Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God. –1 John 3:21
A year ago, I got right with my digestive tract. I started eating very light, cutting nearly all meat and dairy out and pigging out on twigs and sprouts. For the summer of 2007, I went nearly 100% vegan. From April until Christmas, I lost forty pounds. I got off my blood pressure medicine. I could leap tall buildings with a single bound.
This morning, along with a hefty jolt of caffeine, I ate two–not one but two–greasy, awful breakfast sandwiches from QuikTrip. Wasn’t it last June that I preached to Olivia that there was virtually nothing good that you could buy at QuikTrip? Now here I am: I love Big Brother. I’m eating fare that’s not just meat and dairy, but sausage and eggs and drippy cheese. It’s so good, but my heart–perhaps literally in this case–is condemning me. Almost the moment the food–and it was tasty food–passed my lips, I felt guilty, condemned.
In Romans 8:1, Paul says that there is no condemnation for us when we are in Christ. Here John says that if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in our standing before God. But what if our hearts do condemn us?
It seems to me that today’s verse and the one from Romans illustrate the danger of taking a verse of Scripture out of context. In the Romans case, the verse isn’t even a complete sentence, and in this case, it only has its full meaning in light of the long series of arguments preceding it.
John, it seems to me, has been spending most of the preceding chapters convincing guilt-ridden people that they have good standing with God. He’s combating those who would add works to the grace of the Gospel. Paul, too, is arguing for a Gospel of grace, but he’s not arguing for absolute license. The fact that I feel bad for eating fatty food this morning does not negate my lack of condemnation before God.
Since there is no condemnation for me, regardless of what I stuff in my mouth or what my hands perform, am I more or less responsible for my actions? If I were condemned, the responsibility would be shifted to a punishing authority. Like a condemned prisoner, my life would not be my own. Since I am not condemned, my life belongs to me. My responsibility to make the most of it, therefore, is all the greater.