“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
“You can’t judge me!” may be one of the premier slogans of modern, western culture. A hundred years ago, what the people around you thought mattered a great deal. In many cultures around the world today this is still the case. An individual’s identity comes primarily from their social structure. In modern American culture, we are taught to place a high value on choosing a path that explicitly rejects and even makes a mockery of the social order in which we live. The bravest souls are the ones who take what’s expected of them and throw it in the trash to be “true to themselves” just like everybody else…
Think about the most culturally acclaimed movies to come out of Hollywood over the last 20 years (and in reality probably the last 30 or 40). The movie that proclaims this path best that I’ve seen is Into the Wild. It tells the story of a college graduate who has all the potential in the world and whose family wants him to go to grad school. Instead, he essentially runs away. He decides he wants to live on his own in Alaska. He takes this wildly romanticized journey across the country, meeting and living with all kinds of interesting people as he goes. Each time he starts to build a relationship with his hosts, though, he breaks it off in order to stay true to himself. In the end, he makes it to Alaska. He even finds an abandoned hippie van to live in in a beautiful field. Goal achieved! And then he eats some poisonous berries by mistake and freezes to death in the winter. A whole life’s worth of potential thrown away so he could “be true to himself.” It’s even based on a true story.
At first here, Paul seems to countenance this modern notion. “It is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court.” But then, he throws modernity in the trash as well. “I do not even judge myself.”
You see, while Paul was not setting himself as accountable to his culture as his primary guide, he deftly avoided the tyranny of self that so many find themselves lost in today. Instead, he set himself firmly before the judgment of the Lord, and this not with fear, but with confidence. He could be so confident because His identity before the Lord did not depend on either the culture in which he was raised or his individual effort. It depended instead on the gift of status given by Christ out of the right status He had gained on the cross and in the resurrection.
Like Paul, we are wise to avoid the traps of both self and culture. They are a Charybdis and Scylla waiting to devour us if we lean too far in either direction. Instead, let us throw ourselves on the perfect mercy of Christ and relish in the status He gives us, the identity He grants us, that falls firmly in line with who God made us to be. This is the judgment that matters, and in Christ, the judgment we can pass.