Q & R: “Not counting our sins against us” Part 2 – Brad Jersak
“Not Counting Our Sins Against Us“
In a previous post, “Not counting our sins against us,” I wrote concerning Paul’s remarkable claim that at the Cross, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself not counting our sins against us.” (from 2 Corinthians 3:18-19). That last phrase is a stunning repudiation of every claim that God is beholden to some higher justice that requires payment or punishment as a condition of forgiveness or reconciliation.
Further, it shines bright among a constellation of similar verses that wipe out any sense of record-keeping on God’s part. Two others that come to mind:
- * Hebrews 8:11-12 citing Jeremiah 31:31-34 – the prophet’s new covenant prophecy – “No longer will they teach their neighbor or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatests. For I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.”
- * 1 Corinthians 13:5 – “Love keeps no record of wrongs.”
“You Will Give an Account on the Day”
Now in that article, I confessed that I would need to return to this question, because other texts do indicate that God does remember our sins and will visit them with judgment one day. Isn’t that a direct contradiction? Let’s check. Here are some prime examples of those texts:
- * Hebrews 4:12-13 For the word of God [Jesus] is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
- * Romans 14:10-12 – 10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:
- “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”
- 12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
- “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
- * Revelation 2:23 – “I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.”
Judged According to…
Some heavy themes in there, including several from the mouth of Jesus Christ! And we would be right to ask how this small sampling of similar texts can possibly harmonize with the first texts. First, let’s gather these latter texts into a coherent vision of divine judgment. Whatever occurs on ‘that day,’ it will be comprehensive.
We will stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give account for:
- * Every deed.
- * Every thought.
- * Every word.
- * Every motive.
The penetrating light of Christ will expose not only our outward actions … our ability to refrain from killing or stealing or cheating. The righteous One will examine hearts, down to the root problems of hating, coveting, or lust (cf. Matthew 5). Why? Because the heart of every one of Gods laws is love for God and for neighbor. And love is a tall order that going through the hypocritical motions can’t counterfeit at the heart level.
Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment
Now how do we pass these exacting and all-encompassing judgments through the revelation of God’s love and forgiveness revealed at the Cross? The following principles may provide a starting point. Mercy triumphs over judgment. It doesn’t negate it.
1. Here we take a therapeutic approach to judgment as a diagnostic assessment. Doctors must first assess our needs and ills before they write up a prescription. Their diagnosis precedes the prognosis and the course of recovery. Of course, all the medicines of God are under the umbrella treatment of forgiveness and mercy. But when we think of God’s judgment, we can see the Great Physician treating every patient as an individual who needs divine loving care specific to their condition.
2. When the Scriptures say God remembers or God forgets, the authors don’t imagine selective amnesia in God. God is all-knowing. Rather, remembering and forgetting are biblical metaphors for blessing and cursing. While God can actually remember every deed, word, thought, and motive of our lives, God “forgets” our sins in the sense that the Cross of Christ is the end of the curse … no condemnation is forthcoming because we have received God’s pardon.
3. Now, “no condemnation” is not the same as saying “no problem.” The harm we do to ourselves and to one another matters. At some point, we will come to terms with the meaning of our lives and the wake of blessing or destruction we left in our wake. The book of our lives will be opened so that we can own what we’ve done and who we’ve become. Denial will be washed away and we’ll see our lives as in a mirror, under the gaze of our conscience. Certainly, we want that for others, especially if they’ve treated us callously or cruelly. But the great wonder is that having seen the truth, the Truth himself will set us free with the resounding verdict of mercy. It is on that basis, I believe, that every knee will bow in joy, gratitude, and worship.
4. Finally, the judgments of God are not, in the end, ‘condemnation,’ though some translations render the key terms that way. The most common of these words is KRISIS … yes, the word behind the English term ‘crisis.’ The judgments of God are a crisis for sure. As we enter the crucible (note the root word there – crucis – cross!), we discover that divine judgment is not about retribution or payback or punishment. God’s judgments are restorative, and in that sense, completely necessary for cleansing. The two-fold metaphor in Malachi 3 is that Jesus will come as judge with ‘a refiner’s fire’ and ‘a launderer’s soap.’ It’s all about purification, which is to say the healing transformation of our hearts, minds, and deeds. The lies and wounds and addictions and egoism must be judged by cleansing. The self-importance, self-loathing, and self-pity that dominate lives and the whole world of humanity cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.
The consuming fire of God’s love, that glory that shines like the sun from the face of Jesus, will be like holding up old-style camera film to the light and watching every false image fade from our life history forever and ever! Our wedding gown will be cleansed of every stain (whether in a moment or over the course of eons, we do not know) … of everything in us that is not love. What a ‘great and terrible day’ that will be. What judgment! What mercy!