Walking a Thin Line

Written for my church’s daily devotional in June…

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?

Romans 2:1-3

As a chaperone for a New York City field trip, I boarded the subway with my daughter’s class. A man lay on one seat, sweatpants pulled up to the knee revealing legs crisscrossed by scabs. Despite open eyes beneath his blue-tinted sunglasses, he remained oblivious to our group. When spoken to, he either could not or would not respond. A wet stain with yellowed edges on his pants added a tragic stroke to an already dismal image.

Recognizing signs of drug abuse, I stood between him and the teenagers in my care, uncertain how the chemical cocktail in his veins would manifest in his behavior. My heart hurt for him.

Early in my Christian walk, I lacked such compassion. Shamefully, I often disdained anyone who fell short of obeying God by my standards, blind to my failure in obeying Him to Christ’s standards. Such judgmental thoughts never stay secret but corrupt actions and attitudes, poisoning our witness.

Since those days, God has humbled me, reminding me I’m no better than the man on the subway. But for the grace of God, I could have been lying there.

As an unbeliever, I struggled with an intense self-focus I preferred to call depression. I congratulated myself on not taking prescription antidepressants even as I self-medicated with alcohol and marijuana. Pride blinded me to my double standard. How many steps down this slippery slope did I lack before tumbling into my own pit of addiction? I shudder to imagine.

 The truth is, the condition of the man on the train closely mirrors anyone’s spiritual state apart from Christ. Including mine. When I reflect on the mercy God showed me, I can no longer condemn others.

What horror brought this man to a point of surrendering hope and dignity for a temporary respite from reality? I doubt he made a conscious choice to enslave himself to a drug. Addiction is insidious, seeming to offer relief. But over time, it takes more and more until it has complete dominion. Exactly like every other sin.

Today, Christ alone stands between the filth of my sins and the wrath of the Father, and He alone offers genuine and lasting relief.  He offers it to the man on the train, as well. My place is not to judge but I have the privilege of sharing the freedom I’ve found in Christ. I pray that poor man will find Christ, too.

Questions to Ponder:

  1. Most of us struggle against addiction in some form. If not drugs or alcohol, it could be porn, food, approval, work, reward, entertainment – the list is long. What are you prone to enslave yourself to?
  2. Does what you give your time and effort to really satisfy, or does it take more and more over time?
  3. Next time you find yourself craving some relief or release, try crying out to God instead, asking Him to change your craving for what does not satisfy into a desire for Him.  He alone can truly fill our gaping need.

Adulteress

…And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” John 8:11b

A few days ago, I dreamed of the passage about the woman caught in adultery from John 8 and have spent many days reading and pondering the story. As I’ve read and re-read, I have also delved into commentaries out of curiosity over what others say, and in doing so found that many scholars do not believe John actually wrote the verses found in John 7:53-8:11, but that the words are nonetheless considered to recount an actual event that was perhaps added in later.

However, the scope of this article has nothing to do with whether or not this passage is a valid writing of John but rather a reflection on what it was God was saying to me, personally. And this morning, I finally got it.

In order to best share it with you, I need to point out another passage in Scripture, namely Matthew 18:23-35. To summarize, this is the parable Jesus told about a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. One servant owed the king a debt so tremendous that it was impossible for him to pay back.

Upon receiving the news that he, his family, and all he owned were to be sold in order to make payment on the debt, the servant begged for mercy. Moved by compassion, the king not only granted mercy but pardoned the servant’s debt.

The forgiven servant proceeded to encounter a fellow servant who owed him a small debt. When this man asked for lenience, the servant, apparently forgetting the mercy that had been extended to him, actually began to choke his fellow servant, throwing the poor man into prison.

Word of the event reached the king who summoned the man whom he had pardoned, taking him to task for being merciless to his fellow when he, himself, had received abundant mercy. My Lord closes the tale by stating:

So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” Matthew 18:35

Oh, there were other Scriptures the Lord called to mind as I have mulled over the dream and the passage found in John 8. However, as Inigo Montoya said in The Princess Bride, “Let me explain… No, there is too much. Let me sum up.”

There are many valid and wonderful insights that can be derived from both passages. Both have a great deal of easily applicable information on the treatment of others, on mercy, on grace, on forgiveness… indeed, on a host of Godly learning.

But…

All of this is nothing more than intellectual exercise until each of us understands what my God has been revealing to me.

I am the servant forgiven an unpayable debt. I am the woman caught in adultery.

We all are, for there is not a man or woman alive today who is entirely innocent of spiritual adultery; of pursuing self-indulgence or money or fame or innumerable other gods rather than remaining faithful to the One who Created us after His own image and breathed His life into us.

It is here, trembling in fear before the Righteous Judge as the murderous crowd drop their stones and slowly trickle away one by one until I stand alone before Him – it is here that I truly feel awed by His unlikely act of forgiveness. Here is where I feel the crushing weight of my debt and my inability to repay it.

And here is where I marvel at His words, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on, sin no more.”

Now that I have tasted the overwhelming and entirely undeserved freedom of my pardon, how could I not also forgive those who have committed such little offenses toward me?

And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Matthew 18:34-35

Father God, today I pray that we would each feel the incredible relief of forgiveness, realizing that our own unpayable debt and spiritual adultery are so much larger than the petty offenses we stack up against our brothers and sisters. Help us to grasp the weight of joy in Your forgiveness in such a way that we are eager to leave our lives of sin and walk in freedom, forgiving others as You have forgiven us.