This week I received an email that told this story:
In a trial, a Southern small-town prosecuting attorney called his first witness, a grandmotherly, elderly woman to the stand. He approached her and asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you know me?” She responded, “Why, yes, I do know you, Mr. Williams. I’ve known you since you were a boy, and frankly, you’ve been a big disappointment to me. You lie, you cheated on your wife, and you manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you’re a big shot when you haven’t the brains to realize you’ll never amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher. Yes, I know you.”
The lawyer was stunned. Not knowing what else to do, he pointed across the room and asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you know the defense attorney?”
She again replied, “Why yes, I do. I’ve known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, too. He’s lazy, bigoted, and he has a drinking problem. He can’t build a normal relationship with anyone, and his law practice is one of the worst in the entire state. Not to mention he cheated on his wife with three different women. One of them was your wife. Yes, I know him.”
The defense attorney nearly died.
The judge asked both counselors to approach the bench and, in a very quiet voice, said, “If either of you idiots asks her if she knows me, I’ll send you both to the electric chair.”
I laughed when I read this story and then I paused. God knows me even more intimately than that. If I were to ask him, “Do you know me?” would I be able to endure the shame his answer would bring. There are so many things in my life that are hidden and I’m not just talking about the dumb things I did as a rebellious teenager or the greedy, self-serving offenses of my pre-Christian days. At least with those, I have the weak excuse that God hadn’t redeemed my life yet.
Even if God were to concentrate his answer on the years after I committed my life to Jesus, I couldn’t bear the encyclopedic volumes that would proceed from his mouth. Rebellion and sin are deep in my nature and that’s not going to just go away. I’m not going to wake up one day and never sin again. Yes, I am a Christian and my ambition and hope is to obey God’s will in my life, to become more like Jesus and less like the sinful human being that I am, but that is going to be a lifetime struggle.
So often in this world, a Christian’s sin is used as proof of “the deception” of Christianity. Non-Christians build their case against God with the sins of his people. They judge us self-righteous when we obey God’s will in our lives and hypocrites when we fail. How did any of us ever get the idea that “real” Christians are perfect all of the time? Real Christians are just broken people like everyone else. We are people who, by God’s grace, recognize our brokenness and in faith believe God has paid the price to redeem our lives. In gratitude, we offer our love and service to him, but we are still sinful human beings. God’s redeeming work is available instantly, but requires the rest of this lifetime to take root and flourish.
When I stand before the Lord on the Day of Judgment, all of my sins will be illuminated and measured by his holiness. Though I am sinful, I’m not afraid of that day because, just as he is with me now, Jesus will be standing with me on that day blotting out every last one of my sins with his blood. It’s not a lack of sin that make a Christian different from a non-Christian. It’s a relationship with the Savior that makes us different.
About the pictures:
North Park (August 2009)