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WRONGFULLY CONDEMNED

Once during a court session which was getting loud and noisy, the presiding judge pounded his gavel and said, "Folks, we're going to have to be quieter. I've had to convict the last five men without a word of testimony." That story is funny and fictional, but the naked truth is that courts and judges and juries don't  always get it right. An AP article. (Wednesday, November 17, 2004) noted that the state of Maryland has awarded 56 year old Michael Austin a $1.4 million wrongful conviction award. Convicted of killing a man at a market in 1974, Austin served 27 years in prison before his murder conviction was overturned and he was freed in 2001. It is impossible to imagine the pain, anguish and suffering Austin endured after being wrongfully accused, tried, convicted, and then imprisoned for 27 years. With advances in DNA testing, it is becoming increasingly clear that wrongful convictions, while rare, are nevertheless very real.

The New Testament describes a case of wrongful conviction.  1John 3:19-21 takes us into a court scene, "By this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God." In this passage the apostle John is seeking to help Christians see that there are occasions when our own "hearts" wrongfully accuse and even wrongfully condemn us. In the courtroom of our conscience, we often put ourselves on trial. From the jury box in our own mind and memory we listen as witness after witness comes forth to recall and accuse us of one failure after another. John seems to be telling us that these moments when our own hearts put us on trial are a normal part of Christian experience. As we testify against ourselves, guilt floods in and the heart; in John's words, "condemns us" (3:20). But get this "If our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things." Just because our "heart" accuses and condemns us does not automatically mean that God does ! Our confidence toward God is not based upon what we think about ourselves but upon what He thinks about us. And what He thinks about us does depend not upon our flawlessness or our feelings but our faithfulness! Feelings are often fickle and flap like a flag in the wind. There are days when we don't feel very loved or very saved. But even then we can still assure our hearts before God because God is greater than our heart. When we "obey His commandments and do those things which are pleasing in His sight" (1 John 3:22), we can rest assured He will not condemn us, even if our own heart does!

Dan Gulley
Smithville church of Christ