How Does God Treat the Ones Labeled “Sinners”?
31 Days in My [Insert Label Here] Skin:
How Does God Treat the Ones Labeled “Sinners”?
One of my labels is “sinner.” I screw up, I am selfish, I intentionally hurt others, I am impatient and unkind and, at times, prideful and self-reliant. I know what God wants me to do or to avoid, yet sometimes I go my own way and disregard what He has told me.
I am ever in need of fresh doses of grace and forgiveness.
So when I read about other people in the Bible who screw up as well, I tune in and pay attention to how God responds.
The first time I see God’s response to sinners is way back in Genesis 3, just after the Creation: In this instance, God, who has just created a completely pure, completely perfect Earth, has placed two completely sinless, baggage-less human beings on the planet. These people, Adam and Eve, are given full permission to do and eat anything they want to— except, for their own good, they are forbidden to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. After being deceived by the serpent (which is a whole other discussion!), Adam and Eve end up disobeying God and doing the very thing He commanded them not to do. That’s called “a sin.”
After Adam and Eve sin, their immediate response to this choice and to their newfound “knowledge of good and evil” is:
- Shame (stemming from inside themselves, verse 7);
- Pulling away from God (they hide, verse 8);
- Fear (Adam says “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked”, verse 10); and
- Blame (Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, verses 12 & 13).
So how does God respond to this???
- Well, first off He punishes and curses the serpent (Satan), who is really the one who started the whole mess.
- Then, God informs Adam and Eve of the natural consequences of their misbehavior.
- Next, and this is one of my favorite parts, God provides for them. He provides clothes for them— not because He wants to cover up His creation, but because they feel the need for clothes because of their newfound, self-imposed shame. His gift of clothing to them is a merciful gift; it is His way of bringing them relief.
- And lastly, God takes them out of the Garden so that they don’t also eat from the Tree of Life and then be forced to live forever in this now sinful, painful, newly corrupt and abrasive environment. He had originally intended them to live forever, to never taste death, but because they chose to sin He had mercy on them and chose to limit their days on earth so that they could one day look forward to ultimate relief from all the drama and chaos that sin brings with it (by joining Him in Heaven).
In summary: Whereas Adam and Eve’s response to their own sin was to pull away, become embarrassed, blame others, and fear God… God’s response was to come find them, punish Satan, and provide for them.
God’s response to sin and sinners is generous, thoughtful and loving.
Jesus, too, was incredible in how He responded to the “sinners” in His day:
In John 8, Jesus defended the life of a woman caught in the act of adultery. He didn’t publicly humiliate her, He didn’t use shame to try to correct her misbehavior, He simply told her He didn’t condemn her and then He sent her on her way, instructing her to make better choices in the future.
In Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 7, and John 12 we read about how Jesus spoke highly of a woman who, though having a reputation as being a great sinner in their town, came to Jesus and poured extravagantly expensive perfume (worth an entire year’s wages!) all over him. Again, He didn’t shame or condemn her for her past sins; rather, He praised her in front of everyone for her current generosity and humility, and He told her He forgave her, told her she was “saved,” and sent her away in peace.
Ugh. So beautiful.
And He even instructed us to forgive generously like this as well:
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” ~Matthew 18:21-22~
It’s just gorgeous to watch our God respond to our filth with His own beauty. It’s mind-blowing to realize that no matter what I do, no matter how low I stoop, no matter how many times I offend Him or ignore Him or blatantly disobey Him… He still forgives. He still welcomes me. He still defends and rescues me. He still provides generously for me. He still has compassion on me. And He still loves me.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love,” He declared way back in Jeremiah 31:3.
And it is true. No matter what I do, the Lord is with me and He is for me and He loves me anyway. Yes, my sin hurts not only His heart, but it hurts the world around me as well. Yes, He will still allow me to face the consequences for my misbehavior. And yes, God wants what is best for all of us— and that’s why He lets us know what He wants us to do (through our own conscious, aka the Holy Spirit, and through the Bible). But, goodness gracious! Since the dawn of time He has shown His kids such great mercy.
As I mentioned before, I am ever in need of fresh doses of grace from both God and from the humans around me. Thank You, Lord, that You accept me how I am— warts and scars and all— and yet You are also continually challenging me and growing me every moment of every day as well.
God is a God of love. Jesus was a “friend of sinners.” No matter what we do, no matter how far we stray, no matter how deceived we may get… He will still, just as He did to Adam and Eve in the Garden, come seek us out. He wants a relationship with us. He wants to help us out of our pits. He wants to shower His grace and healing and generosity all over us. He sees our filth. And He means to restore us anyway.
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What about you?
What are some other stories in the Bible wherein you see God’s mercy and forgiveness? What do you do to intentionally turn to God even though you are filled with shame because of what you’ve done? What does grace feel like to you?
Please share your journey in the comment section below.