Thursday, February 1, 2018
Psalms 143:1 – 2 O LORD, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief. Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you.
I have had a word running around in my brain for the last few days and I can’t shake it. It’s not a word that I usually use in any of my conversations with people or even with God. It’s a word that is not generally accepted as appropriate in the context of spiritual conversations with unbelievers in our culture. It would be considered politically incorrect to use it to describe the average citizen of our country. But it is a word the Bible uses to describe us all. The fact that we don’t use it much anymore has hindered the cause of Christ and dramatically slowed the harvest of souls for the King. People are not coming to Christ for salvation, and it may in large part be due to the fact that they don’t understand they need to be saved from their sin. They don’t know that they are condemned.
We use that word to describe buildings that need to be torn down, but we have stopped using it to describe the spiritual condition of every person on the planet. By choice we have rebelled against God and become slaves to the nature of sin in us all. Having been conceived in sin we have conceived the activity of sin. Just as the building is sentenced to be destroyed upon the pronouncement of condemnation, so we are sentenced to the eternal destruction of life based on God’s pronouncement of the condemnation of our sin.
Jesus taught this clearly in John 3, where He says, For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
Everyone is condemned, just as David said in Psalm 143:2. But like David, everyone can come to Christ for mercy. The Judge of sin is also the Savior from sin. In His faithfulness and righteousness, He will forgive those who come to Him and cry for mercy. But the cry for mercy can only be sincere if there is a sincere recognition of condemnation. When we humbly and honestly consider the hopelessness of our sinful position before Almighty God we can better appreciate the splendor of His saving grace.
Chuck Colson relates the following story from many years ago during his prison ministry.
I was speaking at the Indiana State Prison. Only weeks earlier, Stephen Judy had been electrocuted there. An execution always creates a special tension in a prison, and I could sense it that day. It was in the air, in the voices of the guards, in the faces of the men.
After my talk, the warden walked us through the maze of cell blocks to that most dreaded of places—an isolated wing where five men awaited their final decree and death. Nancy Honeytree, the talented young gospel singer who is part of our team, was with me; several of our volunteers came along as well. Finally, we were ushered through two massive steel gates into the secure area. The inmates were allowed out of their cells, and we joined in a circle in the walkway while Nancy strummed the guitar and sang. It was a beautiful moment for those condemned men—and for us—as we closed by singing together “Amazing Grace.”
Two of the men, I knew from their correspondence with me, were believers. One of them, James Brewer, had the most radiant expression during our visit, and he sang at the top of his lungs.
As we were shaking hands and saying good-bye, I noticed that Brewer walked back into his cell with one of our volunteers. The others began filing out, but this volunteer remained in Brewer’s cell; the two were standing shoulder to shoulder, together reading the Bible. I was expected in two hours in Indianapolis for a meeting with the governor, so I walked back into the cell. “We’ve got to go,” I called out, beckoning to our volunteer.
“Just a minute, please,” he replied. I shook my head and repeated, “Sorry, time’s up, the plane is waiting.”
“Please, please, this is very important,” the volunteer replied. “You see, I am Judge Clement. I sentenced this man to die. But now he is born again. He is my brother and we want a minute to pray together.
I stood in the entrance to that solitary, dimly lit cell, frozen in place. Here were two men—one black, one white; one powerful, one powerless; one who had sentenced the other to die. Yet there they stood grasping a Bible together, Brewer smiling so genuinely, the judge so filled with love for the prisoner at his side.
Impossible in human terms! Brewer should despise this man, I thought. Only in Christ could this happen. The sight of those men standing together as brothers in that dingy cell will remain vivid in my mind forever.
Someday, maybe even today, we will stand arm in arm and face to face with the Judge – the One who had the power to sentence us to eternal death because of our sin. But we will meet Him as our Savior – the One who personally died in our place so that we might have life. He was condemned so that we could be forgiven.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2)