Recently I saw a program on TV about hoarders. In this particular episode the woman who had a hoarding problem did not seem to collect anything of value but rather had a house full of rubbish: empty cool drink cans, paper plates, general rubbish and used syringes. The entire house was infested with cockroaches and spiders. It required a Hazmat team to clean it out. The psychologist involved was trying to get the woman to admit how bad the problem was and that her children were living in an unsafe environment. The woman, however, simply shut down and hid in her car and then lay on the bed and refused to speak to anyone.
Watching this caused me to ponder how we can come to grips with our own sin. There are two common responses to sin: either we can proclaim that God is love and he loves the sinner regardless, or we can preach the law and insist that the sinner clean up their proverbial house. The first of these leaves the sinner in their sin and the second heaps condemnation on the person. In the example above it is clear that the woman in the TV show felt condemned by the people who were trying to help her. She was unable to deal with her problem from a place of condemnation. But it is equally clear that she could not be left in the state she was in. This calls for a third option.
The third and far better option is to proclaim Jesus. We find in the ministry of Jesus that he neither condemned people nor left them in their sin. The case of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) is a good example. Zacchaeus was a tax collector, without doubt hated by the Jews and considered a collaborator with the occupying Romans. From a place of condemnation as a sinner Zacchaeus did not come to repentance. But when Jesus invited himself to his house, Zacchaeus repented and turned his life around. Another story in Luke’s gospel (7:36-50) tells us that a prostitute followed Jesus with great devotion because her sins had been forgiven. The ministry of Jesus shows neither condemnation nor license. But this careful balance of holiness and love is most evident in the cross.
The cross demonstrates that God neither ignores our sin nor condemns humanity. Instead Jesus became sin for us (2 Cor 5:21) that he might bear the condemnation of sin himself. A familiar passage from Romans explains why this was necessary.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:1-4 ESV).
Humans actually have no hope of cleaning up their own lives, since law produces condemnation and not righteousness. If we proclaim law then people will experience condemnation because of failure to obey it. But Jesus has fixed this problem for us by taking on that condemnation. He has cleaned up our lives on our behalf so that from a place of freedom from condemnation we are able to walk in righteousness.
In terms of the problem of hoarding which prompted this meditation, the woman could not change her life or even admit to the problem while she sat in a place of condemnation. She needed the security of acceptance before that could be possible. But she clearly also needed to change her behaviour. In Christ we experience both of these, not just one. Jesus offers us freedom from condemnation so that we can face up to our own sin, and he also offers us power to change so that we do not need to continue in sin. The conclusion is that proclaiming Jesus offers the balance between law (and condemnation) and license (love without expectation). This seems like a prescription for ministry as well as personal transformation.