Monday, November 4, 2013

Filthy Rags

Go and sin no more. (John 8:11)

It's fascinating to me how the religious like to gloss over the rest of the story in their haste to get to this, in their minds, the most critical part of the telling. 

Recently, people that I'm close to, people that I respect, have let me down in their response to sinners. I have been embarrassed by these people, angered by their audacity, frustrated by their callousness. Frankly, I want to walk over and grab them by the huge planks that are sticking out of their eyes and yank them around a bit, just to remind them that, indeed, they have huge planks in their eyes. (Matthew 7:3-5)

You may have noticed that the name of this blog is Remnant of Grace. As a reformed legalist, that name is packed with meaning for me as is the Scripture written under the title. I am that remnant, a rag, a leftover. Isaiah 64:6 resonates with me:
We are all infected and impure with sin. When we proudly display our righteous deeds, we find they are but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall. And our sins, like the wind, sweep us away.
My righteousness is like filthy rags. But I was chosen by grace. My works, my righteousness is not held against me. It is not the standard by which my worth is measured. It is no longer by works. That, my friends, is the gospel. 

So when I see Christians holding up others to another standard, I get a little angry. When I see them looking at someone's lifestyle, their works, to determine their worth, I get frustrated and I cry foul. Why in the world are we comparing rags?  

I love the story in John 8 that I referenced earlier. Trying to trap Him, the Pharisees bring a woman before Jesus and tell Him that she was caught in the act of adultery. The law says to stone her. What should they do? Jesus, of course, ignores them and scratches in the dirt for a bit until they just will not be ignored anymore. Then, He tells them to go ahead and stone her with this caveat: "But let those who have never sinned throw the first stones!" Then he returns to scratching in the dirt as, one by one, they slip away.

He became a shelter for this woman, a blatant sinner, caught in the very act. He shielded her from what she had coming to her, legally and morally. He saved her life. He was a sanctuary to her, not in spite of, but because of her sin. She would not have encountered Jesus had it not been for her sinfulness and she did not come to him voluntarily

Religion dragged her there. Religion put her sin on display. Religion made sure everyone knew she did not measure up. 

But Jesus responded to her by being a refuge, not a judge. When her accusers were gone, Jesus looked up and asked, "Didn't even one of them condemn you?" She told Him they hadn't. 

"Neither do I. Go and sin no more." 

He refused to condemn her. He didn't give her a lesson on why she shouldn't sin or on sexual immorality. Legalists like to look at the second part of that verse as an admonishment, a scolding. If you dwell too much on the first part of the story, they are quick to point out the last line, "Go and sin no more." Look at the mess you made. Stop doing that. See where it got you? Now beat it!

But I think we're missing the message if we look at it through that lens. How can we possibly believe that the Jesus who just protected her, and said himself that He would not condemn her, would now respond to her so harshly? "Go and sin no more" is not an admonishment; it's an invitation. There is a better way. You don't have to keep living like you're living. You don't have to wear those filthy rags anymore. Walk in freedom. Live in grace.

It is a statement of hope.

There are those who will unwillingly come to our attention because of sin. They may not be repentant. They may be content to remain in their sin. They may even be defiant. What will our response to those people be? 

Will we lead the charge, waving the list of wrongs, with Scriptures to back us up? Will we attack their character and stone them with our words? Will we abandon them and reject their presence in our lives? 

Or will we respond like Jesus, providing shelter and refuge, refusing to condemn, offering grace and hope?

The condition of my rags proves what my response should be. How about yours?

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