Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Parable of the Speed Limit

If you were to take a completely unscientific poll of people in modern western Christian-influenced culture to find out what the greatest sin is, you might hear the loudest condemnation proclaimed against intolerance and judgmentalism. And when you boil these two down, they come to the same common denominator that is best expressed by the commandment that is most beloved, at least by my contemporaries; the eleventh commandment. Of course, there is no “eleventh commandment” but the misunderstanding, misinterpretation, and cultural acceptance of Jesus’ statement to “judge not lest ye be judged” in Matthew 7 has been elevated to the status of the one thing that no one should ever dare to do, especially if you are a Christian in America.

"1 Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2 For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)

Now I must note a few things about what our Lord says in Matthew 7. First of all, He is winding down the Sermon on the Mount and He is not saying that His followers are never to make a discerning judgment about anything or anyone. If He really meant that we are never to challenge what people say, then why did He tell believers to beware of false teachers who can be known by their fruits (c.f. Matthew 7:15)? But most people don’t want to understand the meaning of Jesus’ words or the teaching of the New Testament on sin and the role that sin plays in the message of the Gospel; they just don’t want to be judged. Tragically, many of the proponents of this type of false tolerance toward sin, false religion, and an inability to alert sinners of their own sin are firmly inside the perimeter of modern popular-Christendom.

When the objection to any kind of Christian witness or evangelism is based upon this eleventh commandment, it is usually brought up when someone is told that what they believe or do is wrong and sinful. On one hand I sympathize with those who simply don’t want to hear that they’re sinners; I wouldn’t want to hear that if I were an unsaved sinner either, but it is the truth. The biggest issue at this point, on some level anyway, is to make it clear that all sin and all sinners deserve hell and they are headed that way. One of the many different listing descriptions of the people’s character who will be condemned is penned by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians,
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9,10)

This is one of the texts in the New Testament that makes it absolutely clear that God’s hatred for sexual immorality, whether hetero or homo in nature, has not changed. However, my point is not to bang the drum only on the basis of sexual sin here. This Scripture says that thieves, drunkards, swindlers and the covetous will be condemned. I have never met one person who has been able to completely avoid coveting; it is impossible. Therefore, all people, no matter how moral their lives may appear and how nice they are to you or me, are in the cross-hairs of God’s wrath if they are not found in Christ. But before we can truly explain the gospel and truly explain the way of salvation, the man or woman must understand that they need to be saved. And in order to do that, the person must see that they are a sinner in truth and in deed.

This understanding is not something that can be accomplished by a casual agreement between the evangelist and the sinner with the generic “we’re all sinners,” I believe that it must go deeper and be more personal than that. It is true that we are all sinners, but the individual sinner still has the idea that “I’m not that bad,” and that needs to be dealt with head on. It is when we get down to the nitty-gritty level of coveting, lying, lusting, and idolatry (among others) as we attempt to illuminate the sinner’s understanding of their own personal guilt before the entire panorama of God’s holy standards, if not before this point, that we are accused of breaking the sacred eleventh commandment.

If you have ever felt that you were committing the one unforgivable sin of being judgmental when you call a spade a spade, or call someone who admits to lying as being a liar, don’t be dissuaded when you’re told to deal with “the log in your own eye” first. Now, if you are witnessing to someone you know well and the testimony of your life is such that you are known as a hypocrite, then you may have forfeited your credibility with that person. And the reason that you need to work on your own testimony and lifestyle is not only so that you will be able to witness to that person, you may not be saved if your life is that of a reprobate sinner.

But, if your life is characterized by striving to live and serve God in submission to His will and conformity to His Son, you will still sin. And when you do, it is important to own up to it, repent, and move forward. So if this is the case and you find yourself witnessing to someone, anyone, who throws the same objection to you, don’t stop. Don’t fear that by showing someone God’s standards and their personal guilt before them that you are judging in a way that Christ forbids in Matthew 7, you’re not.

Suppose you are driving down the Interstate at 75 miles an hour. It’s not a big deal because there is not a lot of traffic and the cars that are on the road are going as fast, if not faster, than you are. As you are going, you pass a sign that reminds you that the maximum speed allowed by the law is 65 miles per hour. When you look down at your speedometer, you notice that you are, in fact, going much faster than that. Does the driver get angry at the speed limit sign for judging him? Now the driver may well attempt to justify his actions in light of the fact that he is breaking the speed limit so that he can continue in his course of action. “I’m not hurting anyone by speeding,” “it’s a dumb rule to have this slow of a speed limit,” and “I’m in a hurry.” But most famous, and pathetically cliché, is the objection, “Everyone else is doing it.”

When an officer of the law pulls that driver over, it doesn’t matter if the entire city was speeding along with him; the law clocked this particular driver at speeds in excess of the allowed limit. There is no excuse or reason valid enough that will be convince the officer that the driver is innocent of breaking the law, and so the just punishment will be given.

Now, in Christian terms, we are not the legislative body that makes the laws. We are not the police officers who hand out the citations. We are not the judge who hears the case, sustains the citation, and enforces the punishment. Christians who witness are much like the speed limit sign that the driver sped past. The sign did not create rules or pronounce any kind of judgment on its own accord or power, but it only represents what the legislative body, the police, and the judge who make and enforce the laws have already put in motion. Any guilt that the sinner feels at this point is usually not from the questions and loving opening of the Truth of Scripture, but it is the echoing of their own guilt coming from their own conscience. Simply calling the sinner’s own attention to the fact that God’s standards have been given to us, and that by their very testimony (usually) they are breaking those laws is not judgmental. It is an act of grace to bring it to their attention.

Soon after I moved to my current home, I went out to get some food for my wife and I. On the way back from the fast food place, I turned on a little access road between the main highway and my residential street. I was cruising along at 40 miles per hour when for a block or two when I saw the flashing lights behind me. I pulled over and was informed that the speed limit was only 30, not 40. When I apologized to the officer and informed him that I thought the limit was 40, he was not moved. I even informed him that there was not a speed limit sign from the point where I turned onto this street until where he pulled me over. That is true; the only sign for quite a ways was posted before my intersection, so I could not have seen it. However, that didn’t matter. As much as I hated it, I was still in violation of the law.

The point is just this; the law is the law whether or not you see the sign. Now, on human terms we may be able to get out of a ticket on a technicality, but God’s moral law and standard is written on the hearts of men, and so we will have no case before God even if no one acts as a sign to warn us of our sin. We must not be halted in our proclamation of the problem of sin or the solution of the Savior because we’re called judgmental. Know the truth, that what we do when we alert sinners of their sin and the punishment that will follow is not judging, but it is a merciful alerting to the truth that they already know in their hearts, even if they deny that they know it.

The other thing that we need to know is that this same concept is just as important for those who claim to be Christians as it is for others who make no attempt at a Christian identity. The speed limit sign can, and should, be used on those who profess no faith in Christ as well as those who speak Christianese fluently but do not have the fruit of the new birth in their lives. The apostle John, in his epistle called First John, penned that this letter was written “so that our joy may be made complete” (1 John 1:4), but specifically so that our joy may be complete with the knowledge that we “have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13) In light of this, those of us who claim to be believers can make our way through First John using the various contrasting statements to evaluate our lives and the truth of our claim to faith in Christ.

Many people in western Christendom today, I believe, have been lulled into the false belief that if they prayed the sinner’s prayer as a child (or at one point in their lives) that they are saved without a doubt. I am convinced that not only is this untrue, but it is one of Satan’s biggest lies that so many have believed today. It is as foolish as the Roman false teaching that the act of baptism and the taking of the Eucharist saves the soul. They are both forms of works righteousness – if I do “X”, then I’m on my way to heaven. If someone lives as if they have not been saved as evidenced by reveling in unrepentant sin, there is good cause to doubt the validity of someone’s claim to have been born again.

“5 This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” (1 John 1:5-10)

I am convinced that turning a blind eye and a false hope of salvation toward a professing brother who is living in unrepentant sin is not the loving thing for a Christian to do. In the same way that we would approach a self confessed non-Christian, we also must do the same by using the Law as a speed limit sign in an attempt to alert the conscience of the professing believer. A true believer will come to understand the error of his ways, repent of them, and grow in Christ. A false brother may truly get saved, or he may oppose your loving concern for his soul by resisting and debating various things without dealing with the sin.

Whether dealing with a confessed non-Christian or a confessing Christian whose lives give testimony that they are liars, covetous, or idolaters, we are called to glorify God by proclaiming the Truth of Scripture regarding man’s sin, our just deserts in the righteous punishment of a holy God, God’s compassion and love in sending Christ as our propitiation, and the response that is evidence of a truly saved person; repentance from sin and true and lasting faith in Christ alone.

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