By Eva Juliuson
For more than two years I spent half a day, once a month in a juvenile/family courtroom listening to case after case. I attended the hearings with a friend whose children were taken away. Their case was always at the end of the docket, which meant we sat quietly through all the other cases first. Most involved children being taken from their parents for a variety of reasons. The majority of the time the cause was substance abuse, child neglect, or endangerment, and in some cases physical, sexual, or mental abuse.
I began to notice a pattern in how the judge presided over each trial. If the evidence showed the accused guilty, yet they loudly proclaimed their innocence and demanded their rights even after repeated chances, the judge ordered the harshest penalty. When everything pointed toward their guilt but they seemed truly remorseful, the judge would go out of her way to enable them to start a whole new life. She had them participate in counseling, parenting classes, and rehab. She was gentle yet firm with them, as long as it appeared that they were trying to turn away from the guilty life they had lived before and were ready for a brand new start.
The judge could either give them the full punishment of the law or she could offer them undeserved grace. I could tell that she longed for them to choose grace—for their own sake, the sake of their children, and even for the future generations yet to come.
I think that’s how God deals with us. We are all guilty, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). When we stand before him, do we argue about our right to live the way we want? Do we reject and rebel against his authority over us? Do we loudly proclaim how good we are, listing out all our “virtues” and denying our guilt? Or do we realize that we are indeed guilty? Do we experience true remorse in our hearts for our sin and really want to change the way we live?
Grace is the only way out from under the righteous (and deserved) penalty of the law. Yet if we refuse to accept God’s grace, we are choosing to be judged by the harshest penalty of the law. If we think there is no guilt, then there is no need for grace. Recognition of our guilt has to come before beautiful grace makes us holy through Jesus Christ.
Guilty as Charged
The first step toward receiving God’s forgiveness and grace is admitting we’re guilty.
Often the court would order a drug test before a person appeared in front of the bench. It was incredible how often the tests showed positive for a “dirty system.” There was no way to get around the fact that the person had used drugs before coming to court, for the test even showed how much and what kind was in their bodies. Yet there would still be excuses and loud exclamations of their innocence, as well as demands for their rights. It might be easy for me as an observer of the court to think how silly it was for the obviously guilty party to argue their complete innocence. Yet how often do I try to justify my own guilt by silly arguments such as “everyone does it,” “it’s harmless,” or “I’m a really good person.”
I vividly recall the day I thought of how much I had grown in the Lord and how good of a Christian I was. Still basking in my goodness, later that day I picked up the Bible and randomly read Proverbs 6:16-19, which lists six things the Lord hates. At the very top of the list was pride, otherwise listed as “haughty eyes.” I was immediately convicted by the dirty result on my sin test. Not one of us can pass the test of the law without it revealing our sinful thoughts, attitudes, and actions.
As I continued to sit through the hearings, I found myself praying for those on trial to see this as a chance to receive a fresh new start that could save their lives and the lives of their children. I prayed that they saw they were on the wrong track and needed a whole new direction—a whole new life! I prayed that they would find the same amazing grace that I had found through Jesus Christ.
Turning Away from Sin
As we see our guilt and admit we are sinners, we need to stop doing the sin that makes us guilty.
I sat through cases in that courtroom where mothers had their children taken away because their boyfriends had abused their children. The judge tried to get them to see that they had chosen men over their children’s safety and well-being. The women had ample proof that their men had traumatized and wounded their kids, but they were still living with the men. There was no way the judge could let the children go back to live with the mom in that dangerous situation. These women were fully aware of the sin but were unable to walk away from it. The same applied to those who chose drugs and alcohol over their kids. They may have felt great remorse for the sin and fully realized the great damage, yet they were unable to turn away from it and sin no more.
There were some who hung their heads in guilt and shame, not even able to look the judge in the eye. Instead they chose to wallow even more in that guilt and not take any steps toward a new, clean life. The judge gave them opportunities. She kept holding out chances for them to start walking in a new life. She postponed the final decision several times, hoping they would move away from bad influences, attend classes, and have good, consistent visits with their kids. Yet they chose to stay in the sin and not change anything.
Once we realize our guilt, we must seize the way out that God has provided for us. Guilt can entrap us in permanent shame if we do not ask Jesus to be Lord of our lives. Our Savior came to take away our sin—not so we could keep on sinning but so we could enjoy an abundant, eternal life with our heavenly Father—forever free from guilt and shame.
God’s Grace Makes Us Holy
I will never forget the joy of the judge as she followed my friend’s long journey while her children were in foster care. It took a while for my friend to see that the judge was on her side and her kids’ side. The judge longed to reunite them but couldn’t do it while my friend kept on living in sin.
I can’t say when things changed, but my friend’s attitude made a whole turnaround. Before she had blamed all her bad luck on the judge. Then she began to realize her own guilt in choosing drugs over her kids. She saw that the judge was giving her a last chance to get her children back. My friend not only accepted the grace given her but also latched on to it and didn’t look back. She quit living for drugs and began reaching for the new promised life in Jesus Christ. My friend not only attended the required parenting classes but truly wanted to learn from them. She enrolled in college classes.
After almost two long years in front of this judge, it was the week before Christmas when my friend last appeared before the bench. The court was so pleased in the way she had accepted her new chance and worked hard at going forward, they called in the kids and gave them back to her right then—complete with Christmas gifts, photos, and hugs all around!
We may be guilty as charged, but we have been pardoned and made free by the beautiful gift of Jesus Christ! We don’t deserve it. We may not understand it. We may not always feel holy, but his incredible grace makes us holy. May our lives be lived as our gift back to him for his amazing gift of grace.
Eva Juliuson is a freelance writer in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Holy Week Around the World
Christians of many backgrounds and from many countries commemorate the week leading up to Christ’s death. Watch the video “Christian Holy Week in Jerusalem” to observe how people all over the world gather in Jerusalem each year to walk where Jesus walked on his way to the cross on Good Friday.