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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

No Condemnation

While we've been in the United States, Doug and I have gone to church with our folks. Both attend wonderful churches and we enjoy going as "spectators" rather than leaders! The sermons in both places were challenging and well done. One line from Doug's parent's church has stayed with me. The minister, in speaking about Jesus' response to various individuals in need said the following about our own response to other people's needs: "Pity is what you feel when you encounter someone with deep needs. Compassion is what you do when you encounter someone with deep needs. Jesus felt pity and acted with compassion." It made me realize in a deep manner that it is easy to feel for another person. The greater challenge is perhaps acting on those feelings in a manner that might be sacrificial, difficult or awkward. And yet, it is the core of the gospel as far as I'm concerned.
This past Sunday at my parent's church in Palm Springs, California, the minister was speaking on Christ's encounter with a woman who had committed adultery and who, under strict Jewish law, should've been stoned to death. Instead, Jesus responded to this woman with no condemnation and challenged the rest of us to do the same. He sent the woman on her way with the gentle challenge to "go and sin no more." The minister's point to us was plain and simple...if Jesus responds to our sin with "no condemnation" then should not be able to do the same? We ourselves do not live under the crippling tyranny of our sin so why in the world would we impose such a thing on others? He also brought out the truth that when someone does do something wrong, it is rare that they are unaware of their failure. In fact, one of the greater problems for people is an inability to forgive themselves. In my experience as a minister, it is the rare person who feels the conviction of sin in their lives and wants to continue to revel in it. Sometimes overcoming the temptation to sin is too great, but rare is the person who loves to stay mired in their wrong doing.
We love to convict others of their sin, especially if it something that we ourselves do not struggle with. But imagine how different our interaction with society could be if we humbly examined ourselves and sought redemption and forgiveness for our own shortcomings instead of engaging in the finger pointing at others that is so often a public hallmark of the church. This turns people away from the love of God in Christ. It does not draw them in. When Jesus encountered the woman who had committed adultery, he did not begin his encounter by pointing out her shortcomings. Instead, he approached with compassion, love and grace. This allowed him to have a hearing with her. If we start with condemnation, why would anyone stay and listen? Inevitably, when one person points out the sin in another person's live, it becomes a glaring example of the pot calling the kettle black, for who among us can convict another of their sin while being mired in our own shortcomings?
So why is it then that the Christian church often feels that one of their central roles is to convict people of their sin? Is that really our job? Is not our more central purpose to lure people to the love of Jesus through compassion and care while allowing the Spirit of God to work in their lives? Why do we so often feel that if we don't tell another that they are wrong, they will never figure it out? Do we not believe with whole hearts that God will convict each and every one of us of our wrong-doing as we attune our lives to His will? What kind of impact do you think the Christian Church could have on society if we left convicting people of their sin to the Holy Spirit and instead did as Jesus did...offer no condemnation and instead shower with compassion and care?