Judge or Sinner? Pick a Side

There really isn’t a third group.  Jesus ate with sinners.  He spoke to those that followed Him (fishermen, children, diseased, depressed, hopeless).  They took one glance at this man and followed Him.  Then there were the religious elite, the pharisees.  He often rebuked them as their judgement was in error and had no place in a gospel built on love and forgiveness.

So where is the third group?  Where is the group we all think we belong in?  Where would we be sitting if Jesus walked into the mall today and there we are?  Most of us admit we have sinned at one time way back when, but we really dislike the connotation of ‘sinner’.  The pharisees were far worse.  Hypocrites, self righteous, pious.  We don’t want to be lumped in with them… but we certainly don’t find ourselves at the tax collector’s table either.

So who are we?  Maybe we could argue we fit in the middle?  That almost sounds like being lukewarm, which promises we will be spat out of grace should that be the case.  I can tell you who you are, but you may not like it.  It’s both good news and bad.  Lets start with the bad.

You are the sinner.  We all are.  We are human.  We have fallen.  We have a diabolical enemy with an army of demons that literally want to drag us to Hell fighting over our souls.  We make mistakes, we goof, and sometimes we just plain choose to do dumb things.  We are actively sinners.  All of us.  The pharisees are simply the group of us that lives in denial.

So, the good news?  We are the ones Jesus came to save.  We would find Him at our table.  He would come into our home.  He will heal us.  He will free us.  He will forgive us.  He will lift us up and allow us to join with Him in the place He has prepared for His children.

Two groups of people.  One followed Him, touched Him in faith, carried their sick to Him, washed His feet.  Sinners, all of them.  The other group nailed Him to the cross because they felt superior to Him and those He came to save.  They also feared Him.  Jesus came to us in our mess.  He meets us where we are.  He did it before and it cost His life.  He does it still.

Why did the pharisees hate Him?  He came to save us.  Our group.  The little guy.  They thought he belonged at the cool table.  But He choose the outcast, the lonely, the forgotten.  The pharisees pass judgement and then claim they are holier than any other.  Do you recall the simple scripture that addresses judgement?  Here it is in all its tricky, complicated, pieces for us to sort out and argue over… “Do not judge.”.

Sounds like a wonderful test to me.  Which group do you belong?  Whose sins are you worried about?  Yours?  Or those of another?   Does Jesus live in your home?  Or do you grind your teeth at the thought of others worshiping Him?  Those people who do it all wrong.  They meet on the wrong day, they sing the wrong songs, they interpret God’s word differently than you.  How dare they enjoy His presence… His blessing… His gift!

The good news about being in the ‘sinners’ group is that we have each other.  All of us, in it together, needing grace, knowing what stumbling is like, knowing what shame feels like, knowing what judgement feels like.  And as we yearn to be more like Jesus, we can sense what forgiveness feels like as we embrace each other, sinners all the same, and love each other the way He taught us to.  There is simply no room for judgement.  We do not wish to be judged and we do not judge.

What replaces judgement?  Prayer.  We pray for each other.  We pray for the pharisees.  We pray for our enemies, for those who wrong us.  We pray for those who need grace, love, healing, and hope.  We do life together.  Helping each other.  We embrace the words spoken as Jesus prepared to return to heaven.  “let them be one”.  We unite in our sin (not as a badge of honor, but as a common ground of understanding).  And much more so, we unite in our need for grace and humility.

I’m not proud of my sin, but I love those traveling with me who withhold judgement.  We have a common enemy that would use that against us if we let him.  Something great happens when we accept what group we are in.  It’s not giving up… we always strive to improve and make God proud every chance we can.  But knowing our place disarms the enemy.  He can’t hold our past hostage over us any longer.  When we know our place, we know we are forgiven.

When we know our place, we know we are loved and the lies of the enemy sounds as hypocritical as the judgement cast down from those told to not judge.  We all need forgiveness.  Some of us need to forgive.  Some of us need to invite God into our mess.  He will come.  Just as you are.  Just where you are.  One of Satan’s biggest lies is that we have to meet some criteria to be worthy of forgiveness.  What a tremendous lie that is!

Don’t be that monkey in the middle who thinks that only the other two sides get to play.  Jump out and claim your place at the sinners table filled with grace, love, forgiveness, hope, eternal promises, and have a seat next to our heavenly brother, Jesus.  He has been waiting for you.

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Greetings Sinner!

Good morning sinners!

Or, would you prefer to be addressed as something else? Something a little less blunt and honest? Lets face it, you most likely read that greeting and hung your head down knowing you have a checkered past that you regret, or you got angry because you are living in denial. We are all sinners. Some of us have just forgotten about that. Some of us don’t want to be reminded as it’s in our past.

There is a movement that I have noticed among Christians that seems to have lifted a passage or two out of our Bibles.

“Do not judge” Matthew 7:1

Whew! It’s still there. What a powerful and complete thought in three blunt and irrefutable words. Why not judge? Well we don’t even have to turn the page to find out why we shouldn’t judge. It’s the very next sentence. If you judge, you will be judged. And that verse is extremely threatening because each one of us deserves the cross for our sins. Some of us have dropped to our knees and made life sweeping changes at the thought of Jesus taking on our sins and redeeming us from our fate.

And for those of us that know Jesus personally, we get that verse. We get Paul. The Christian murderer who went on to proclaim Christ and who has become a saint in the eyes of many new believers. We understand the prostitute. The woman whose death-sentence was being carried out until Jesus gave permission for any perfect person around to finish her off. With no one able to meet that criteria she walked away a new woman with a simple command, “sin no more”. Why no more? Because Jesus knew what his cross meant for us. It was a dividing line that bridged a massive gap between yesterday and today. Yesterday we lived in sin and today we live in Jesus. The cross did that. His sacrifice for us did that. Jesus allows us to live a new life, innocent of our past.

So all we have left to tidy up this gift of salvation is our hypocrisy. Our ability to thank God for forgiving us from our past and then turning to our neighbor and condemning them for theirs.

And here is the really hard part. We all know people we would love to forgive right now. Or at least allow God to forgive them… but we know deep down that if we did that, we would have to allow forgiveness for others, and that would put them all on the same playing field. And, if we are brutally honest (which is the only kind of honesty) that makes us sick. We want to forgive one person while claiming another person is irredeemable.

“That all of them may be one”. John 17:21. Jesus’ final prayer to God before being executed. We are one in our sin. We are one in our forgiveness. Jesus wants us all to be one in Him. He knew then, that evil would tempt us towards division.

I’m not proud of my sin. I’m actually proud of very little in my life. But I find great pride in my future. I am happy and secure in God’s promises for me. And the thing I’ve noticed in my short life as a forgiven Christian, is that I’m not looking at the sins of others, when I’m looking at God. I’m not judging others, when I’m trying to improve my own life.

I’m not much on challenging others or calling people out. But I thought this verse was particularly helpful to me today. I can imagine the rebuttals, and the exceptions, and the what-ifs being hurled directly, indirectly, or even under the reader’s breath. But this verse speaks for itself. Lets try it out:

But….

Do not judge.

You are forgetting…

Do not judge.

How about…

Do not judge.

But…

Do not judge.

This person…

Do not judge.

The Bible also says…

Do not judge.

Aren’t you judging us right now?

Do not judge (besides, it’s a loving reminder :p)

I like it when it’s simple. Jesus knew the minds of people. If only one person stood before the prostitute with rock in hand, ready to stone her to death for her sin, and Jesus gave them a chance to admit sin in their own lives… they could have easily justified throwing with full force. Our minds are tricky that way. We can rationalize a lot of things. But this was a community of believers. They looked around at each other and their minds began to fact check. That guy knew me when I was a teenager, I can’t throw this in front of him. She saw me after prom, I can’t throw in front of her. All alone we can summarize a quaint, perfect, existence for ourselves… until we remember we have a past. And then we catch a glimpse of those we have wronged ready to cast blame at another.

As a community of believers, we have strength in sobering up to our true pasts and current selves. As one, the one unit that Jesus prayed we would be, we can’t honestly cast stones at each other. It’s far too easy to judge. The enemy uses it as a sucker’s game to lure us in and we just keep dropping money until, before we know it, we are broke. The high road is to follow the scripture. “Do not judge”. Period. Amount of anger does not matter. Level of depravity does not matter. Humiliation suffered does not matter. There isn’t an asterisk in the ancient manuscript that points us to all of the exceptions where it’s OK to judge. Its simply never allowed. Instead, we have bigger fish to fry. We have sin in our own lives that needs forgiveness. We have enemies to pray for, possibly the very ones we are tempted to judge. We have service to provide. We have a world that desperately needs to see the love of Jesus in each of our hearts.

A judgmental heart is accompanied by an idle mind. One that has the time and energy to put towards work against the will of God. Harsh? Perhaps. But let’s be honest, we’re all sinners. And we need each other focused on God and leaning on each other in the spirit of love. We need each other judgement free, so that we can confess to each other, work with each other, love one another, and be one with each other.

Let me try one final analogy. Eternity isn’t the time where we start learning to get along. I would go so far as to say that it will be a required trait to have mastered BEFORE we leave this side of life.