But I don't drink. Okay, I do like wine, but I don't drink in excess. And I hate beer. I'm not entirely sure what Jameson makes, but I think it's whiskey. I've been to the plant. It bored me. Does that change my DNA and make me any less Irish?
I'm also a woman.
But I don't need a friend to accompany me to "powder my nose" in a restaurant. I'm perfectly capable of finding the rest room on my own. Lately, I have embraced a make-up free face. I prefer to play in the mud than to play house. I would never have made it in Victorian society where needlepoint, tea, and elocution were what defined a woman. I'd have preferred electrocution. Does that make me any less of a woman?
I'm sure that you'd agree that the answer to both, of course, is no.
But where do you stand on this?
I am a Christian.
But I sometimes skip church for no reason. And I don't read my Bible every day. Worse, sometimes I swear or treat people poorly or act selfishly. Does that make me any less of a Christian?
Sadly, some will answer yes.
If I had to count on my fingers the number of times I've heard, "And she/he calls herself/himself a Christian!" I would run out of fingers. People who don't fully comprehend the grace of Christianity have said it, believing perhaps that once a person puts their faith, hope, and life in Christ, he or she is somehow radically changed into a creature who never makes mistakes. Someone who is perfect.
Not-so-well-meaning Christians have also said it, expecting fellow Jesus-freaks to be radically changed into a creature who never makes mistakes (conveniently forgetting that they do). Someone who is perfect.
I can understand those who may not grasp the concept of grace. Once we declare ourselves to be "saved," we are instantly thrust under a microscope. Because we claim to aspire to be Christlike, we are expected to be like Him. What the "unsaved" may not be willing to acknowledge is that we, being human, are imperfect and always will be. Becoming a "Christian" doesn't change that. We are still human.
Only God is perfect.
We aspire to that, knowing that we'll never attain it--which is why we realize that only the finished work of Jesus can make us perfect. When He said, "It is finished," He meant it.
Yes, I mess up. Just like you, my not-yet saved friend. I'm forgiven, not perfect. May I explain that to you?
The ones I have a problem with are those journeying next to me--the ones who are walking on the same path as I am with Jesus toward the glory of God--who are quick to judge and point fingers, and slow to forgive and extend mercy. These modern-day Pharisees would do well to observe the fingers pointing back at themselves.
Obviously, continuing to walk in blatant sin is not aspiring to be like Christ. But what about those of us who sincerely try--and fail, attempt to be kind--but are not, and fall short of (what we think are) the expectations of the more mature believers in our midst?
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness
If God forgives us, then should others not forgive us?
But wait---am I not doing the same? Do I not judge and condemn? If not directly (or indirectly--as to someone else) to the person, then in my heart? You may not hear my disapproving tsk-tsk, but God does. The thought may not make it into a fully formed sentence in my brain, but God still hears my accusation:
And she calls herself a Christian?
Yes, I've been guilty of it. So have you.
It's called judgment and condemnation. And it's just as much of a sin as the one we are attempting to call out in another.
If God forgives me, and I am less than perfect, then what gives me the right to place myself above the One who is righteous and able to forgive sin? Who am I to judge another, heaping condemnation onto their perhaps already guilty heart?
Tsk-tsk, Mary. Look at those fingers pointing back.
Oh, yeah, there's this. And the time I said that. And the ongoing struggle I have with this.
Last week, I mentioned my friend, Andrea's superpower--the ability to correct without condemnation. That's what Jesus did. We would do well to do the same.
Can we learn to overlook the sins of others and focus on our own? Can we practice the power of forgiveness and release others from the expectations we place on them? Can we do that for ourselves?
Maybe not. Maybe that's why we need to call on the name of Jesus. Because sometimes, it's just too hard. Too hard to be perfect, and too hard to expect anything less from ourselves and from others. Too hard to open our clenched fist that points accusingly away with one finger and defensively back with three.
Yes, all of us sin. Even perfectly imperfect followers of Jesus. Even those of us who dare to call ourselves, "Christian."
But that's the wonderful thing about grace. Jesus extends it to each one of us--while we are still sinners (and while we continue to be sinners)--even though we don't deserve it. Ought we not do the same?
So, let us unclench our fists, uncurl our pointing fingers, and reserve our judgment. Instead, let us open our palms toward heaven to receive what is good:
To act justly
To love mercy
And to walk humbly with [y]our God
Bail ó Dhia ort
(The blessing of God on you)
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