It is said that one night in a church service, a young woman responded to God’s call and accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior. The young woman had a very rough past, involving alcohol, drugs, and prostitution. But the change in her was evident. As time went on she became a faithful member of the church.
It was not very long until this faithful young woman had caught the eye and heart of the pastor’s son. The relationship grew and they began to make wedding plans. Problems began. About one half of the church did not think that a woman with a past such as hers was suitable for a pastor’s son. The church began to argue and fight about the matter. They decided to have a meeting. As the people made their arguments and tensions increased, the meeting became completely out of hand.
The young woman became very upset about all the things being brought up about her past. As she began to cry the pastor’s son stood to speak. He could not bear the pain it was causing his wife to be. He began to speak, “My fiancée’s past is not what is on trial here. What you are questioning is the ability of the blood of Jesus to wash away sin. Today you have put the blood of Jesus on trial. So does it wash away sin or not?”
The whole church began to weep as they realized that they had been slandering the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. They thought that there harsh, condemning judgments were the judgments of God; how wrong they were. How misled they had been.
For Jesus said, 13-15 “No one has ever gone up into the presence of God except the One who came down from that Presence, the Son of Man. In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.
16-18 “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.
19-21 “This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.”
Beloved, we need to come to grips with the fact that the church is not a place for condemnation; it is a place for forgiveness and freedom. How often do our harsh, condemning judgments prevent forgiveness and freedom from being the inheritance of those we feel have lived too sinful a life to be saved by the blood of Jesus Christ.
James Moore tells the story about a young girl named Ellen. She was a junior In high school, an honor student, a member of the band, and secretary of her class. Her life was beautiful, her future bright; but then, everything went wrong. I was called on to conduct her funeral on what would have been her seventeenth birthday. It was suicide.
In the depths of depression, she had taken an overdose of sleeping pills. She left a note saying that she couldn’t go on. She couldn’t fight the rumors and the rejection any longer. She felt betrayed by her friends and her community. This tragic teenage suicide was sparked by a misunderstanding, by a false rumor, by people spreading vicious gossip, by ordinary people like you and me passing on a cruel, destructive untruth.
The rumor was that she had come home at daylight in a drunken stupor, her clothes disheveled, delivered to her door by an older man in a fancy sports car. That was the rumor. The truth was that she had sat up all night at the hospital with her gravely ill grandmother and had been brought home early the next morning by her uncle. That was the truth!
A neighbor saw something out her kitchen window and jumped to the wrong conclusions and then started spreading a false rumor. As a result, an innocent teenager was devastated. The harsh stares, the cruel jokes, the profane wisecracks, the vicious gossip, the whispering behind her back, the pointed fingers, and the blatant lies became too much for Ellen. Her fragile, sensitive personality couldn’t take it. She cracked under the pressure, and in a moment of deep agony and excruciating emotional pain, she took her life. (Moore, 2012, pp. 21-22)
This morning, we must come to learn that Jesus does not support churches which specialize in condemnation of others; for in our text Jesus makes clear his intention for coming to the earth. Let’s explore them for a few moments.
First, Jesus says, “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.” In other words Jesus’ vision for humanity is forgiveness and freedom. Forgiveness from original sin and any wrongdoing we may commit while living on this earth. Freedom to live the abundant life in God through his sacrifice on Calvary. You will remember Jesus said, “I came that they might have life and that more abundantly.” Jesus does not wish any of God’s children to be bound up by sin, weakness, or failure. Jesus frees us to make mistakes and to grow from those mistakes.
Life gives us ample opportunity to sin. We fail God in some way each and every day of our lives. But we need to hear Jesus as he pronounces, “Where sin abounds my grace does much more abound.” The grace of mercy of Jesus ensures that we are not defeated by sin, but liberated to get up and get back in the race.
This leads us then to the second thing Jesus says in our text. Jesus says, “God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.”
Say this with me: I am not condemned by God; I am set free by Jesus Christ. Beloved, you have been acquitted. You have been set free to live in covenant with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now we must confess that when we look into the Word of God, the Word of God exposes our sinful condition. The word exposes our weaknesses, flaws, and imperfections. And when that happens rather than concentrate on the flaws, weaknesses and imperfections of others; we are to look within our own hearts and confess our sin. For the bible declares in John 1:7-10, “If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God.” The Lenten Season affords us an opportunity to deal with the sin in our hearts so that God might wash and cleanse us with God’s Word. Hallelujah!
But let us move on. Let us consider next these words of Jesus, “This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure.”
When the church operates through gossip, innuendo, condemnation, and using a person’s past to hold it over their heads, people refuse to attend that kind of church. So what? You know my past. Have you forgotten your own? Are we not all working out our own soul salvation with fear and trembling? The church has been called into existence as a way station on a highway filled with traps and snares laid by our enemy the devil.
We each will get trapped, but Jesus declares he will set each of us free. The church then has no right to hold someone hostage to past sins, past mistakes; we need to be people who know how to let things go. Every person who comes to the church with a past, is coming to be forgiven and freed from that past so they can move on with their lives. Gossipy, tale-bearing Christians are the first line of offense used by the devil to make them run away from the light of God’s Word which is the only thing that can save them. Lord, have mercy.
Jesus says people love to sin and changing their lives is not something they want to do. None of us gives up sin willingly. It’s a fight; it’s a struggle because we enjoy it. Galatians 5:17 reads, “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” Beloved, each of us have selfish tendencies; we enjoy having things done our way. And because we are selfish, we do not often please God voluntarily. I agree with the gospel that says, “For it is God who works in you to will and to do of His good pleasure.” God works a miracle in us when we come to the light of His Word. And it is at this point that the church is so vital to the transformation of person.
But when we devour one another through harsh, condemning judgments, we circumvent what God is trying to do in the life of that person. Beloved, these things out not to be. None of us should condemn any of us; rather we should love, support, and pray for one another that God’s will be done in each of our lives. The church should do everything in its power to ensure those whose seek to be free from sin, are not tripped up by some harsh words spoken among us. Hallelujah! Say this with me: I am not condemned by God; I am set free by Jesus Christ.
Dr. David Sylvester, of Denton, Texas tells the story of a businessman who constructed a daycare center near a major highway. Due to budget constraints, a fence was deleted from the project. During recess, the children huddled near the steps of the entrance, afraid to venture into the yard toward the busy highway. After a fence was constructed, the children felt liberated, and romped and played in the entire grassy area. The fence provided freedom, not restriction.
As we come to Christ and look to His Word, we find true freedom rather than restriction. Freedom is found within the boundary. That why David could declare, “The Word of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and they are safe.” Beloved, there is safety in the Church, because the Church is the repository of God’s Word. Whatever you do, don’t lead people away from the Church, help them run into the Church. The church is God’s place for forgiveness and freedom. The Church is the place where people are saved, healed, and delivered from sin.
The Word of God declares, “Thy Word O Lord, have I hid in thine heart that I might not sin against thee.” Jesus is the Word; bring them to Jesus and let Jesus redeem their lives from destruction. Put a watch over your mouth; be careful with your words. Let God be the judge and you be the conduit through which the word of God flows. This Lenten Season fast from gossip, fast from harsh, condemning judgments and allow God to be God in your life and in the life of others. Let’s give this bad habit up for Lent and then for the rest of our lives. Hallelujah!
Finally, if you’re here today and have been injured harsh, condemning judgments from church members, take heart. Jesus has come to give you victory over that offense. Jesus has one objective for your life. Jesus said “I came to seek and to save them that are lost.” That’s why we’re here and I invite you to come to the altar this morning and allow Jesus Christ to deliver you from church hurt. It’s time to let it go and move on with your life free to live, love, and laugh. Forgive of your sins and redeemed through the one act of sacrifice by Jesus Christ. I invite you to come; the Spirit and the Bride say come. Will you come this morning and give your hurt to Jesus? Will you come and let Jesus become your leader and guide; his Word will transform you and make your life better. Will you come? Let us stand.
Moore, J. W. (2012). Give Up Something Bad for Lent. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
One thought on “The Church: A Place for Forgiveness and Freedom”
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