“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2
I heard this verse in a sermon a couple weeks ago, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since. The pastor who was teaching just kind of skimmed over it, since he had plenty of other things to say and this particular verse can be a little “old news” to many of us.
Now, I’ve heard this verse a time or two in my life. By “a time or two,” of course, I mean somewhere in the thousands upon thousands of times. I was made to memorize it, once, so it’s one of those that has played on loop in my brain.
For some reason, though, this time it didn’t slip by unnoticed as it usually does. This time, it began to loop again, and I started thinking: what exactly is condemnation, anyway?
We all know, don’t we. Don’t we? It’s a word we use a lot, so we ought to, I suppose. It’s one of those words like integrity and holiness that forms what some have dubbed “Christianese” because you hardly hear them outside of a religious or moral context. If, like me, you’ve grown up hearing these words and speak them natively whether you really understand them or not, you probably feel (as I did) that you’ve got a pretty good grasp.
I find it helpful, though, to pause sometimes and look for words outside their biblical context. As the pastor continued to teach on other parts of the passage, my (confession alert) attention…er…drifted a bit, and instead I pondered the meaning of “condemn” outside of moral meaning.
The meaning that stuck out to me most was this: we “condemn” old buildings that are no longer worth what it would cost to fix them. They are no longer fit for the task for which they were made, so we demolish them. We turn them to rubble. We throw them away.
To throw away. Simply put, that is what condemn means. It means something is no longer valuable enough to save, so it is simply discarded. Abandoned. Left to rot, and eventually, pass away. It’s trash.
Put into the context of this verse, then, this is what I heard it say:
To you who choose Jesus as your Savior: You are not God’s trash.
Are you hearing this? I don’t think you heard what I just heard. Listen again:
YOU are NOT God’s trash.
BELOVED OF GOD, STOP TRYING TO THROW YOURSELF AWAY!
I just about jumped out of my skin when I heard that. We do, though, don’t we? We all get into these doldrums where we think, “I fail so much. I’m too broken. God just can’t use me anymore.” And what is His answer? Stop trying to take out my trash!
Here’s the truth, folks: we’re right. We are broken. In any but the Master’s hands, we are useless. But as it turns out, it’s not the tool that does the work; it’s the craftsman. And God is so good, He can even use tools as broken as we are. He is so intelligent, He can even find ways to use our broken parts to do His bidding.
I had a professor in college who was burdened with the arduous task of teaching me technical theater, a.k.a how to use tools. Poor fellow. Anyway. One of the topics in his class was painting sets, and for it he had us help him paint a particular set he was working on. Now, folks, understand – I am now twenty-nine years old, and I still can’t quite color in the lines. Again, poor fellow. Anyway. The reason I bring this up is that he had an old paintbrush that had lived long enough to be missing most of its bristles. One might think, then, that is was nearly worthless to him, hence it would make an excellent training brush for us newbies who might destroy it. This was not the case. That brush was his prized possession, the trick of his trade. That brush could paint irregular, natural looking lines that perfectly mimicked wood grain, or the bark on a tree, etc., like no other brush could. He didn’t let us touch it.
See where I’m going with this?
What if – let’s just say what if – God can use broken tools, too?
What if He really is that good?
What if God is such a perfect craftsman that He can not only use you in spite of your brokenness – oh, here’s a thought – but because of it?
Let’s talk Moses for a moment (more on him later – what a fellow!). Moses gave God the same speech you and I’ve been delivering, and whad’ya’know, he was even kind enough to write down God’s answer. It went something like this (from Exodus 3:10-4:17, dramatically and somewhat irreverantly paraphrased for full understanding. Read the original first. It’s better.):
God: Go tell Pharaoh to let my people go.
Moses: What, me? I’m a nobody!
God: That’s okay, I’m coming with you.
Moses: Who are you?
God: I’m THE somebody!
Moses: Cool…but they’re never going to believe I met You.
God: Watch this! (performs crazy miracles) See? Trust me, they’ll believe you.
Moses: Okay, fine, that’s pretty cool, but I’m not eloquent enough. I talk slow.
God: Seriously? Who do you think made your mouth, man? Hint: I DID. Do what I say and I’ll make sure you say it right.
Moses (whining): PLEASE send someone else!
God (losing it a little)(understandably): FINE! Your brother will speak, but only what you tell him to say, all right? I’ll tell you, and you tell him.
If Moses was a paintbrush, he’d be telling God he’s lost too many bristles, and God would be telling him that’s perfect. See, when the tool is broken, it makes it all the more obvious that it’s the ARTIST doing the work. That’s what God was trying to make Moses see – it was never about Moses and what he could do. Moses kept saying, “But God, I can’t!” And God just kept saying, “I know you can’t, but I CAN!”
It was never about Moses. It’s not about you, either.
So here’s an idea: what if you stop telling God all the ways He can’t use you because you’re just too broken (frankly, dear, He knows), and listen to how, in His brilliance, He can use you instead?
Hmm. Really think about that.
YOU are NOT God’s trash.
If you believed that, how might the world change?