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“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23)
Lately I have found that when I am accused of wrongdoing, I have two potential responses competing in my mind. The first is to defend myself, to give all the reasons the accuser is wrong, and to point out all the way my accuser is just as guilty as I am. My second response is to not only agree with my accuser but to add to my accuser’s list all the other ways that I am guilty which they neglected to mention. The first response feels like the right way to go. After all, I am standing up for myself and declaring that I am not such a bad person after all, nor am I alone in being imperfect. The second response, however, is both humble and brutally honest about who I am. It is like the response given by the famous 18th century English evangelist George Whitefield upon receiving a vicious letter accusing him of wrongdoing:
“I thank you heartily for your letter. As for what you and my other enemies are saying against me, I know worse things about myself than you will ever say about me.
With love in Christ,
For most of us, our natural tendency when accused is to defend and justify ourselves. After all, we are not such bad people, and even if we are, well, so is everyone else! But the gospel of Jesus Christ frees me from the need to justify myself. The gospel declares that I am so wretched and sinful that the only way to be forgiven was for the very Son of God to die for me. But it also declares that while I was still a sinner and an enemy of God, Jesus Christ loved me so much that He willingly died for me (Romans 5:8-10). This means that my self-worth is not tied to my performance. My value as a person is not a matter of how “good” I am. I am lovable because Christ loved me. I am worth something because God has declared me worthy because of His Son’s life, death, and resurrection.
And so, as pride-swallowing as it is, I can admit my fears, my lusts, my greed, my self-centeredness, my lying, and my pride. I can own up to the reality that I am a deeply flawed person, desperately in need of the daily grace of God. I can lay down the need to justify myself.
Here’s the problem, though. Living with that kind of attitude puts us at the mercy of other people. And other people are not always full of grace, nor do they know how to handle such brutal honesty. And so, instead of being met with humble acceptance from fellow sinners who recognize the depth of their own sin, we put ourselves at risk of judgment, condemnation, and rejection. Entrusting ourselves to God’s justification instead of seeking to justify ourselves may sound nice on paper, but can be costly in practice.
The solution, as I see it, is this: begin with the people of God. Let us take steps in our church towards being a people who humbly admit their sin and shortcomings, and who extend grace towards those who fall short. Let us believe the Word, that tells us that “there is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10), and believe that “no one” includes everyone in our church. Those of us who know the evil we’ve done, or the evil we are capable of doing, know that there is no sin committed by another person that we are not capable of committing ourselves, were it not for the grace of God. And so, let us trust the gospel of justification found in Jesus Christ by freely admitting our sin and freely showing grace to those who have sinned. In doing so, we will bring glory to Jesus, the only one who deserves to be defended and glorified.
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