I’ve been on a crime documentary kick lately. My heart has been broken seeing how unjust our justice system is, at times, for both victims and people accused of crimes. I’ve found myself angry at the at the terrible things that people have done to one another, and I’ve found myself passing judgements on the offenders, wondering how someone could do such awful things. I’ve thought things like, “they deserved a much harsher sentence,” or “why are people like that even alive?”
This blog post isn’t about the death penalty, the justice system, or anything like that. I want to share how I’ve been greatly humbled recently, and maybe you will be, too.
I see it often: someone does something terrible, and the internet loses its mind. People begin calling names and making threats to people they’ve never met as if they are completely morally sound in everything they do- even Christians.
The Gospel is simple, but following Jesus isn’t always so simple. He calls us to so many hard things, and it’s a process learning to be obedient to what He calls us to. It’s a process letting go of our selfish nature and understanding that the only reason we can stand before God is because Jesus’ sacrifice was enough to cover us – it was never our own doing. It’s a process understanding the depth of God’s character and the depth of our identity in Him.
I didn’t realize it until I started watching those documentaries, but sometimes I think and act like God’s grace is only for me.
Have you ever had a thought like, “there is a special place in hell for rapists, murderers, pedophiles, you fill in the blank” creep into your mind?
I definitely have at least once in my life. I’m not proud of that, but it’s true.
Sometimes I think that my sin isn’t as bad as the sin of other people, but to God, sin is sin. Sin, no matter how “big” or “small”, is the same to God in that it creates a chasm and separates us from Him. The idea that all sin is equal can be a hard pill to swallow because I imagine the “really bad sins” like rape or murder on a totally different level than “little sins” like telling lies.
And that picture makes sense in my mind. Telling a lie is nowhere near as bad as taking a life, right? Wrong. Telling a lie is just as bad as taking a life. But when I think about that, the picture in my mind shifts to something like this.
Because I don’t want to admit that my little sins are that bad, I bring the “really bad sin” down to my level. It’s more comfortable for me that way, but then I realize that the “really bad sins” seem to be getting a free pass. They’re not 10 times worse than my sin anymore, and that doesn’t seem fair! The picture should really look more like this.
When I say that all sin is the same, I’m not making a small deal out of something big, I’m making a big deal out of something that I think is small. And even though it doesn’t seem very fair for me, the truth is that my lies separate me from God just as much any “big sin” would separate anyone else from God.
The longer I am a Christian, the easier it becomes to minimize my sin because I know that it is forgiven. But knowing my sin is forgiven doesn’t just make it small. That way of thinking is called self righteousness. I begin to think that, because I know God, I get to place my sin and the sins of others on a scale and decide which is worse. My holiness becomes dependent on someone else’s unholiness, so, rather than relying on God’s grace and knowing that I’m covered, I rely on others being worse than me.
That isn’t how I usually think, but if I don’t pay close attention to my heart and mind, it’s easy to slip into that way of thinking.
So we have this picture of sin and how everything ranks, and in swoops grace and takes care of it all. And this is what makes a lot of people uncomfortable, even me at times.
What Jesus did wasn’t just for some people that weren’t so bad – like that first picture. His payment wasn’t just for liars, thieves, and idolaters. His victory wasn’t just for adulterers and hustlers. It’s just as much for murderers, rapists, bullies, liars, gangters, adulterers, racists, thieves, addicts, prostitutes, kidnappers, drug dealers, abusers, slave drivers, and religious extremists as it is for straight people, LGBTQ people, democrats, republicans, libertarians, politicians, protesters, and police officers. If being in the company of any of those people makes me uncomfortable then I need to remind myself of how my Jesus loves. Because even though I feel like His grace is too big and too far and too available for my comfort all the time, I am reminded that His grace, His victory, and His salvation are not beyond the reach of anyone who asks. He takes us as we are, where we are, and makes something out of us that we couldn’t do ourselves, if we let him. He can take the worst of the worst and bring them into glory.
One of the most beautiful pictures of this generous grace is when Jesus was on the cross. As the guards nailed this innocent man to the cross and cast lots for his clothes, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And as they crucified him between two criminals, one of them, a thief, believed Jesus was who he said he was and called out to him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
I stand spotless before the throne of God, my new self paid for by Someone else’s blood, and remember that I am surrounded by my brothers and sisters, made new by the same blood. I realize that if this beautiful grace wasn’t enough to cover the “big” sins, it wouldn’t be enough to cover the “little” ones because there is really no distinction. We have all messed up, no one worse than any other, and are redeemed all the same by the blood of Jesus. So I begin to see that this grace that goes too far – this grace that makes me uncomfortable at times – really goes just far enough.