Living In Community: Passing Sentence
In the body, we are to embrace, to welcome, to invite in, to welcome the stranger.
Living In Community: Passing Sentence
This is the third in a series of messages that are seeking to illuminate anti-Christ behavior that we learned in our old way of life before coming to Jesus is faith for salvation and tend to drag into our new life. A key thought is that when you believe the gospel you are incorporated into the body of Christ, Jesus is the head and every believer is a part of the body. Therefore we all are important, you are important to the vitality of the whole.
1 Corinthians 12:14-17 (MSG)
I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn't just a single part blown up into something huge. It's all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, "I'm not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don't belong to this body," would that make it so? If Ear said, "I'm not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don't deserve a place on the head," would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell?
Each believer contributes to the welfare of the whole. We don’t learn this truth in our time living outside the Kingdom of God. One of the anti-Christ behaviors we drag with us into our new life in Christ is self-centeredness. A self-centered believer thinks “It’s All About Me” and is always saying “Feed Me.” Another of the anti-Christ behaviors we drag with us into our new life in Christ is disrespect. When we don’t concern ourselves with the welfare of a brother or sister in Christ, we are spiritually spitting on them. Since every believer is one with Christ, when you spit on them, you are spitting in the face of Jesus (Matthew 25:40). Since you are a part of the body—didn’t Jim Croce teach us not to spit into the wind? Yeah, disrespect a member of the body and you are disrespecting yourself.
Today we are going to look at yet another anti-Christ behavior that we tend to bring along with us in our new life as a member of the Kingdom of God. That behavior is Passing Sentence.
“Passing sentence,” we do it all the time. We were warned not to—“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But that warning goes unheeded. We look, but don’t investigate, we don’t bother to hear their story, we don’t like what we see, so we conclude that they are not worthy of our time. People feel that. You don’t have to say a word, the look on your face, your body language sends the message. You spiritually steal a little of their self-worth as you discount them.
I am going to assume you’ve watched enough lawyer shows to know how criminal court operates, well at least as entertainment. The jury renders a guilty verdict the defendant stands condemned and the judge passes sentence. Hopefully, the sentence is a fitting punishment for the crime committed.
The gospel reveals a surprisingly different outcome than what the world and its ways offer. Sin is the crime with which you have been charged. Consider Psalm 14:3 and Romans 3:12—
Psalms 14:3 & Romans 3:12 (NIV)
“All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."
You can easily picture sin as turning away from a right relationship with God. Genesis 3 tells the tale of banishment from the Garden in Eden, symbolic of the estrangement all humanity is cursed with. Sin in your life can easily be discerned. All you have to do is recall the failed and broken relationships in your life that started out well, only to crash and burn. The cause of unsuccessful relationships is sin. Big sin or little sin, doesn’t matter, someone did something unrighteous, and the relationship falls apart.
We stand before the judge of the universe.
Revelation 20:12 (MSG)
I saw all the dead, great and small, standing there—before the Throne! And books were opened. Then another book was opened: the Book of Life. The dead were judged by what was written in the books, by the way they had lived.
We stand guilty of big sins, little sins, hot sins, cold sins, sins of commission, sins of omission, we stand guilty as charged. The sentence comes down:
Ezekiel 18:20 & (Romans 6:23 & Matthew 25:41 (NIV)
“The soul who sins is the one who will die.” “For the wages of sin is death…” “'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’”
Not a pretty picture of spending eternity in. But in a big twist to a story, we read that Jesus intercedes for us, takes our place in death. The one who never sinned, the one innocent man, sacrifices his life for every one (1 Peter 3:18).
Isaiah 53:6 & 1 John 2:2 (MSG)
We've all done our own thing, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we've done wrong, on him, on [Jesus]. “When [Jesus] served as a sacrifice for our sins, he solved the sin problem for good—not only ours but the whole world's.
Then God in the biggest twist to a story ever raises Jesus from the death sentence. It’s hard to believe it to be true. From stone-cold dead and gone, suddenly He was no longer dead (Romans 8:11). Hard to believe yet it is the most reasonable explanation for the expansion and growth of what becomes known as Christianity. There was a bodily resurrection (Matthew 28:6)
Philippians 2:9-11 (NIV)
God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
All your sin is forgiven (1 John 2:12). You are exonerated (John 8:36). You become reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18). God the Holy Spirit indwells you (Ezekiel 36:27). You become a new person (2 Corinthians 5:17). You are adopted into God’s family (John 1:12), a member of His kingdom, promised life eternal (John 6:40), part of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). You are empowered to obey, to serve, to return the love that the Father has lavished upon you (2 Timothy 1:7 & 1 John 3:1). You are empowered to live your life to the full (John 10:10). As you do, your knowledge of God deepens and you become like Him so you shine like a beacon in the night drawing others towards the one who saved your soul.
Romans 5:9-10 (MSG)
Now that we are set right with God by means of [Jesus’] sacrificial death, the consummate blood sacrifice, there is no longer a question of being at odds with God in any way. If, when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son, now that we're at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life!
You were guilty, sentenced to death, Jesus took that judgment off of you. In response, all you have to do is believe and follow. That’s the gospel. The result of living in a right relationship with Jesus is that there is no longer a sentence upon you.
Romans 8:1 (NIV)
“…there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…”
Judgment ceases, accountability begins. Judgment always passes sentence. Accountability is being the “response-able party,” the one who can make amends, who can change, who can reconcile relationships, and who can access the power of God to make things right. Jesus told us this:
Luke 12:48 (NIV)
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
What has been demanded, what has been asked is that we love one another instead of judging one another. Let God judge. You’ve been loved, are loved. Let love flow through you to others in the body. Leave passing sentence in the world, don’t drag it into your new life in Christ, into the Kingdom, into the body to which you belong.
As a part of the body, the first person you are not to judge is yourself. We often pass sentence on ourselves. In the worst cases, we carry out the punishment upon ourselves without even knowing it. For instance, for years I robbed myself of the joy God was giving me because I judged myself as imperfect. Nothing was ever good enough because I thought I had to be perfect, that I had to produce perfect results in order to be loved. For instance, for close to a decade I thought I was a failure because morning attendance in our meetings was not big enough, that I failed to create ministries that touch people with God’s love outside the four walls of this facility, I failed because my son was injured and I couldn’t save loved ones. So I robbed myself of joy. I didn’t stop and smell the roses God had grown. I didn’t celebrate the victories that God had won. I didn’t see how God was at work providing, guiding, protecting me from spiritual disaster. All because I judged myself wanting and passed sentence upon myself. Another observation is that I would be angry with myself, and guess what, angry people act angry towards people. That’s a repulsive behavior.
The Apostle Paul, one of the early followers of Jesus wrote:
1 Corinthians 4:3-5 (NIV)
I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.
When you let the Lord judge, there is a huge load taken off your back. God judges justly, and the Holy Spirit does not condemn but convicts, showing you where you are missing the mark and then empowers you to partner with Jesus to change, to make things right.
The first person in the body you are not to pass sentence upon is yourself. The second person in the body you are not to pass sentence upon is the other, that other person who is also one with Christ, who is also a member of the same body with you.
When a brother or sister doesn’t fit our standards we pass sentence. Our judgment is made based mostly on personal preferences and past experiences. They look different, think differently, dress differently, speak differently—they are alien to us so we keep them at arm’s length at best and at worst send those messages of unwanted to them.
In the body, we are to embrace, to welcome, to invite in, to welcome, the stranger. When we excuse ourselves from this duty we are passing sentence, you are not worthy, you are not important enough for me to extend the right hand of fellowship to (Galatians 2:9). You are refusing to love as you have been loved. How much more so if we shun someone we attend worship with (1 Corinthians 11:29)?
Jesus taught us:
"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Don’t pass sentence on a brother or sister. The scripture assures us that each of us will give an account of ourselves to God (Romans 14:4). Let God judge, your job is to love. Loving others is treating them with respect and seeking to meet their needs as the opportunity arises.
One caveat here: When a brother or sister is doing evil, causing division, strife, and contention in the body, if they are openly sinning, setting a bad example, harming the witness of the body, teaching heresy then we are to deal lovingly with the behavior to bring these unrighteous behaviors to their attention and hold them accountable. That’s another teaching for another time.
The first person in the body you are not to pass sentence upon is yourself. The second person in the body you are not to pass sentence upon is your brother or sister in Christ.
Romans 14:12-13 (NCV)
“…each of us will have to answer to God. For that reason we should stop judging each other.
One more we are to refrain from passing sentence upon. That person who is an outsider. We are not to pass sentence upon those who are not yet believers.
1 Corinthians 5:12 (NCV)
It is not my business to judge those who are not part of the church. God will judge them.
No, instead of judging and passing sentence our task is to love them, to treat the outsider with respect, to meet the outsider's need as the opportunity arises. This type of behavior allows the light of the gospel to shine through you. It’s that light that draws the outsider in.
We learned to discriminate in the world. We learned to judge and then pass sentence on those that do not meet our standards. This behavior we tend to drag along with us in our new life in Christ. We pass sentence on ourselves, we pass sentence on our brothers and sisters, and we pass sentence on the outsider. All such behavior is wrong. Passing sentence is not our role as part of the body. Your role is to love. Choose to do so.