I had sinned. Despite my efforts to convince myself that I hadn’t really failed God, guilt whispered quietly, and then more loudly when I ignored its protests. It didn’t matter if anyone else was aware. I knew. That self-knowledge made it terrible to bear.
During that period, I read every day from the Psalms. Although I didn’t speak quite as dramatically as the poet, I understood his words on an emotional level: “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever-heat of summer” (Ps 32:3-4, NAS).
I had sinned.
To make it worse, it wasn’t what the Old Testament refers to as a sin of ignorance. I had deliberately gone astray. Before I sinned, I told myself that I was protecting my rights, standing up for myself and being faithful to my convictions. At other times, I’ve told myself that I had technically sinned, but I had really been overwhelmed by temptation (as though that made it a lesser offense).
The point is, I had sinned.
No matter how much I tried to push that truth away from myself, it refused to vanish. Finally, I gave up trying. Once I stripped away the self-deceptions and bowed my head before God, I admitted, “God, I have rebelled. I knowingly, willfully failed you.”
As I came into the Divine Presence, the guilt overwhelmed me. Like David of old, I wailed, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Ps 51:4, NIV). I prayed that way even though my actions had hurt others-some of them indirectly. Right then, I committed myself to make things right with them later.
I couldn’t focus on others at that moment, though, because ultimately, it was against the Powerful God of Heaven that I had sinned. My immediate concern involved my relationship with God. In my mind, I saw myself standing with bowed head before the Powerful Judge who sees all and knows all.
I’m ready for the Judge to pronounce the sentence. What do I do now? Should I say anything? Remain silent? Once I would have perceived God as the one whose eyes swept across the land, watching me at every turn, ready to leap in front me, and with pointed index finger, cry out, “You are the guilty man!”
Today, I think of God the Powerful Judge from the perspective of Romans 8:1-2 (CEV): “If you belong to Christ Jesus, you won’t be punished. The Holy Spirit will give you life that comes from Christ Jesus and will set you free from sin and death.”
Those two verses make me feel as if I am in front of the bench and the Powerful Judge has spoken those liberating words to me. Joy fills my heart! The Powerful Judge says I won’t be punished!
This is in such contrast with the idea of judgment with punishment I used to have: “commit-the-crime-and-pay-the-penalty” kind of living. I wouldn’t want to deny that aspect. After all, I am responsible for the wrongs I do and must face the consequences of my actions.
Yet God the Powerful Judge is so much more merciful.
In my student days at seminary, I learned that the basis for the Greek word judge means “to set in order.” It can eventuate in punishment, corrective action, or an admonition. When God sets us in order, it’s so that we don’t have to live in a state of punishment or have a “G” for guilty engraved on our foreheads for the world to see.
The Powerful Judge makes us aware of our wrongdoing or our wrong attitude. We lower our eyes as we approach God’s pureness and holiness. The closer we get, the more acutely we grasp our sinfulness. Then we stop and repeat the wail of Isaiah, who saw his sinfulness in contrast to the holiness of God: “I am a man of unclean lips” (see Is 6:5).
“I’m too wicked to come close to you,” is what my heart used to cry out. Yet since I turned Romans 8:1-2 into a personal experience, I approach God differently.
“You have broken my eternal laws,” I can hear the Powerful Judge say. “How do you plead?”
“Guilty,” I say, saddened by the stupidity of what I’ve done. “And please, your honor, I want to say I’m sorry.”
As that scene stays before me, I hear the Powerful Judge say, “Guilty as charged. Now, child, go, and sin no more.”
The Powerful Judge may tell me that Someone has paid my fine, or I may hear, “Who can stand against you when I am on your side? Nothing can separate you from my love, which I show you in Christ Jesus.”
Instead of dread, I can now face the Powerful Judge with peace.
God is the Powerful Judge, chastening us when we need it, prodding us when we deserve it, but the purpose is to get our feet walking straight and staying straight. God is not only a Powerful Judge, but the Powerful, Loving Judge.
As we pray, we not only confess our failures, but we give thanks to God that those sins are now out of our lives. The Powerful Judge has set them aside with these words, “Go, and sin no more.”
If you belong to Christ Jesus, you won’t be punished. The Holy Spirit will give you life that comes from Christ Jesus and will set you free from sin and death…. God set you free when he sent his own Son to be like us sinners and be a sacrifice for our sins. —ROMANS 8:1-3, CEV
Powerful Judge of All Life,
Forgive me because I have sinned against you.
Forgive me for losing sight of right living
and for not loving others the way I love myself.
I accept your forgiveness with joyful thanksgiving. Amen.
For more from Cec, please visit www.cecilmurphey.com.
Cecil Murphey has written more than one hundred books on a variety of topics with an emphasis on Spiritual Growth, Christian Living, Caregiving, and Heaven. He enjoys preaching in churches and speaking and teaching at conferences around the world. To book Cec for your next event, please contact Twila Belk at 563-332-1622.