“Now, dear brothers and sisters—you who are familiar with the law—don’t you know that the law applies only while a person is living? For example, when a woman marries, the law binds her to her husband as long as he is alive. But if he dies, the laws of marriage no longer apply to her. So while her husband is alive, she would be committing adultery if she married another man. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law and does not commit adultery when she remarries.”
Romans 7:1-3 NLT
It is as though Paul is now starting a new paragraph in his lengthy letter to the Roman Christians. He refers again to the “law” and he makes an obvious point – the “law” only applies during a person’s life. Once they have died it no longer has any hold over them. Though it may be very frustrating to a person seeking justice for a crime committed against them, if the miscreant is dead, they will have no redress in law. As an example, and to take a very high profile case in the UK in recent years, Jimmy Saville, a famous DJ and a man even knighted for his charitable work, left a trail of hundreds of allegations of sexual abuse that were only investigated after his death. The police concluded that he was a prolific and predatory sex offender but there was no legal redress for his victims because the law no longer applied to him. He was dead.
There is a temptation for the victims of crime to feel cheated if the one who offended against them has died and can’t be brought to justice. But they forget one thing. Justice doesn’t end with our natural deaths. One day everyone will have to stand before God to give an account for their lives. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body”. And about evil people, Jesus said to His disciples, “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). The old Apostle John recorded a revelation given to him by Jesus, and at the end of Revelation 20 we read, “I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:12,15).
So we never need fear that anyone who dies before they have been called to account in a court of law has escaped the punishment they deserve. But of course we must also remember that God’s grace extends even to criminals. A confession of sin and a turning to God even with our dying breaths will ensure that our names are written in the “Book of Life”. One of the criminals being crucified with Jesus turned to Him in repentance, convicted of his sins, and he said, ““… Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise”” (Luke 23:40-43). Such love! Such grace! It may be difficult to think that someone who has lived a life of evil crime and makes a last minute confession can find a Heavenly future. But we need to remember that it is only God who has the final word. We trust Him for His righteousness and His fairness, and praise and thank Him for His grace and mercy. After all, we may not have violated any laws of our country, or at least we haven’t been caught offending, but we are all sinners. There is no distinction in God’s eyes between the seriousness of sins. They are all enough to ensure a “Guilty” verdict before God’s throne.
I am always touched by mothers who have lost a son, killed in some event in the street, and who are able to forgive their son’s killer. They are the ones who have truly discovered God’s heart and perhaps they too will find themselves in paradise. They are able to trust God for the right outcome. Only He can see the end from the beginning.
Dear Father God. Your grace and mercy knows no bounds. We praise and thank You today. Amen.