Based in St. Cloud, Minnesota, Growing in Grace is a blog by Pastor Matthew Molesky. His posts explore the Bible, theology, ecclesiology, culture, books, family, and life.

Can I Clean Up My Rap Sheet?

I love courtroom dramas: being immersed in a compelling story filled with strategy, complex arguments with point and counterpoint, the prosecution and the defense. In one recent such story the defense, having supported clearing their client, asked for the “record to be expunged.” Which got me thinking recently about what that really means, versus how it is may have just been portrayed dramatically for the small screen.

Technically, an expungement proceeding is a type of lawsuit in which a first time offender of a prior criminal conviction seeks that the records of that earlier process be sealed, thereby making the records unavailable through the state or Federal repositories. If successful, the records are said to be "expunged". Black's Law Dictionary defines "expungement of record" as the "Process by which record of criminal conviction is destroyed or sealed from the state or Federal repository."

This is different than, say, a pardon. When an expungement is granted, the person whose record is expunged may, for most purposes, treat the event as if it never occurred. A pardon does not "erase" the event; rather, it constitutes forgiveness.1

Huh.

We are all guilty. There is “none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). And every single one of us want expungement — to treat the events of our sin as if they never occurred. And it is a firmly held belief by all of the class homo sapiens that such a thing isn’t possible. It doesn’t work that way. We all have, and always will have, a messed-up, sadly loooooooong rap sheet.

But the Bible bears different news. Good news. A mix of expungement and pardon is possible.

In Psalm 32, David comes before the judge, contemplating what such an expungement/pardon combo would do to someone. Namely, understandably, they’d be thrilled!

1 Oh, what joy for those 
whose disobedience is forgiven, 
whose sin is put out of sight! 
2 Yes, what joy for those 
whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,
whose lives are lived in complete honesty!

He considers what life is like when he tries, as a guilty person, to hide from the light of justice. To keep his criminal activity secret, living on the lamb.

3 When I refused to confess my sin, 
my body wasted away, 
and I groaned all day long. 
4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. 
My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. 
Interlude

“Interlude” Why interlude? Because one needs a moment to think that through. Carrying around unconfessed deeds in secret is clearly not the answer. It will not go well for us. So why do it? 

Huh. 

Good question.

5 Finally, I confessed all my sins to you 
and stopped trying to hide my guilt. 
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” 

How did that work out for David?

And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. 
Interlude.

“Interlude” again. Why this time? Because one needs a moment to absorb this too! There you are, at the defense table. The judge enters, and before the trial even begins, you stand — while your lawyer grabs at your sleeve, telling you to sit down — you stand and confess all your crimes. The prosecutor smiles. The audience and jury are stunned. And then the judge declares, in response to your confession — “I forgive you. Pardon is yours. What’s more, all your guilt is gone, the record is expunged. Forever you will be treated as if none of these things ever occurred. Your rap sheet (and you!) is clean.”

Well, first the audience, jury, and prosecution were stunned by your confession, but they are positively flummoxed by the response of the judge, for what he has done is a miscarriage of justice. Everyone knows you have to pay for your crimes. Such a scenario doesn’t seem possible. So how do we understand what has happened to David? And how might we believe it is possible for us too?

Though you have very likely heard this many times, dear reader, if you are a Christian, you need to take a little Interlude yourself and consider it again.

8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 BUT if we confess our sins to God, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 Jn 1:8–9)

How?

…the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. (1 Jn 1:7)
…if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. 2 He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world. (1 Jn 2:1–2)

Friend, do you believe this?

O please — let us believe this! In Jesus, we are cleared of guilt! In Jesus, all our guilt is gone! In Jesus, we are forgiven!

Oh, what joy for those

whose disobedience is forgiven, 

whose sin is put out of sight! 


[1. Wikipedia article, accessed Tue 03 Nov 2015. ]

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