When I was in seventh grade I did not take my confirmation classes very seriously. I failed my first test, which, I’ve discovered, is not all that uncommon for confirmation students. The trouble was, my dad was the pastor at the church and it didn’t look all that great to have his son disrespecting his youth director by not taking the class seriously. When I got in the car after class, my mom was really upset. My youth director had informed her of my failure. She said, “You are the pastor’s son! You failed your test!?! Just wait until your father gets home!” I was exposed! I was done for. That whole ride home seemed like an eternity. I went to my room in the basement afraid of what my dad was going to say and do. My parents never pressured us to act any particular way just because we were the pastor’s kids, but I knew that what I had done was embarrassing to my dad. He loved that church, he loved his staff, he loved the Word, and now his son was mocking all of it and making him look bad. I felt horrible. So, afraid, ashamed, and guilty, I went downstairs to my room and awaited my judgment. In the basement of my guilt, there was no escaping the judgment of my father at this point.
Have you ever been there? Unable to escape judgment? I love this verse from Romans where Paul says, sin is not counted where there is no law. But, I’d love to know, where in the world is that? Where is there any place in this world where there is no law counting my sins against me? Because, let’s be honest, we live in a world of law and judgment. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing. If there weren’t laws threatening punishment, we sinners wouldn’t check ourselves and our self-serving motives would rule the day. A world driven by selfish desires is nothing to aspire to.
Yet, in a world so wired by law and rules, judgement is everywhere. You simply can’t avoid it. Just try. Are you going to avoid judgement at work with your boss and coworkers? Of course not. Your performance is constantly under review. Are you on time? Are you getting your work done? Do you work well with others? No, you can’t go there.
What about your family? Maybe, but rarely. A great deal of marital struggles arise when one spouse hides something from the other for fear of how they will be judged. We are constantly judging our kids and their performance at school, on the field, in their musical endeavors. And if you don’t think your kids are judging you, well, that’s just because you don’t have teenagers! We love them, but if they don’t perform well, if they fail the confirmation test, there are going to be consequences. This may be necessary, but it means that the family is not a place free from judgment. And, doesn’t it just seem that with family they have a way of exposing our sin all that much more harshly? We love them more, and thus, perhaps, fear their judgment more.
Maybe we can escape by turning from those we love the most to something almost completely inconsequential like entertainment. We’ll watch sports or movies to get a break from the constant barrage of judgment. That is, until we turn on the TV and find that we are watching a show to judge a teenager singer, or we are comparing the performance of this or that athlete with the other greats. We can’t just enjoy a great movie, we have to debate whether or not it is worthy of an Oscar. Then we get a commercial break where, as Oswald Bayer says, “advertising depicts the self-accusation of a wife or mother when her conscience reproaches her for not using the right softener.” (Living by Faith,pg. 3) Judgment even entertains us. It certainly manipulates us into buying stuff.
Perhaps we should hide from judgment by turning to social media... on second thought, let’s not.
What about the church? That should be a place where we are free from the judgment of others. Ha! Yeah, that is what we in the church are known for: unconditional love free of judgment. This should be the one place people can be open about their guilt and shame, where they can come to confess their sins and expose their moral failings. Instead, we all dress up like we have our lives together and hide our secrets behind make-up and sports coats.
So, someone will say, “Who cares about all this judgment in the world? Only God can judge me.” But, I don’t think we realize just how much worse that is! I mean, these other places of judgment don’t necessarily condemn us for our sins according to God’s holy and righteous standard. Their judgment is based either on laws or rules they feel are right, perhaps derived from the holy Law of God, but not the Law itself. In those places, we are judged, fairly or not, by what my friend Kimm Crandall calls “little 'L' law.” (Beloved Mess, pg. 33-37)
But before God, we aren’t dealing with merely the judgments of this world, we’re dealing with the Holy Standard of God! Beneath the “big L” Law of God, the judgment is not only more pronounced, it is completely deserved. The main thing that happens to you when you look at your life in light of God’s Law is you are exposed as being guilty. You cannot escape that judgment. It follows you everywhere. God knows all your sins. And His Word of Law tells you that you are dead where you stand. There is no access to God here, beneath the Law, that doesn’t result in His wrath and our death. There is no escaping the judgment of your heavenly Father at this point—at least, not from the Law.
So, there I was in the basement of my house when I heard the garage door open. It felt like it took hours. And then, I heard the car door open. The car door close. The garage door close. The upstairs door open. Seems a little drawn out here? It was! I waited forever! My mom and dad spoke, and my dad came down the stairs. “I heard about your confirmation test.” Yes, I said. “You failed.” Yes. “Do you think you should study harder next time?” Yes. I knew that. The guilt had drilled that in. “Okay. Well, how about coming upstairs to watch the ball game?” Yes... wait... what?
You need to understand, asking me to watch a game with him in that context was as absolution. He might as well have said, “I forgive you your sins.” I was forgiven, I was free. It never came up again. I’d made him look bad and he forgave me. We went to watch the game.
So, there you are, dead in your sins and trespasses. The Law has shown you that you are judged and condemned with nowhere to turn. But, then something remarkable happens, miraculous even. You have nowhere to turn, but God turns towards you, He comes down the stairs and gives you a place free from judgment. That place is found in Christ Jesus 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. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
Before God, you have a place to stand free from judgment and condemnation. That is in Christ Jesus. There is no law there to condemn you who are in Christ Jesus, because He was condemned in your place. There is no sin for Him to condemn, because Jesus took it away from you to the cross. The shame, the guilt, the punishment, the judgment all fall on Jesus. You are free, forgiven, beloved. God came down the stairs and forgave you, He reconciled you to the Father we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.Reconciliation! That is, free access to our loving gracious Father through the blood of Jesus. Reconciliation! That is, an invitation upstairs to watch the game.
Hear this, dear beloved children of the heavenly Father, this is a world of sin and judgment. Some of that is deserved judgment, some isn’t. You will never do enough to win full acceptance in this world. Nor, beneath the Law of God will you ever do enough to pay for your sins and earn God’s favor. There all judgment is deserved. But, fear not, for Jesus came down the stairs. He did everything to pay for you with His blood.
You are forgiven! We are free! So, let’s watch the game!