From Condemnation to Incarnation

Kyle Norman
I once had an unfortunate experience with my phone’s auto-correct function. There had been a death in the parish, and I was in constant communication with the family. As the family lived outside the city, planning for the service took place via phone calls, text messages and emails. At one point, as I was outlining the order of the liturgy, I texted, “the service will close with words of commendation, followed by a hymn.” My phone, however, decided to correct my spelling in the most unfortunate of ways. Instead of my intended text, my phone sent the adjustment: “the service will close with words of condemnation, followed by a hymn.”
These two words may sound similar, but they are miles apart in definition. A commendation is an approval. It is to laud another as praise-worthy and valued. To commend another is to recognize the rightful place one has in life. Condemnation, however, is to pronounce disapproval. it is to declare that one is unfit for the blessings of God. To condemn is to cast away; it is an act of destruction.
How easy it is to believe that God’s final word over us is one of condemnation. In fact, one of the most common misconceptions of God is that God is the constant condemner, the cosmic cop longing to punish us for our spiritual infractions. To believe this is to believe that God delights in punishing the wicked and the wayward. Sadly, many believe this. Many assume that God is fundamentally displeased with their lives.
One of the reasons this misconception is so powerful is that many scriptural examples can be found in support of this picture. One may cite Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden, or Moses being banned from the Promised Land; there are the Psalms which implore the Lord to “lay hold of your enemies” or “break the teeth of the wicked” (Psalm 21:8; 3:7). To top it all off, we have Christ’s own teaching regarding the separation of sheep and goats, wheat and chaff. In our minds this proves that God condemns all who deserve such treatment.
If we believe that God’s disposition toward us is one of condemnation, we can’t help but read ourselves in these verses. We assume this to be the full reality of how God views us. While verses declaring God’s love and grace are easily applied to others, our own sin stares at us. Thus, we believe there is no way that God could not condemn our sinfulness. The evidence is clear.
Of course, we cannot deny the biblical reality of these texts. Scripture clearly pictures God as righteous and just. Scripture teaches that God’s kingdom on earth will involve with the final judgement against evil and wickedness. We cannot escape these verses, nor can we explain them away.
Nor should we. These verses declare something important about God’s nature and identity. Rather than suggesting a passionless law-keeper-God, these verses highlight the immense love God has for God’s people. If there was no final condemnation of the wicked and evil, then there would be no justice in the heart of God. It is because God feels deeply the pain of his people, that God longs to end the flow of hatred and evil. God longs for his people to be redeemed, to be whole. This redemption must involve the full destruction of all that corrupt and destroy the beloved of God.
And yet, the presence of these verses does not mean that God looks at you disapprovingly. Nor do they mean that God longs for your condemnation. The grand narrative of scripture is singular in its focus; God is love, and out of that love, God acts. God never removes God’s love from our lives. God did not stop loving Adam and Eve, Moses, Peter, or all the other frail people in scripture. Even as God held their sin to account, God bathed them in love and offered mercy and forgiveness.
Furthermore, the definitive act of God in response to human sin is not an act of condemnation, it is the act of incarnation. Jesus comes as the enfleshed presence of God’s eternal love. “God sent his son into the world,” we read “not to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). This is the truth of the gospel.
Instead of reading yourself into the verses that speak of separation or judgment, what might it look like to read yourself into this verse: “God sent his son to Jim, not to condemn Jim, but so that Jim might be saved through him.” The very presence of Jesus means that you are received in the loving arms of the Savior.
When we believe that God is the constant condemner, we see the scales as eternally balanced against us. We will always find infractions that point to our destruction. Even our good works will not tip the balance. Thirty minutes in prayer simply highlights the time that should have been spent reading the Bible, yet time spent reading the Bible speaks to the lack of prayer. It is a vicious cycle of self-condemnation of which it is hard to break free.
To live healthy spiritual lives, it is imperative that we move from condemnation to incarnation. By that I mean that we are called to believe that Jesus is with us and that his love can be experienced in our everyday lives. When we feel overwhelmed by our imperfections, mistakes, or sins, the loving grace of Jesus remains. To embrace incarnation is to believe that Jesus does not stand removed from the messiness of our lives. In fact, it is precisely within that mess that we meet the Lord of grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
Jesus speaks words of new life over us. He speaks words of love and forgiveness. This is, in fact, how the entire narrative of scripture ends. Rather than a word of condemnation, Jesus speaks a word of invitation.
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.” (Rev.22:17).
A picture of God, or a reading of the Bible, that focuses solely on God’s judgement of the wicked is a truncated picture of God and a flawed reading of scripture. It is not the God revealed in scripture, nor in the person of Jesus.
You are not condemned. You are not cast off. You are loved. Dare to believe it.

Reverend Dr. Kyle Norman is the rector of the Anglican Parish of Holy Cross in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has a doctorate in Spiritual Formation and is often asked to write or speak on the nature of Christian community, and the role of spiritual disciplines in Christian life. His personal blog can be found at