Casting Stones at Lance Armstrong: The True Danger of “Public Sinners”

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Christian, the other Lance Armstrong. The Christian prayed, ”Lord, I thank Thee that I am not like other men–murderers, thieves, adulterers, or even like that doping liar, Lance Armstrong. I pray once a week; go to church most Sundays; listen if the sermon is entertaining; and give a generous 1% of my income to the church. Yes, sometimes I screw up a little and sin, but, let’s be real: I’m nothing like that hypocritical, lying, doping public winner of the Tour de Iniquity over there. Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.” But Lance, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, for he thought, “If that Christian’s god is as big an asshole as he is, why the hell bother?” I tell you, neither man went down to his house justified.

Lucifer loves Lance, though not for the reason you might expect. Armstrong has become a “public sinner.” And as such, he is a prime tool in Hell’s ongoing quest to render us even greater hypocrites than we already are.

Most Christians, indeed most religious people, are not much different from the non-religious in how they understand how “good” they themselves are. Quite simply, the standard by which this is determined is how they compare with other people. I am a “good person” if my behavior is in step with those whom I deem “good people” amongst my family, friends, peers, or even individuals of fame. If the opposite is true, then I must be stepping outside the bounds of acceptable behavior. And when that happens, when I think of myself as having done something “wrong” or “bad,” what then do I do? Where then do I turn?

I turn to Lance. Or I turn to Lance’s countless predecessors in the Hall of Infamy—whether that dubious honor be earned in sports, politics, or the church. As I compare myself with those whose wrongdoings have been magnified by media coverage, these larger-than-life sinners salve my conscience. After all, the reasoning goes, I may have screwed up, but I didn’t screw up anywhere near as much, or as often, or as publicly as they did. Sure I lied, but not to reporters and fans and race officials for years on end. Sure I cheated, but not to win an international sporting competition time and again. Sure I sinned with my body, but it’s not like I injected performance enhancing drugs into my veins. I may have messed up, but I’m no Lance Armstrong.

So long as the standard by which we measure ourselves is other people, there are no boundaries to the imaginative methods we will employ to feel better about ourselves. There’s always a “worse” sinner around, who’s out-lied, out-cheated, out-hypocritized us—or, at least, whom we think has. Ironically, when we justify ourselves like this, we are those who become the worst of all, for not only do we ignore and downplay our own weaknesses and failures; we do so while standing and stomping on the necks of other sinners.

The standard by which we ought to determine whether we are living as God would have us live is not another person. It is God. We are his children, called to imitate him, so that we might bear his image in this world, and incarnate that image in how we live. To be as he is, is to live a life of love for all, especially for our enemies. To die to selfishness and to live for the other; to discover our greatest delight in showing compassion; to think and speak and act as those who emulate the God who was willing to give everything, including his Son, that we might live.

Try measuring yourself to that standard. Not to Lance. Not anyone else “better” or “worse” than you are.

The man who has lived up that standard—the only man who has—is Jesus of Nazareth. He teaches much about the need to forgive others, even forgiving them seventy times seven, if they’re that adept and resolute at sinning. But very often the most unforgiving people in the world are the religious types who are blind to their own failings, but have 20/20 vision when it comes to finding faults in others. And there’s nary a pew, or a pulpit, in Christendom that doesn’t have one or more of these Pharisees in it.

As for me, I don’t care one iota what Lance did or didn’t do. I have more important concerns. For I’m certain that Lance can out-ride and out-run and out-swim me, but you set up a race in which the best sinner wins, and I’ll leave his ass in the dust.

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7 thoughts on “Casting Stones at Lance Armstrong: The True Danger of “Public Sinners”

  1. Hi, Chad! This piece is thoughtful, insightful, … and repentance provoking, if there is such a phrase. This is how all sinners are, especially the one writing this reply.

    I think it was Luther in the Heidelberg Disputations who said that a man is not ready to receive the grace of God until he despairs completely of himself.

    God bless!

  2. Chad, thanks for this. I would hasten to point out that, though all sins can kill the soul and that there’s no such thing as degrees of ‘sinning’ – some sins committed in the public eye have greater temporal consequences. Is Lance a worse sinner? Heck no. But have his actions triggered a larger than life domino effect? Unfortunately yes. In the temporal realm his restoration is complicated, but Jesus loves him just as much as anyone else.

    I completely agree with you about the finger pointing and holier-than-thou posturing. I guess this has the flavor of the familiar story of a high profile evangelical leader going down – and by virtue of his influence, taking many with him. Ted Haggard has become the evangelical whipping boy of late, and it saddens me. Mayber the better question to ask is whether we believe that God’s grace is big enough to cover all sins? The finger pointing is quite diagnostic: revealing that when I point the finger I’m actually saying that the love of Jesus is limited to us ‘reasonable sinners’.

    Armstrong is the most visible character in a culture of doping that has been actively or passively supported by the cycling community at the highest levels. We’re talking about a sport bathed in corruption. The analogy holds true: whether visible or invisible, socially acceptable or morally outrageous, we are all born into a ‘culture’ of sin-full-ness and equally guilty.

    • No, we are not ‘equally’ guilty of Lance’s or anyone else’s sins. Get real. We are responsible for our own sins, alone. Just because the Bible says all have sinned does not make me or my children or my friends or you guilty of Lance Armstrong’s sins. You may want to be ‘nice’ and forgive and forget Lance’s sins against others, but it would be a lot nicer to tell Lance he’s the one responsible to repent and ask for forgiveness, not from you, but from all his victims, and from God. (no, we are not ‘all’ his victims.)

      We cannot make everything right by giving Lance a big group hug. The best thing we can do for him is to invite him to repent and believe the gospel. But we can’t do those things for Lance, he must do them for himself. He alone is responsible for his own sins. God’s grace and mercy are only good for those who want it and accept it.

      • Not sure where you got all this from – at least your comment didn’t reflect what I said. There is no suggestion literal or implicit that we are responsible for Lance. I’m saying that finger pointing as if we were not sinners is ludicrous. His consequences are big because he did a big thing that involved lots of people and continued to cover it up. The point is not that we are guilty of Lance’s sin, but that all of us are sinners in need of God’s grace.

  3. We didn’t put Lance in the public eye….he did. And he lived a big lie and hurt many people for a long time. Sometimes I think that those who want to just forget these sins need to have their own sins overlooked as well….but it doesn’t work that way.

    Lance needs to suffer the consequences of his sins just like all the rest of us do. And he will. I don’t see one single person pointing their finger at him in condemnation. I just see everyone seeing Lance for the sins he committed. And that’s to be expected, we didn’t make him a public figure, he did. So….if he didn’t hurt you personally, you shouldn’t be so quick to forgive him “for” those he did hurt. It’s their call, not ours.

  4. Let him that is without sin………

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