Most of us have probably seen the movie or read the book The Scarlet Letter. While I do not remember all the details, what I do remember is that the woman that had committed a sin was required to wear a large letter on her dress so everyone could know how evil she was. I am so very grateful that we no longer live in a society where this is practiced. Or, do we?
How many of us have ever sinned? I believe the Scripture states that this would be all of us. In fact, John said if we say we have no sin, we are a liar. (1 John 1:10) Most of our sin is committed in a fashion that is undetected by others, except God of course. The bulk of our failures happen between our ears in our mind. Perhaps, some of us are a bit more verbal and we therefore expose some of what goes on in there by our words as well, so others get a glimpse of the darkness in our brains, but our sins remain hidden for the most part.
But what about the sins that are exposed? How do we treat those that have been caught in a trespass or confessed one or even dozens of sins? What do we think of a national religious leader that confesses to a string of extramarital sins? How about the person that is exposed for stealing or lying? What about those that have been accused of something horrible but it was not proven? Do we still attach scarlet letters to them and require them to always wear it? Do we lock people into our evaluation of them and keep them there forever?
What about more socially acceptable sins like gossip, gluttony, money mismanagement, being unkind, wasting time, off-color humor, and such? Does God view those sins the same as the biggies? Are these sins just as bad as the others are? It is all sin, some may have wider ramifications and consequences, but it is all sin, and we are all guilty at some level so we need to very careful about attaching letters to anyone.
God said some pretty incredible things in the Scripture and I am attempting to put the truth of them into practice. Let’s just look at two:
1 John 1:9 – If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Galatians 6:1-3 -Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
Within these few verses is enough wisdom and direction to revolutionize the Church. John clearly states, without any fences, that if we will confess, we will be forgiven. And, not just forgiven but also made righteous. Paul explains that even if someone is caught in any sin, they did not even confess it, but were caught; they are to be restored gently. I understand that confession and repentance needs to take place, as well as restitution if possible, but the spirit of these passages is clear – forgive and restore to the original state. The wearing of a scarlet letter for the rest of their life is not required!
What we tend to do is label instead of restore. We want to be given the benefit of the doubt, but we hold others in a different manner. We want to be forgiven and restored, but sometimes we treat others differently. “Well, I didn’t do what they did,” goes the thought. Really, did you sin? Did you confess your sin? Did you receive forgiveness? Shouldn’t they regardless of how gross their sin is to you? Does God make a distinction? Should we? Does Jesus’ blood really cleanse from all sin? Does the blood even extend to their sin?
Christianity is not a comparison faith where we rise or fall in relation to others, but one saturated in love, mercy, forgiveness and grace before the throne of Jesus. We do not gain anything by looking down our noses at others, but we gain everything by walking in forgiveness towards them. We have been forgiven much and therefore much is required. Shouldn’t we put away our letter making machines and just learn how to walk in restoration? Shouldn’t we be those that specialize in helping to heal the hurting instead of labeling them as some sort of second class Kingdom citizen?
I know this is not the full story on everything, but it certainly is part of the story that we desperately need to revisit. I am not the same guy I was years ago, do you think the other people might have grown also? Maybe we do need a letter to wear after all – “F” for forgiven or “R” for righteous or restored.