“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” – 1 John 3:15
Before anyone rolls their eyes and assumes this is just another cliché, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” kind of post, let me assure you that it is not. What this 21 year old man did just a few days ago is inarguably evil and fully deserving of the highest penalty in the court of law. I don’t want to nor am I going to minimize the enormity of his guilt. My aim is to use this horrific situation to refresh our memory as to who and what we are apart from the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Every single person reading this post is guilty of murder. Every single one. Sure, we may be innocent of the crime in the American Court of Law, but in the Divine Court of Justice – before the Ultimate Judge – we are all rightfully regarded as murderous felons. If we really take the Bible seriously, that is.
I don’t believe the apostle John was dilly-dallying with his words or merely trying to be dramatic when he said that to hate someone is to commit murder. I believe that he was serious. I believe that in his mind, guided by the Holy Spirit of God, he saw hatred as murder.
And Jesus agrees with him. People in the 21st Century tend to think that Jesus came into the world simply to simmer down his hotheaded, rule-bent Father and tell us to chill out on all the “do’s and do not’s” and stuff. But this couldn’t be more untrue. Jesus actually takes things a step further and calls humanity to a far higher degree of moral character than even the Old Testament Law did. He moves past external sins – like adultery and murder – and dives straight into the heart, where the lust and hatred that feed adultery and murder dwell.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”– Matthew 5:21-22
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” – Matthew 5:27-30
Jesus enhances our perception of our frightful predicament – our corrupt, sinful nature – by pointing us to the fact that it is not merely our actions but the state of our hearts that earns us a guilty conviction before God. How petrifying is that? I mean, it’s easy to put on a front for everyone around us. We can pretend to be good little boys and girls. We can tuck in our shirts, use clean language, have a bible app on our phones and put ourselves forward to be nice, tidy, politically conservative people. But inside, beneath all the show, we know who we are. We know our lusts and our jealousies and our hatred that run rampantly through our minds as we paint fake smiles on our faces. God knows us too – the real us. And it is the real us, the inward us, that is going to be held to account on Judgment Day. It will not merely be our acts of fornication, murder, or theft that condemn us on that Day, but it will be our possession of a heart that loves to resist God in lust, hate and all other kinds of idolatry that condemns us.
The worst news in the world this week is not that this man entered into the serenity of a Bible study and unloaded the bullets of his hatred into the undeserving bodies of Christians worshipping their Lord. The worst news in the world this week is that you and I, apart from the new life experienced through faith in Jesus, have the exact same kind of heart as this man.
By God’s restraining grace we may have not yet committed the actual act of murder (and hopefully we will not!), but we most certainly have all felt and dwelt in hatred toward someone or some people group. Maybe we’ve been racist. Maybe we’ve been homophobic. Or maybe we’ve just loathed the existence of our mother-in-law or our president. But in some shape or form, we’ve all been “murderous” in the hatred we’ve felt toward others.
Jesus came into the world not to cheapen God’s holiness or tell us we’re “okay”, but to tell us that we’re far worse off than we’ve ever imagined. But the best news in the world for you and me is that we’re also far more loved than we’ve ever imagined. Jesus, knowing the full extent of our evil, ended his ministry on this earth by absorbing the unimaginably fierce wrath that was destined to fall on us. The Son of God hung on that Cross – nailed in place by our sins and transgressions – and offered himself up as a guilt offering not merely for our outward actions but for every unfaithful and sinful intent of our corrupt hearts. By faith in Jesus we are now able to stand boldly before the throne of God and know that we are both legally guiltless and perfectly righteous.
This incredibly good news is the only and greatest hope not only for Dylan Roof, but for us all. As much as we may resist it, we are just as bad off as he is. If God were to remove his protective, restraining grace from our lives, we would probably do far worse things than kill nine people. In light of Roof’s unspeakable crime, let us also see ourselves and our unspeakable crimes before God soberly today. And let us be thankful that God passionately delights in showing mercy toward the worst of sinners. Because we are all – every one of us – the very, very worst of sinners.