery, a sin punishable by death in Jesus’ day. The religious leaders seemed to have the same reaction most Christians have today: stone in hand, ready for action. And I seem to remember Jesus staring down her self-righteous accusers until, one by one, they walked away. Then Jesus said the same words He’s said to so many sinners since then…words that ring down through the ages to sinners like you and me and, yes, even Jerry Sandusky: “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”
So Jerry Sandusky, I don’t care what they say, you can be forgiven. You can start over with a clean slate before God. Sure, you’ll have to bear the consequences of your actions, whatever they may have been. But you can be free of the guilt and shame and self-inflicted torture I’m sure you’re going through.
Even if nobody else does, Jesus loves you.
Ask most non-Christians whether they will go to heaven when they die, and they usually will reply with something like, “I think so, I’m a pretty good guy.” Those of us who follow Jesus know that the only way to heaven is by trusting Him for our salvation, and that being a “good guy” won’t cut it.
Or do we?
If we really understand that truth, then why do so many in the church seem so caught up in works? We feel guilty because we don’t do what we should. We feel guilty because we keep doing what we shouldn’t. Sound familiar? It sounds to me like the conflict Paul found himself fighting in Romans 7. While we accept the grace of God in theory, it seems in practice it’s another story. We judge ourselves and others by such strict standards.
It all started in the garden.
If you recall, there were two trees in the Garden of Eden. There was the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Mankind was meant to eat only of the tree of life, living in perfect communion with God forever. But we made a choice to instead eat of the other tree, and when we did, our eyes were opened. And notice it was not just evil, but GOOD and EVIL. They are two sides of the same coin. It was a knowledge we were never supposed to have. A knowledge of good, a knowledge of evil, and a knowledge of our own nakedness before God.
Mankind has lived in the bondage of that decision ever since. For most, life is a constant battle between their own capacity for both good and evil. And when the good outweighs the evil, we feel pretty good about ourselves, like somehow our nakedness before God is covered up. But that is a battle we are not capable of winning.
The truth is, if we are still living lives of pursuing good and avoiding bad actions, we are still living a life of bondage to that decision so long ago to eat of the wrong tree. Paul calls it “the law of sin and death” in Romans 8. And as long as we are obsessed with what we are doing and not doing, we are living under the law of sin and death, and sin still rules over us.
Jesus came to give us life, not just forgiveness. He came to restore us to the garden, where we may freely eat of the tree of life and live in communion once again with our Father. He came to restore us back to the place we lived before the knowledge of good and evil corrupted our hearts. No longer must we live as slaves to our actions. No longer must we constantly worry about what we have done or what we have left undone. No longer must we hide our nakedness from God, afraid of what He’ll do to us if He sees us as we really are.
It’s a free gift.
No action required on our part other than to repent and accept the gift. But when we repent before God, we are not really repenting of our sins. We are repenting of our thought that we could ever do anything but sin. We are repenting of thinking we could cover our nakedness by our own goodness. We are repenting of choosing to live under the law of sin and death, trying desperately to win a battle He has already won.
So we have a choice: We can continue to live in bondage to the law of sin and death, constantly afraid of what we have done, hiding in our shame before God. We can continue thinking life is about doing good and avoiding evil, burdened by guilt over our failures.
Or we can accept the sacrifice of Jesus, living in the “law of liberty in Christ”, freely eating of the tree of life. That’s it, it’s over. Sin can no longer rule over us because we are free from it’s power. The power of sin is wrapped up in it’s consequences. Take away the punishment and you take away it’s power. And that’s what Jesus did. We no longer have to fear, strive, work, or hide.
Breathe deep and feel the release. Your salvation no longer depends on you living up to a standard. Let it go and live in the freedom you were meant to have all along.
Maybe that’s why it’s called the “good news.”
I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago called “What if you feel like quitting?” I wrote it after I saw someone arrive at my blog after typing these words into a search engine: “what to do when you feel like turning away from Christianity?”
Well, the other night I noticed another search that resulted in a visit to this blog. This time the search was this: “I am a failure at Christianity.”
The emotion and hopelessness of those words have haunted me for three days now. Someone, somewhere sat down at their computer in a moment of despair and typed those words, hoping to find some solace or comfort. I have tried to imagine what prompted their resignation. What failure or sin caused this sad admission? I have prayed for that person in the days following, and I feel like I must respond.
There are two emotions that hit me as I think about that sentence, “I am a failure at Christianity.”
The first is compassion on the precious person who wrote it. I pray you will find hope and forgiveness. I hope you will find a way through Christ to get back up and keep going.
The second emotion I feel is anger. I am angry at a church culture that has made it possible for someone to feel like a failure at Christianity. I am angry that we have reduced the incredible grace of God, his undeserved favor, into a set of rules to keep and sins to avoid. I am angry that we have created an atmosphere where those who have trouble keeping our rules feel less than worthy of Christ and less than deserving of His grace.
You see, it’s actually impossible to fail at Christianity. If it were possible to fail, that would mean we have something to do with our own redemption. If it were possible to fail, that would mean there is something more than the cross that is necessary for salvation. If it were possible to fail, that would mean my salvation has more to do with me than it does with God.
None of those things are true. We are saved by grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ. We most definitely do not deserve it. God has acted completely out of His own love for us. He has offered us forgiveness completely apart from anything we can do to earn or deserve it. The Bible tells us in Romans 5 that Christ died for us “while we were yet sinners.” That’s the good news, plain and simple. And the love and grace that saved you once is the same love and grace that continues to save you every minute of every day.
The only way we could ever fail at Christianity would be to not accept it. It’s a free gift, and the only way to fail with a gift is if we will not take it.
So to the person who wrote those words, I encourage you to believe. You are actually at the very place God wants you to be. We are all failures, and it’s only when we are finally able to admit that fact that we are able to receive His mercy. When you confess your failure and cry out to God, that’s when forgiveness starts to flow.
And to the rest of us, I encourage us to evaluate what we believe. Do we really believe in grace? Do we really believe salvation is a free gift from God, and that there is nothing we can do to earn it? I think many of us in the church see the sin and degradation around us and feel like we need to take a stand against it. But look at how Jesus treated sinners. It was always with love, mercy and compassion.
Unfortunately those things seem to be in short supply to far too many “sinners” today.
For further reading, check out this post as well: Being disillusioned is a good thing
“And so it was, as her soul was departing (for she died), that she called his name Ben-Oni; but his father called him Benjamin.”. Genesis 35:18
As Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel died, she gave birth to the last of his 12 sons. In her pain and anguish she named him Ben-Oni, which means “son of my sorrow”. Who can blame her for this curse as she passed away in childbirth. But as his father Jacob held that little boy for the first time he renamed him Benjamin, or “son of my right hand”.
What a beautiful picture of what God has done for us. The Father has taken our sin and shame and turned it into beauty and strength.
Perhaps, like me, you think of yourself as a son of sorrow. Perhaps you look at your lifetime of failure and shame and have worn that title willingly. Perhaps, liken that little baby, you gave caused pain and grief to those closest to you. Perhaps those around you have labeled you with the tag of “son of my sorrow” for so long that you can’t see yourself as anything else.
But your Father has taken you in His loving arms and has renamed you. You are now “son of my right hand”. Like Jacob, God sees you as a precious gift, even though you were born in grief and death. You don’t have to wear the name tag anymore.
Will you believe it? Will you accept it?
It’s time to quit acting like a son of sorrow and take your seat in the power and love of a Father who moved heaven and earth to make you a “son of His right hand.”