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Condemnation or Conviction?

In junior high, I had to read The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson. It was a fascinating and inspiring story, for sure, and as I think of it now certainly far more shaping in my life than I’ve ever considered. But, the reason I mention it today is that he uses this wonderful illustration from his grandfather about trying to feed and attract a stray dog. He pictures a stray, perhaps even abused dog in an alley chewing on a rotting, old, overly consumed boned. Should you walk up to that dog and try to grab the nasty bone from it, the dog would growl, bark and perhaps even get very aggressive with you. However, if you instead lay a big, juicy lamb chop down on the ground, the dog will drop his worthless bone and come to the feast.

Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. Acts 14:15

That illustration is such a helpful picture to me of the difference between accusation/condemnation and conviction from the Holy Spirit. Condemnation looks at my sin, acknowledges it to be sin, and cares more about removing the comfort I’ve taken in the wrong thing than my heart’s need to be comforted and saturated in the person and work of Jesus. The Gospel comes in and sees my heart’s need, acknowledges my sinful (and ultimately ineffective if not detrimental) way of trying to satisfying my need on my own, and offers me true comfort in Jesus. Condemnation points it’s finger at me. Conviction points me to Jesus and the deep relief His completed work on my behalf promises.

Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? Romans 2:2-4

Why am I quicker to judge a thirsty person drinking soft drinks than to offer them cold water? What is the sick pleasure I receive in pointing out the failings and short comings of others rather than in offering them the juicy lamb chop of the person and work of Jesus instead? (OK, so maybe not my future nickname for Jesus, but work with me here.) When I am in conflict with someone, is it more important that I leave feeling exonerated for being more right in the given scenario or that we both leave with an even deeper assurance that it is in His rightness/righteousness alone that we both are dignified and exonerated, and the only basis for our requirement to love one another deeply.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. John 13:34

How has He loved me? He has loved me with gentleness and patience, with compassion for my blindness and lack of understanding, with longsuffering even as I am the very one behind His own suffering, and with mercy and unmerited (by me) forgiveness.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:24

He loves me by bearing my wounds (both given and received) in His own body and heart. How then am I to love others, even in conflict? Do I care more about being right and grabbing that disease infested bone from them or do I care even more so that I offer them a Gospel feast that I need to eat with them? How can I resist pointing a bony finger of condemnation at others and instead walk beside them to receive the grace and transformation we both need, and have both been given, together?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Gal. 5:22-25

I cannot do this. I cannot love this way or even go through conflict this way. It is against all of my natural instincts. But thanks be to God who leads me, dwells in me and will fulfill His law of love through me…even if only in part for now. His grace will be enough today.

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