Karla never claimed to be innocent. She never denied her involvement in the brutal double murder that left a lonely pickaxe embedded in one of her victims. While in Harris County Jail, she believed she’d committed a second crime when she stole a Bible, not realising they were given away for free.
“That night I started reading the Bible”, she said in an interview with Larry King. “I didn’t know what I was reading and before I knew it, I was just – I was in the middle of my floor on my knees and I was just asking God to forgive me.”
She inspired widespread calls for her sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment. But despite this, Death Row Prisoner #777, also known as Karla Faye Tucker, was condemned to death and executed by lethal injection on 3rd February 1998.
Free from condemnation
Like Karla, by nature we all sit under a death sentence, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23) and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). You may not be guilty of either murder or petty theft. You may, in fact, have lived quite a moral, upstanding life. But not one of us is guiltless before a holy God. At the very least, every one of us has failed to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind, which Jesus declares to be the greatest commandment of all (Matthew 22:37).
God’s Law pronounces a death sentence that cannot be commuted. Sinners deserve judgment. We all deserve the wrath of God. And left to our own devices, we can never work our way out of this situation. But thankfully we’re not left to our own devices. God has come near and given us great hope. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ means that those who trust in him are no longer under condemnation:
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Rom 8:1-2).
If we’re trusting in Jesus, our personal charge sheet – recording every major crime and minor misdemeanour – has been nailed to the cross. In Christ we’re no longer under the condemnation of God. We experience full and free forgiveness because “what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.” (Romans 8:3).
What if I still feel condemned?
These wonderful biblical truths all sound fantastic – hallelujah! But it’s not always so easy to accept that you’re no longer under condemnation. Maybe the way you feel doesn’t measure up to this spiritual reality. Perhaps you sense a nagging inner voice saying things like, “what, you did it again?”, or “God will never forgive you”, or “call yourself a Christian? If you were really free, you would never fall and fail so often.”
There is, of course, a kind of worldly grief that leads to death. And it might well be that you’ve not yet experienced “godly grief”, which “produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10). But if you have genuinely repented from past sinful behaviour and are still feeling condemned, you can be confident that this is not a work of the Holy Spirit.
When I was struggling to accept God’s forgiveness concerning a particular period of sinful behaviour and was feeling condemned, my church minister gave me some helpful advice. He recommended that I write down verses that speak of God’s mercy and leave them in places where I’d often look throughout the day. Getting the truth of God’s word into our minds is so important. So, for example, Romans 8:1-2 became my phone screen saver. And over time, the Holy Spirit used God’s breathed out word to completely transform my outlook and help me accept Christ’s forgiveness.
Faith over feelings
You may not yet feel that God has forgiven you. Maybe you’ve read Romans 8 many times before, but you’re still struggling to apply this blessing that you have in Christ to your own heart. In reality, we often have to believe God’s word by faith even if our feelings don’t quite measure up.
If you’re still finding it hard to believe the reality of your forgiveness and are feeling condemned by something you’ve done, said, thought – or by something you’ve failed to do or say – then you need to let faith triumph over your feelings. The truth is, there simply is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And if you are in Christ, this is God’s blessing given to you. So even if your feelings deceive you into thinking that God hasn’t forgiven you, be assured that in Christ he has. The scriptures are true and we need to trust them over our feelings. The reality is that the power of our omniscient (all-knowing) God trumps the thoughts of our self-condemning hearts:
“This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: if our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:20)
This is the first in a series of articles exploring various spiritual blessings that are ours in Christ