The words “felon,” “offender,” “convict,” “addict” and “juvenile delinquent” would be part of the past in official San Francisco parlance under new “person first” language guidelines adopted by the Board of Supervisors.

Going forward, what was once called a convicted felon or an offender released from jail will be a “formerly incarcerated person,” or a “justice-involved” person or simply a “returning resident.”

Parolees and people on criminal probation will be referred to as a “person on parole,” or “person under supervision.”

A juvenile “delinquent” will become a “young person with justice system involvement,” or a “young person impacted by the juvenile justice system.”
The words “felon,” “offender,” “convict,” “addict” and “juvenile delinquent” would be part of the past in official San Francisco parlance under new “person first” language guidelines adopted by the Board of Supervisors.

Going forward, what was once called a convicted felon or an offender released from jail will be a “formerly incarcerated person,” or a “justice-involved” person or simply a “returning resident.”

Parolees and people on criminal probation will be referred to as a “person on parole,” or “person under supervision.”

A juvenile “delinquent” will become a “young person with justice system involvement,” or a “young person impacted by the juvenile justice system.”

So begins a August 11 article in the San Francisco Chronicle describing a non-binding resolution adopted by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. This is part of a broader social pattern wherein behaviors that God’s Word describes as “sin,” i.e., violations of the law of God. Scripture says:

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4; ESV).

Building on this verse and the rest of Scripture, the Westminster Divines defined sin thus: “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.”

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is obviously, intentionally trying to obscure reality and thereby essentially rejecting the judgment of the courts, the California legislature, and the law. They are re-writing reality to suit themselves. Contrary to impression that the Board of Supervisors is attempting to create, it is not that easy to become a convicted felon. To be sure, there is a reasonable argument to be made that the growth of the American federal legal system is such that otherwise law-abiding citizens unintentionally violate the law. This is not what the Board of Supervisors is addressing. They are re-describing reality in a misguided attempt to redress what they regard as systematic injustice.

When a man robs a liquor store at gunpoint, the only injustice that matters is that being committed by the robber. He may have been born in a rough part of town. He may have been told that he did not have many choices in life but he had one choice that day: to get a job, any kind of a job, or stick a firearm in a clerk’s face and demand money that is not his. If he survived the robbery, that clerk will re-live that moment for the rest of his life. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is real and that poor clerk will be seeing business-end of a firearm in his nightmares for the rest of his life. As the story notes, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors says nothing to or for him. As far as they are concerned, he does not exist.

Scripture looks at things quite differently. It is relentless in its brutal honesty about sin. The human story in Genesis chapters 2 and 3, compressed as it is there, comes to sin right away. Adam and Eve were created righteous, holy, and good. They had the ability to choose righteousness but they chose disobedience and death. The Lord had said, “the day you eat thereof you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17). Human criminal law distinguishes between misdemeanors, felonies, and capital crimes. Sin against God, transgression of his holy law, is a capital crime, however.

Under the Israelite legal system, where there were three kinds of laws, the moral law (the Ten Commandments), which were grounded in the nature of God and the nature of things—murder is always murder—civil laws, and religious laws. To be sure, under the Mosaic system, there was overlap between them. The civil and religious laws were temporary. The food laws and the stoning laws expired. Still, those laws witnesses to the gravity of sin. E.g., in Leviticus 18:5 God’s Word says: “You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am Yahweh.”

This is the nature of law. It is not like a comfy pillow or an Emotional Support Animal. It is hard and relentless. Law breaking brings punishment. In Deuteronomy 27:26 God said to Israel, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the book of the law” (Gal 3:10). Paul reflects on this principle in Romans 2:27 where he wrote, “…he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.” The law will hunt you down and condemn you. The law must be satisfied.

The fallen human impulse is always to revise the standard, to try to change the law, to fuzz things, but the law always remains razor sharp. What we need is not to move the goalposts but righteousness. This is why the gospel is such good news for sinners. It announces that there is one who kept the law for us who believe, who was our substitute, who is our Mediator, who did all that the law requires and whose obedience and righteousness is credited to all who believe.

Psalm 32:2 says, “blessed is the man to whom Yahweh does not impute sin, in whom there is no deceit.” Paul says that this was true of that sinner Abraham, who “believed God and it was imputed to him for righteousness” (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:3). God justifies those who are, in themselves, still sinners—Paul says God “justifies the ungodly” (Rom 4:5)—through faith in Jesus the Righteous One.

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law (Rom 3:28).

Christ has done “the works of the law” for us. All that he did is reckoned, credited, imputed to us when we believe. We stand before the law and the judge not only innocent, i.e., lacking transgression but positively righteous, i.e., as if we ourselves have actively fulfilled the law. Heidelberg Catechism 60 summarizes this great truth wonderfully:

60. How are you righteous before God?

Only by true faith in Jesus Christ; that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors probably think that they are being helpful. They are not. They are obscuring vital truths but whatever foolishness they may spout there is a fixed moral standard in the world and behind that God who does not change. Idolatry is still idolatry. Theft is still theft and we are condemned by that law standard unless we are clothed with the righteousness of the obedient Savior Jesus.

If we are united to Christ, by grace alone, through faith alone, praise God. If you are not, you are still in jeopardy. There is grace abounding to sinners but you must know your sins and flee to Jesus to find it. Won’t you acknowledge your sins and turn to him now?