Thursday, October 22, 2009

Our Right to Representation

If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense. (1 John 2.1)

Miranda and Christ

In March 1963, Phoenix police detained Ernesto Miranda for the rape of a mentally disabled 18-year-old woman. At 22, he was a known criminal with a long history of arrests. He’d spent most of youth in custody. A 15-month Army stint ended dishonorably after he’d repeatedly gone AWOL to satisfy voyeuristic urges. When they picked him up, police also suspected him in several similar rapes. Questioning led to confession. Since he confessed without benefit of counsel, however, the Supreme Court vacated his sentence, holding his Constitutional right to representation had been violated. The ruling didn’t spare him. Additional evidence convicted him on retrial. Within a year of his 1975 parole, he was stabbed to death in a bar brawl. Yet, because of his crime and the officers’ indifference, hardly a moment passes in the US—and most of the free world—without Miranda’s case being invoked to guarantee due process of law.

While parallels between Miranda and Christ aren’t exact, they’re notably similar. Both set lasting precedents to ensure protection against coerced admissions of guilt. Both were charged as a result of reckless indifference. Just as Miranda’s arresting officers ignored his rights to secure his conviction, legal and religious figures of Jesus’s day were so determined to stop Him, they fomented outcry for His crucifixion when neither Herod nor Pilate found grounds to put Him to death. And though we feel squeamish about comparing a confessed rapist to Jesus, the crimes that nailed Him to the cross actually exceed—and include—Miranda’s offenses. As 2 Corinthians 5.21 explains, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Miranda and Christ share a lot more in common than we prefer to imagine.

Three Major Principles

Despite similarities in their cases, however, the outcomes couldn’t be more dissimilar. Miranda still paid for his crimes and died in ignominy, no more than a tarnished footnote in legal history. Jesus ultimately triumphed over sin, became the greatest influence in human history, and after literally vacating His death sentence, and now serves as the greatest legal advocate humanity has ever known. The size of His caseload equals the global population—not merely the present figure, but the aggregate representing every man, woman, and child who ever lived. Though we have no idea how, He is everywhere with everyone all the time. His constant guidance keeps millions out of trouble. His genius for crisis resolution knows no bounds. His counsel in handling accusations and legal malfeasance is flawless. And while staying constantly busy with these activities, He’s always—always—pleading God’s mercy in our defense.

In his first epistle John says: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2.1-2) Three major principles surface here. First, John guarantees our right to representation after we sin. While we admit wrongdoing and ask God’s forgiveness, Christ stands in our defense. As God Incarnate, awareness of our frailty and vanity supremely qualifies Him to plead for our acquittal. Second, Jesus’s atonement secures His right to represent us. This leads to the third principle. Knowing our debt’s paid and our Lawyer never loses doesn’t give us latitude to sin. Prior to describing Christ’s advocacy for our defense, 1 John 1.6 says, “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.” Assurance of God’s mercy doesn’t entitle us to exploit it. We can’t have it both ways.

The Truth, Nothing But the Truth

“Living by the truth” held great resonance for early believers, who battled false doctrine within their ranks while living in a society that put little value in moral truth. We see how shaky the concept of “truth” was in the transcript of Pilate’s interrogation of Jesus. He asks Jesus if He’s a king. Jesus answers, “You say that. I didn’t come to be a king. I came to bear witness to the truth.” To which Pilate asks, “What is truth?” (John 18.37-38) The Apostles constantly stressed knowing the truth—embodied in Christ and taught by Him—demands we live by it. They defined sin as anything that subverts truth. Discipleship came down to the truth, nothing but the truth, and that was that.

Paul wholeheartedly supports this in 1 Timothy 2.4-6, saying Christ “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.” Our right to representation brings with it awesome responsibility to represent Christ. “I am the way and the truth and the life,” Jesus tells us in John 14.6. “No one comes to the Father except through me.” He also says, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8.32) Knowledge of the truth liberates us from dishonest pursuits, false pleasures, and hypocritical behaviors that displease God, hurt others, and harm ourselves. It teaches us to do the right thing; it doesn’t free us to do as we please. Here we have three passages confirming Jesus is our representative. He speaks to God in our defense. He is our mediator. He gets us to God. But as significant as this is—and despite the extraordinary precedent it sets—defending our sin isn’t His primary purpose. He came to witness the truth. He is the truth. The more we live by the truth, the less we need to prevail on Christ for our defense.

Our right to representation doesn’t excuse our responsibility to represent our Defender by living by the truth.

(Tomorrow: No Point in Defeat)


genevieve said...

We need more people to live in the truth than ever before. Jesus flew across the conventional wisdom of his day. We need to do the same. Being out in public as a transgender person certainly goes against the conventional idea of mascuklinity and femininity but there's so much error that needs to be corrected.

Tim said...

Genevieve, being true to who we are is essential to live by the truth--and to be true to God's purpose for us. Particularly for members of society (and especially believers) who break the mold, this demands tremendous bravery and resolve. But living the truth is how we live free. And freedom from fear, hatred, and other attitudes that create boundaries is one of the main reasons Jesus came.

Your point is spot-on. If more of us lived as we were made, the rest of the world would learn to accept the vast and beautiful spectrum of God's handiwork much more easily.

Thanks, Genevieve. It always brings me joy to hear from you.

Peace and joy,