STUDIES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
“For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
(James 2:10-13, ESV)
Suppose your church put up a sign saying, “Sinners Welcome!” I hope each of you would recognize yourself as a sinner, and also that in Christ, God welcomes you. But what if the sign were more specific? Let us try a few individual sins:
“Lazy People Welcome!”
If your church had signs like those, how many people would be willing to walk through the door? If you recognize your sins on the list, it is good news to know that Jesus Christ died to pay for your sin, and God welcomes you to worship.
But many people would object to having the “worst” sins (especially the ones they have never done) on the list right next to the “milder” sins (especially the ones they have done). Some might say that a person who has done one of the worst sins could never be forgiven. In case that is our thought, perhaps we should add two more categories to our list of welcome sinners:
“Self-Righteous People Welcome!”
One of the greatest problems with sin is that by nature, we not only sin, we also have a wrong understanding of sin. Our “sin meter” often fails to register accurately—particularly when we measure our own lives.
When we speak of evil, we prefer to talk about “sins” rather than “sin.” “Sins” gives us a multiple choice of things that are wrong. When we speak of sins, we can direct our attention to the evil that others do and ignore our own. We do this because we desire to be good in our own eyes. The problem is, doing this does not make us good before God.
God does not grade on a curve; so whether you count fewer sins for yourself than for others, or whether you think your own sins are not as bad, that does not make you innocent before God. Instead of a curve, God grades on a pass/fail system, and the only passing grade is 100%. Anything less is failure, and without Christ, we fail.
The issue before the judgment of God is not just which sins we have done, or how often. The issue is that we are sinful. Our natural self is an offense against God. There is only one source of good: God. Any violation of God’s goodness is sin.
God has made His judgment about sin. But He has also been merciful. Look at the last clause of our text: “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Think of a card game. We lead in sin and are judged guilty. But Christ “trumps” sin by covering it with His mercy. We are forgiven! We are righteous, not because we have stopped doing all evil and do only good, but because we have been forgiven for our evil and have been given Christ’s good.
God does not judge us based on our outward appearance, or wealth, or even on our ability to keep His Law perfectly. Instead, we receive mercy and forgiveness at the cross of Christ. We have been counted righteous for Christ’s sake!
Robert Sauers is pastor of Luther Memorial Church in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and a member of the CLC Board of Missions