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I got into one of those Facebook arguments over the weekend. You know, the kind with relative strangers you wish you’d walked away from three comments ago. I don’t usually argue with people over Facebook, but when I do it almost always involves football, probably because, unlike politics or religion, football tends to be a safe topic where people don’t take things too seriously. But when a football player commits an unpardonable sin, lookout.
This particular argument centered around Michael Vick. If you’ve been watching football for the last twenty years you’re probably well aware of the Michael Vick saga, and I have no intention of rehashing it out here. It’s old news you can read about elsewhere. Most football fans I’m aware of (and Vick himself) have moved on, but I’ve just discovered there are people intent on making sure Vick is forever shamed by his past, and they’re beating the hate-drums on social media to make sure you know about it.
Back in 2007, Vick perpetrated an awful crime (no question there) but he also repented of it, served the appropriate jail time, rediscovered God while incarcerated, emerged a changed man, and had a rewarding second career. Since retirement, he’s become a victims’ advocate. What a monster.
This is not an uncommon story; churches are filled with people who, like Vick, have experienced the redeeming love of Christ after making awful choices; choices that sometimes resulted in serious harm or even the death of others. We don’t shame them for the rest of their lives. In fact, we often encourage them to use their testimonies as evidence of the transformative love of Jesus Christ.
At least, we should.
Murderers, rapists, and child molesters are rightly kept tabs on, preferably from behind bars, when the system works properly. The life-long ramifications of their actions are unavoidable, and every individual’s level of remorse, efforts at restitution, etc., is different. But God can transform the heart of even the worst of sinners, and these are the individuals I’m referring to, those who’ve seen the light.
If a person has admitted to their crime, submitted to the authorities, and publicly repented, shouldn’t we move on as well? Shouldn’t they be allowed to enjoy that clean slate offered by the cross, and even be allowed some honor for what they’ve done right in life? Or, should they be forced to don a new kind of scarlet letter? The internet doesn’t forget, and neither should we, says the Facebook posse.
Every situation is unique, but there are two things I know pretty well: the redemptive power of Jesus Christ, and football. Michael Vick ran for over 6,000 yards as a quarterback, and accordingly, he deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Does his sin negate his achievement? Does Pete Rose’s? Does yours?
All fall short of the glory of God, and none are without sin, right? The miracle of the cross is that our identity is defined by the righteousness of Christ, not our own righteousness, and man, is that a good thing.
Our sins will always be a part of our history, but we don’t deserve to be defined by them. How we treat our brothers and sisters matters a great deal. Of course, unforgiveness ultimately says more about the person refusing to forgive than it does about the person needing forgiveness.
If tomorrow you learn that one of your good friends once committed a heinous act, will it change the way you treat them? Will you start a Facebook petition to spread the word to those who don’t know? When Christians start comparing sins, we quickly steer outside of our lane: “My sin is forgiven, and so was yours, but your sin was worse so I’m gonna make sure everyone knows about it.”
In a few days, we will be celebrating the birth of Christ. Maybe it will be a good time to consider the people sitting around you. I guarantee a few of their ledgers are tainted with worse sins than Michael Vick’s. We can drag those sins out from behind the cross and hold them up for the world to see, and maybe in doing so feel better about our own sins. Or, we can remember what exactly it is we’re celebrating: forgiveness.
Whoever believes in Him is not condemned and, whether we like it or not, counted as righteous, at least in God’s eyes. Fortunately for us, and for Michael Vick, that is the only ledger that counts.Published in