Much is made today about our individual rights. Our Constitution guarantees us certain “unalienable rights.” We have law enforcement agencies to protect our rights. Even those who violate the rights of others have rights. Our overtaxed judicial system testifies to the fact that people are dogged about defending their rights.
The Books of Law in the Old Testament give very specific guidelines of recompense for individuals whose rights have been violated.
But a strange thing happened when Jesus came on the scene.
“But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”—Exodus 21:23-25
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”—Matthew 5:38-40
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”—Matthew 5:23-25
What’s behind this radical paradox? Do we no longer have any rights if we choose to follow Jesus? Are we to be permanent victims?
On the contrary. Paul reminds us,
“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.”—Romans 12:19
This “paradox” isn’t a paradox at all. Rather a metamorphosis. When we receive—truly receive Christ into our hearts, we become a new creation in Christ. Just as Jesus gave up His glory as a part of the Godhead to become a servant to The Father on Earth, so we must submit our old nature to death on the cross and be raised to new life in Christ Jesus. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me.” It is no longer my will be done, but His will.
You mean I have to give up my will?
Our rights end where Jesus begins. Had Jesus not willingly given up His deity, His life, death, and resurrection would mean nothing. It wasn’t by His own power that He healed the sick, raised the dead, and overcame the grave. It was through His submission to and perfect unity with The Father, His example of perfect faith and obedience, that He taught us how to live a supernatural life in a natural world.
No law ever changed the heart of man. Only God’s perfect love can do that. And, as no team scores from a defensive position, I cannot be free to minister to the needs of others if I am focused on defending myself.
And what a relief, to give up the filthy rags I once wore, tainted with the stench of sin, and be clothed in beautiful white garments, washed in His blood. What a relief to be free of the chains of fear and unforgiveness, of bitterness and pain. What a relief to walk in His perfect peace in spite of the turmoil around me.
In His death and resurrection, Jesus has relieved us of the burden of judgment—of ourselves and each other—and has freed us to love as only He could before. Because of the great compassion and forgiveness He has shown me, I no longer have to stew over someone “paying the price” for what they’ve done to me. Jesus paid it in full. As He did for me.
Now, I’m free to forgive, and to plead before the Throne of God for the hearts of those yet laboring under the burden of the law. Now, I can say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”—and mean it.
“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”—Isaiah 53:7
You have the right to remain silent. If you give up the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of The Living God. You have the right to counsel. If you want counsel, but cannot afford it (and you can’t), One will be appointed to you by the Blood of Christ.
Do you understand these rights as I have read them to you?
God’s grace and peace be with you,