Criminal Minds

What would you say if you found out that the young woman sitting next to you in church was a thief? Recently I traveled to a conference and had a conversation with a woman like that and, ever since, I have not been able to get that discussion out of my mind. She shared with me that, for a period of time during her high school years, she often stole and, I have to admit, I was a bit shocked. After all, she seemed like such a “good” girl – she spent 12 years in a Christian school, was raised in a godly home, and attended church weekly. How could this sweet, young woman be a thief?

Judging Others
As I sat listening, several judgments raced through my mind, but this one stood out the most: “The fact that she stole just reveals her heart,” I thought to myself. However, this was not a new thought for me. Since becoming a Christian I have often passed judgments about another person based on external behaviors, regrettably more times than I would like to admit. I have considered someone else’s sin and have mistakenly concluded that they obviously do not know God. Furthermore, I have also wrongly established that this particular sin is, in fact, proof. As I think about outward sins, I simultaneously categorize it as being worse than other “lesser” sins. I then assume that this person has serious problems and most likely has a heart that is far from God or, worse yet, unknown by Him. I commit to pray for them so that they may know God, or I slip them a Bible verse.  I think, “They need help.”

Who is the Criminal?
The young woman I mentioned is a criminal. Strong word you say? It may sound kind of harsh but, by all accounts, she broke the law. If she were caught she would likely pay a penalty – a prison term or fine. Her record would forever reveal the truth that she had broken the law.
Subsequently, why have I not been able to get her story out of my mind? Perhaps it is a reminder of who I really am – a criminal, too. Here is the truth: I don’t see myself as a criminal. Her outward criminal act of theft is obvious; however, my inward criminal acts are not. I have deceived myself, and I have believed the lie that my sin is not nearly as bad as hers. As if that was not dreadful enough, I also desire justice- but only on behalf of someone else. I wrongly think that I am not at fault and that, instead, it is only everyone else that has problems.

The Gospel
Since that conversation, I have recited in my mind the rulings I have set forth in judgment of others. Stealing?  Guilty. Addiction? Guilty. Pre-marital sex? Guilty. My inward sin? Not so guilty. This is where the gospel breaks in to crush every human notion about who I really am. God’s Word reminds me that even I am not righteous, for no one is (Romans 3:10). Romans 3:23 states that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Left with that truth alone, I would stand as a condemned criminal awaiting my sentence. I would have nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. My sin of judging others is level with another’s sin of theft. My struggle with coveting other’s property is just as sinful as my neighbor’s battle with pornography.

The good news is that we are not left in our sin. There was One who came to rescue criminals. He came in the person of Jesus, a friend to sinners like you and like me. He lived a perfect life. Although He was sinless, He was treated as a criminal and received the treatment that only we deserve. He was tried and convicted for our transgressions. He was sentenced and imprisoned – paying an unjust penalty which should have been placed on us.  He was crucified for our atrocities so that we might never be tried. Love is His name. Instead of our record forever revealing the truth that we have broken the law, our record is now the pure and perfect record of Jesus.

I would like to say that I do not judge like I used to – I only wish that were true. However, my heart is still judgmental and, although others do not know the thoughts in my mind, God knows. More and more I am thankful for the righteousness of Christ. His beautiful spotless robe covers me and, if you are in Christ, it covers you as well.

The verdict is in. I am innocent, blameless, and perfect. Christ has come. It is finished. This is biblical fuel that motivates my heart to love!

Lori Harding is the Director of Care Ministries and Women’s Support at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, as well as a small group leader and Bible study teacher. She counsels and speaks to women of all ages. Lori has a passion for communicating the glorious truth that Christ came to set captives free.  In her spare time she enjoys reading, cooking and hanging out with friends and family.  Married 30 years with a 22 yr old year son, Lori is realizing more and more her desperation for help that comes not from within herself, but from the God who saves – Jesus.

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