Have you ever sat in a courtroom and watched a case unfold? My only occasion in court was to appeal a traffic ticket I thought unjust (the judge reduced the fine). The next closest encounter I've had with a courtroom is watching one on TV: whether Bull, Law and Order, or Judge Judy.
But there is an invisible courtroom that you and I are tempted to enter every day -- one where we are on trial and the verdict has not yet come in.
The essence of every trial is the presentation of evidence that a crime has occurred. The prosecution marshalls evidence against a defendant, while the defense attempts to rebut this evidence and clear the defendant of guilt.
When you and I wake up each day, we walk into the courtroom of public opinion. What will my teacher think of me? My coach? My students – do they like me, respect me, admire me? When others see me at church, at work, or at the gym, what is their opinion of me? What verdict has this jury made? For that matter, when I walk by a mirror, what is my opinion of myself? Handsome? Out of shape? Aging? Lazy?
For some strange reason, we seem to care an awful lot about what others think about us. And if we're honest, we aren't all that impressed with "me" sometimes, either.
Why all the mental shenanigans? What is going on?
For all our lives, we feel judged by our performance. Are you a swimmer? Then you're judged by the time in which you swim 100 meters and by what place you finish. Are you a teacher? Then you're judged by your annual performance review and nasty websites like ratemyprofessors.com. Are you a housewife? Then you're judged by the neatness of your home and the flowerbed out front. Are you a salesman? Then you're judged by the volume of product you successfully push. Are you a student? Then you're judged by your GPA and SAT scores.
In all of this, performance precedes the verdict. If you perform well, you get a positive verdict from others. If you perform poorly, you get a negative verdict from others. Essentially, the vast majority of people build their self-esteem based on what kind of verdict they can get from others' opinions of their performance.
And it's exhausting – there's no letting up. One slip, one lazy moment, and the verdict can flip. And our sense of self comes crashing to the floor. Is there a remedy for this performance treadmill? Is there a way to get a favorable verdict that lasts -- that is once-and-for-all?
Christianity offers something unique to our world. It says, "Because of Christ, your verdict is not based on your performance but on His. Though your performance is found wanting, His is not. And because His performance has been transferred to you, your verdict is in. Innocent of all charges. Approved. Accepted. Free.
In other words, for the Christian, our performance doesn't lead to our ultimate verdict ... the ultimate verdict actually leads to our performance. Or to put it another way, Christ went on trial for our criminal activities and was found guilty in our place. The verdict for our lawlessness fell upon Him: guilty. In exchange, the actual innocence of Christ was credited to us: not guilty.
This means that God treated Christ (in the courtroom) as though he were us, so He could treat us as though we were Him.
As the Father loved and approved of Jesus the Son, so He now loves and approves of all those whom His Son went to trial for. It should have been us on trial. When the bailiff ushered us into the courtroom, we were shocked to see Jesus already sitting in the Defendant's seat – while we were escorted to the gallery to watch the trial unfold.
The trial is over. The jury has rendered its decision. Jesus was found guilty for the acts I committed. The result? The Father can look at me, the truly guilty one, and say, "You are my child, whom I love; in you I am well-pleased." Why? Because of Jesus, I've been found not guilty, righteous, innocent, free of all charges.
Court is adjourned.
Will that not free your heart to worship Him? To love Him? To enjoy Him?
Consequently, can I pass a mirror and not be consumed with my looks? Is my sense of worth still held hostage to the opinions of others? Why does their opinion matter, when the only One whose opinion counts, delights in me?
Court is adjourned.
Since my name was on the docket, and Jesus was sentenced in my place, I can never be retried for my criminal offenses. I am free. Double jeopardy prevents me from being tried again. And if that were not enough ... the just Judge of that courtroom has adopted me into his family – with all the benefits, standing, and privileges this brings.
The courtroom is empty. The doors are locked. I am free.
The only One in all the Universe whose opinion counts, delights in me.
Court is adjourned.
* My thoughts are influenced by and adapted from the outstanding little book, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, by Tim Keller (44 short pages). In it, Keller unpacks the Apostle Paul's metaphorical courtroom scene from 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7. I highly recommend it.