Guilty or Not?
As I sat in the courtroom awaiting my turn before the judge, I surveyed the room. Around me I saw people from all walks of life, but very few with whom I had much in common. At least by appearance, anyhow. Being my first time in court, I had apparently missed the memo that when one goes to traffic court, slobbish attire is the norm. You could almost hear them snicker “rookie” to themselves as I walked in with slacks and a tie. I felt out of place, to say the least. There were probably around a hundred others awaiting their brief few seconds in front of the judge that day and I could count on one hand the number of others in the room who had bothered to put on a tie, or bathe for that matter. “Why in the world,” I thought to myself, “would you show up before a judge looking like a slob? Haven’t these people any self-respect?” I didn’t belong there in that room with those people. I could not wait to get out of there.
Finally, after several minutes, the bailiff stepped up and silenced the room. He explained that the judge was not interested in hearing excuses or stories, he just wanted to hear one of two things: “guilty” or “not-guilty.” No why’s, how’s, or but’s. Guilty or not-guilty. That was it. If one wanted an opportunity to argue their case before the judge they could plead not guilty and a later court date would be arranged for them to argue their case.
Well, that put a big kink in my plans. I already had to take a day of vacation to attend this traffic court and I did not fancy the idea of using another. I had thought up my defense in detail, how I would argue my cause to the judge in hopes of gaining his sympathy. After all, I was on the way to a friend’s wedding and was running late. I had been going a little too fast, but surely the judge would understand my rush. But now I would not even get a chance to argue my case. All the judge wanted to know was “did you break the law or not? Guilty, or not?”
One by one people stepped up in front of the judge to utter their plea. Most just muttered “guilty” and moved right on through. But some, apparently thinking thier case was an exception to the bailiff’s speech, attempted to argue their case before the judge. Every time, the judge would angrily cut them off mid-sentence and sternly say, “I don’t care about your excuses. All I want to know is are you guilty or not?” Most of them stammered, hesitated, stared at the floor or the wall, then finally muttered “guilty.”
As I stepped up in front of the judge, I knew that their was only one thing to say. Excuses or well-thought arguments had no place here. Finally working up the courage, I muttered “guilty.” The word sounded very strange coming out of my mouth and I was instantly humiliated. I stared at the floor, unable to make eye contact with the judge as he spoke my sentence. I would pay a fine, and if I had no further violations for six months, the ticket would be removed from my record.
It was just traffic court. I hadn’t killed anyone, robbed a bank, or committed what most would consider to be a “serious” crime. But the weight of that word hit me like a ton of bricks. It occurred to me in that moment that I had more in common with these people than I would like to admit. I might dress in slacks and a tie, but that didn’t remove my guilt. I could disguise myself as an upstanding citizen, but that didn’t change the fact that I had transgressed the law. It didn’t fool the judge. I was guilty, just like all the other people in that room. I might think myself better than others in thee room, but in the eyes of the law, I was no different at all. Excuses didn’t matter. Comparison served no purpose. “Guilty or not” was the question, and I was guilty.
“Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10-12 ESV)
Oftentimes we live our lives as if we answer to no one. As if we can go about our lives and live as we please with no consequence. But we will all answer to someone one day. The God who created this universe and who created us for his good purpose will one day judge us according to how well we have carried out his plans for our lives. You see, if there is a God (and there is), then he owns the rights to everything, including you and I. And if that God is pure and holy (and he is), then you and I are desperately wicked in his sight. And if that God is all-knowing (and he is), then you and I are left with no excuses, no clever arguments, nothing but “guilty or not guilty.” And since I have never met someone claiming sinless perfection, that narrows down the options a bit. You may, much like those in the courtroom, think you can argue your case before God. That he’ll understand. That he’ll see that you’ve lived a good life overall, that your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds. That compared to others, you’re a good person. (“But officer, he was going faster than me!”) But if that excuse would not appease the standards of a human traffic court ruled by a judge who has likely broken that very law himself, do you really think it will pass before the sinless, perfect, holy God of the universe whose law you’ve spurned and rejected? By whose standards are you a “good person?” Yours, or God’s?
You see, as humans we have pretty low standards for ourselves. Don’t kill anyone, don’t commit and major crimes, treat people well overall, and viola! You’re deemed a “good person.” But before the Bible–God’s standards, the ones by which we will all be judged–you and I are hopelessly doomed. As we stand before God’s judgment seat, there’s only one word we can say as we bow in shame: “Guilty.”
But praise be to the God who not only judges but saves! Yes, God will administer judgment to those who have rejected him and his law. But, knowing that we could never pass by his perfect standards, he provided a substitution. Being a righteous judge, he could not simply leave sin unpunished. (What kind of judge pardons every criminal that sets foot in his court?) So, God sent his son, Jesus–who willingly complied–to pay the penalty for our sins. Jesus lived a perfect life–by God’s standards–and died the death we all deserved paying the penalty for our sins, and rose again from the dead the third day. (Now, that last part–the rising from the dead part–troubles many people because it is “impossible.” But does the God who created life not have the power to restore it once lost?) Jesus paid the price for the sins of any who will simply accept his free gift.
I will stand before God one day, and I will be judged for my sins. There will be no excuses to offer, save one–I’ve trusted in Jesus Christ and accepted his atoning sacrifice. There’s nothing I could do to earn my way into heaven, but thanks be to God that Jesus paid the price and pardoned my sin with his blood.
Have you trusted in Christ? What will you have to say when you stand before God to give an account? A few lame excuses? A “but God, I wasn’t as bad as that person?” A “but God, look at all the good things I did?” A “but God, look at the way I was raised, I couldn’t help it?” If the first thing that comes to mind when standing before God is “but God…” then you’re in trouble. We’re all in the same boat–“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The gift of salvation is available to all who will accept. One day, every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. But at that time, it will be too late. Only those who have claimed the gift of salvation in this life will be pardoned in the next. Will you be pardoned? Will you accept Christ’s sacrifice and give your life, unconditionally, to his service? Where will you spend eternity?
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13 ESV)
If you have accepted Christ after reading this post, please let me know (by posting a reply) so that I can rejoice with and pray for you! On the next page is some advice on the first steps to take in your new walk with Christ.