Friday, August 10, 2012

Righteous Sinners

Something has really been irking me.  It's the same something that has irked me during political  campaigns for years.  It is the same something that irks me when evil pits us against one another, divides our human race, and even (sometimes even more so) divides those of us who are supposed to be united in Christ.  It is the something that irks me when I see hate and slander thrown around on social media, because let's face it, it is easier to throw up a nasty post, most of the time not even an original thought but just "shared" hate, than it is to actually do something helpful and healing with our energy.  

That same energy used to cause divisions and break people down could instead be used to unite and build up.  Energy is a limited resource.  How do you choose to use it?  

Why choose hate, when it feels so much better for the giver and receiver to choose love.  Even when you disagree.  Even when you hold differing political beliefs.  Even when you practice different faiths.  Even when you are absolutely certain you are right.  Let me ask you this...and this is something I ask myself a lot when I feel self-righteousness creeping in...what good will it do you, the other person, or humanity to be right?  I have found that usually it is better to be humble and quiet than it is is to be loud and right.  After all, what does it mean to be right anyway?  

Personally, I don't want to be right.  I do, however, want to be righteous.  In wanting to be righteous, there is one big problem.  A huge blockage, in fact.  On my own, I cannot and will not ever be righteous. Never ever ever ever.  Impossible.  It does not matter how many children we adopt, how many widows or orphans we sponsor, how many Bible studies we attend, how many church and community events we have volunteered for, or how many causes we support.  Does not matter.  On my own, I can never be righteous.  

One of the basic themes of the Christian faith is that we are all sinners.  Every last one of us.  Now, I know there are many of you who probably do not like that word: sinner.  To be honest, I was trying to think of a way to write this post without using it, but I would miss the mark if I tried.  I think many of us don't like the word sinner because too many religious institutions and/or religious leaders have used it to point a finger in somebody else's face, individually a person or a group of people, and call out their sins.  The word, unfortunately, has been used to shame other people.  To make other people feel not worthy and perhaps, to try to make themselves feel better.  To religious leaders who do this, who take a holier than thou approach, I would have to say, "Look. In. The. Mirror."  Just because we sin differently, does not change the fact that we are all sinners.  That is, we have have things in our life that create distance from God.  Some estimates point to over 600 'sins' listed in the Bible.  I can guarantee you, we all wear something on the list.  Arrogance?  Vain babbling?  Lust?  Fear?  Unforgiving?  Not loving your enemy?  

Which brings me to Jesus.  The entire point of my Christian faith.  We live in a very broken, very hurt, fallen world.  Things are not as they were meant to be because of our separation from God.  Jesus, through putting on flesh, walking among us, teaching us how to love another, and ultimately sacrificing his life so that we my gain life eternal, was the fix for our sin.  The ultimate fix.  He did what we cannot or will ever be able to do on our own.  

One the key themes of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century (when Martin Luther and others sought to break away from the Roman Catholic Church) is that we are justified (or made right) by grace through faith.  Simply put, there is no action or deed good enough to make us righteous in our fallen world.  Conversely, there is no action or deed bad enough that could separate us from Christ's love.  When we receive Christ we become, simultaneously, sinners and righteous.  Simul justus et peccator.  My seminary professor gave an excellent illustration of this concept by having a student come to the front of the room.  First, the student stood there simply clothed in the shirt and pants he was wearing.  Then, she handed him a coat.  As he put on the coat, she explained that the coat stands for Christ's righteousness.  The righteousness remains outside of the believer.  Underneath the coat, we are all sinners.  However, when we wear Christ, his righteousness covers us.  Simul justus et peccator.  Both sinner and saint.  Not one or the other, yet simultaneously both.  

If we are all sinners, which at least the Christians among us will agree, then there should be no need to point fingers at someone else.  There should be no need to pretend you and I are not sinners.  There should be no need to pretend that my or your sin are less than the sins of others.  There should be no need, or for that matter time, for angry words, hate talk, finger pointing, chicken-sandwich-line-to-make-a-point-waiting, or self-righteous attitudes and behaviors.  Our job as Christians, when dealing with and relating to other people, as Jesus told us, was to love others the way he loved us.  That's it.  In my opinion, if we truly want others to experience the joy and peace that comes with an indwelling of the holy spirit, we need to seriously reexamine our strategies and tactics.  

Does that mean we cannot have deeply held convictions or beliefs?  Of course not.  Does that we cannot support a political party or candidate?  No, it does not.  Does that mean we should keep silent when there is injustice in the world.  Absolutely not.  Does loving others mean that we have to agree with anything about them that we may not agree with?  No...keeping in mind that the other person does not need to agree with your disagreement about them either.  (See how that works?)  What it means to me is that if I dress myself every day in Christ's righteousness, then my thoughts and speech will be grace-filled.  My actions will be loving and instead of seeking to be right, I will seek to understand others.  Instead of trying to convince myself that my sin is less than your sin, I will overflow with the love and mercy that has been given to me (undeserved) in abundance.  Truth being told, while seemingly simple, this is difficult and not natural, because again in our fallen sin state, we are all tempted to want to be right or prove a point.  But where does that land us?  Divided, unhappy, unfulfilled, and certainly not working together to grow the kingdom.  

So, the next time I am tempted to point my finger in the direction of another......
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I will instead point my finger in the direction of the one who has credited his righteousness to me so that I may think and speak in ways that are pleasing in his sight.  I challenge you to do the same.   
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The following words spoken by John Wesley, have been resonating in my mind: "Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?  May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?  Without all doubt, we may.  Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences."  I pray that we can all let those words sink in and then put them into practice.  I honestly see no other way forward.  

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this beautiful post that has touched my heart...