What’s This Now?
Most people think that there are two pleas that a defendant can offer, guilty or not guilty. Actually there is a third, Nolo Contendere. This is just a fancy Latin term for “I do not wish to contend”, or more colloquially put, “no contest”. The court will then sentence you as though you were guilty, but the defendant has made no actual admission of guilt.
This can be a helpful way to think about our relationship with God. As with all analogies, there are limits. I don’t think that the courtroom analogy really fits our standing before the Lord. A courtroom drama unfolds in the way that it does because the outcome is uncertain, because the facts are uncertain. Obviously, nothing is uncertain to God. He knows all, and there is nothing we can hide from Him. The beneficial application of this concept to our faith journey is that it helps us understand our relationship to God, and the Good News of this relationship.
The Reality of This Plea
Offering this plea is simply a recognition of our status as fallen creatures. This is really just a subset of the overarching truth of the universe, that God is God, and we are not. Why would we ever think that we could contend with God? God knows all that we are and all that we believe, and all that we have done. It seems much simpler to just plead no contest, than to try and contend with Him. We could go straight to guilty, and that would be true enough, for we are in a real sense guilty, but I think no contest is the better option.
It strikes me as better because it represents our complete submission to God. It is more akin to throwing yourself upon the mercy of the court than trying to defend yourself. In this complete submission to God we are recognizing that we ourselves cannot achieve anything in our faith walk except through God. Everything we have, including our faith is a gift from God. To stand before the Lord is to be completely naked and exposed in all our faults, in thought, word, and deed.
To plead no contest is to admit that it was all about God from the beginning. One hope we have is that we can stand before God having done the best we could in response to His gifts of grace upon grace. In the end, doing the best we can, is all any human can do. To plead no contest after doing the best we could is to admit that nothing we did would ever be good enough. It was never a contest, as Paul reminds us, we all fall short of the glory of God.
The Joy of This Plea
This is where the News gets really Good. Since it was never about anything we did, pleading no contest is just an admission of this cosmic truth. It also brings us to the Gospel (Greek for Good News). It was never going to be about anything we did, or works we could perform. That’s the no contest part. It was always about what we believed. It was always and ever about trusting that God’s word is true, that the resurrection is real, and that Jesus Christ is Lord. It is our faith that sets us free and brings us home to a relationship with our Father in Heaven that can never be broken.
The reality of our shortcomings, our brokenness and our human frailties does not matter. God knows all those failings. He does not care about that. He only wants our trust, and faith. Yes, we recognize that we should try and do the best we can in response to these gifts, but the no contest plea is recognition that we have already received the gifts and our faith has made us confident in our salvation.
Just as we do not need to wait to experience the joy of God’s Grace, we do not need to wait to plead nolo contendere. Plead it now, admit that it is indeed no contest. Place yourself upon the mercy of a good and gracious God who loves us without limit, and beyond measure. To admit our powerlessness in the face of our human weakness is to surrender to the God that will bring us home. It may feel like spiritual exhaustion to plead no contest but what it should do is joyfully refresh us as we are now confident that our faith has set us free. Now we can more joyfully, and effectively go out and do the best we can in response to this freely given gift from our Lord. Not having to meet God’s standard (since it was no contest anyway) frees us for a life of profound meaning as a part of something infinitely greater than ourselves.
This plea of nolo contendere will also have the effect of making us much more effective at the one guilty plea that does matter on this earth. We, after having pled no contest, in this manner, can much more confidently plead GUILTY when charged with being a follower of Jesus the Christ.
Praise Be to God