Hello, my name is William and I’m a habitual offender.
Seriously, I am. Throughout life, my offenses toward loved ones, relatives, co-workers, and church members have tallied untold numbers. And believe it or not, on countless occasions I have also been the offended victim of these same groups. Come to think of it, since we’re all in the same human race, your story could be similar.
In early adulthood, what began as a childhood conversion yielded a commitment to follow Christ. Since then I have learned so much about my Lord, His Word, and our Christian faith. Interestingly, this journey has also led to self-discovery, learning more about William than I set out to know. By reading after Christian psychology and the use of personality assessment tools I’ve gotten to know me. Myers-Briggs labeled me as the INFJ and the DISC Assessment pinned me as an SC. So here’s my excuse. Just like that fictional sailor man, “I am what I am and that’s all I am.”
I know, there are no excuses for being a habitual offender. But while there aren’t any excuses for Christ followers to walk in willful sin (though all offenses are not the result of willful sin), there is explanation and help for us in Christ.
Well-versed Christians know what Scripture tells us about love. But herein lies the problem. All people are basically selfish because of our fallen nature. The passage of Romans 3:10-23 describes the ugly details. The underlying trait of all sin is selfishness and we all share this root cause in common. Even what we commonly call love is typically tainted with personal selfishness. Most people love for the purpose of accommodating themselves, not for meeting the needs of others.
If a person has truly received God’s love from above, they should show it both vertically toward God and horizontally toward others. In our present earthly makeup as believers, we possess the Spirit of Christ. But even though we have been indwelt with the Spirit Who is love, “Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” We still live in our earth suits and alas, even the most sanctified of believers have the potential for willful sin.
We know that the love of God must be shown towards others. But the subconscious motivation of most people is: I want to love you but I cannot completely disregard the consideration of what’s in it for me. It’s easier to love those who love us than those who do not. “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them” (Luke 6:32). Loving those who love us is the natural exchange of love.
But when it comes to love, there is a supernatural standard for Christians to reach. In First Corinthians, after Paul’s teaching on the Lord’s Supper and the right use of spiritual gifts, the Scripture attests “And yet I show you a more excellent way” (31). Therefore First Corinthians 13 is the love that can be shown by children of God. The love chapter ends like this, “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (13).
Nevertheless, loving others does not mean blindly accepting the harm they want to inflict upon us and other innocent people, instead, it involves proper evaluation. If they show love, we should reciprocate. If they show hatred, we should recognize it and find a way to love them. But the Lord wants our discernment to be just, fair, accurate, and not for personal gain. A proper judgment of others equips us to lovingly pray for their healing.
But let’s not forget this caution: “Judge not…” The Greek verb translated “judge not” (see Luke 6:37-38) is in the active continuous. If you’ll allow me to paraphrase, Jesus is saying, “Don’t let judging be your way of life.” Our Lord continues “and you shall not be judged.” With this phrase, the Lord is indicating that we shall all be judged by God and His vertical judgment is contingent upon the kind of horizontal judgment we have shown others.
Verse 38 (Luke 6) is typically quoted out of context and given fiscal application. Now don’t be offended. The principle of reciprocity remains, but we must yield primary interpretation to the connectedness of context. What was Jesus talking about with this profound statement? “Give, and it shall be given unto you…” should be applied to judgment, condemnation, and forgiveness. So in these areas of life, we must remember that “with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”
As a habitual offender and the victim of many offenses, the lesson I often return to is this: since I am in a right relationship with God, I can maintain a right relationship with others. But those who are not right with God, have not received His love. And those who have not received His love, cannot love (in its truest sense) themselves or others. They cannot be right with others because they are not right with God.
And for those who already consider themselves right with God, the matter is as serious as eternity. We, as believers cannot stay in possession of the peace of God if we cannot stay at peace with those inside and outside of the family of God. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.”
Life is all about relationships. The most important decision you could ever make is to get right with God and even though “it is impossible that no offenses should come” (Luke 17:1), we can stay right with God and others. As we walk in that grace called forgiveness, let’s extend its beautiful mercy to others.
What about you, would you also describe yourself as a habitual offender? Welcome to the support group. Comment, confess and let’s be sure to pray one for another.