A recent romp through the iPod shuffle feature landed me on a tune by Lee Ann Womack. The song made me laugh and then made me think.
A bit of set up for the lyrics: Lee Ann's ex-boyfriend has met another and the upcoming wedding announcement is in the paper. A picture of his new love triggers a wave of jealous, immature, and childish behavior. She thinks the new woman doesn't take a very good picture and blacks out a couple of teeth for good measure. Yep, she responds like most of us have at one time or another. Here's the chorus:
It may be my family's redneck nature,
Rubbin' off, bringin' out unlady-like behavior.
It sure ain't Christian to judge a stranger,
But I don't like her.
She may be a stranger who spends all winter,
Bringin' the homeless blankets and dinner,
A regular Nobel Peace Prize winner,
But I really hate her.
I'll think of a reason later.
Is that not typical of our nature? I hate her. I'll think of a reason later. With all due respect to Lee Ann Womack, that response really is not due to her family's redneck nature. That response comes from the sin nature that is common to everyone's family, whether they are rednecks or royals.
I've had that less than graceful response when someone has threatened my turf. I would simply decide that I didn't like someone before I knew much, if anything, about him or her. I am just not honest enough to admit that I didn't need a reason. I always had a rationalization or catalog of grievances.
That judgmental behavior is particularly destructive in the body of Christ and in the church. A game-changing book for me was a little volume on practical theology called Truefaced. In it, the writers argue that grace should change how we treat each other when we sin. Grace should reorient all our relationships. Our fundamental identity is one of saints who sometimes sin rather than sinners who are saved. Don't get sidetracked. The book is clear that we are sinners saved by grace when we put our trust in Jesus as Savior. But after that event occurs that identity (sinner) is no longer who we are. We are now saints who occasionally sin. That simple spiritual paradigm shift in how I view other followers of Jesus (and myself) is changing me dramatically.
The authors of TrueFaced write that when we view other Christians as sinners trying to become saints we naturally demand that they work on their sin to be in right relationship with us. When our theology gives us permission to see Christians as sinners, we give ourselves permission to reject them. Ouch.
I realized, sadly, that I have done this. Too often. Now as I am learning to view these flawed and very human fellow travelers as saints I cease trying to compare my sin and see if I am doing "better." It doesn't matter. We are in this together. God's Word says I am a saint because of Jesus. So are you if you have trusted Him for salvation. I know that some have abused the freedom of grace. Paul talked about that at some length in Romans. I know that there are consequences of sin. I know that God disciplines like a loving Father when discipline is what we need to mature. But he doesn't punish because we don't measure up at times. That is a big distinction.
It is also true that seeing myself and others as a new creature in Christ is transforming. Realizing that is how God views us should change everything. That is the message of Paul to the church at Colossae:
". . . you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. In this new life, it doesn't matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other's faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful" (Colossians 3:9-15, NLT).
I would be disingenuous (Christianese for lying) if I said I have never gotten some satisfaction out of making judgments and thinking bad things about fellow believers. The old nature revels in that kind of behavior. It is just hard to reconcile that approach with Paul's message above. So I am learning (painfully and slowly) to view all of you irritating and messy Christians as saints. I am learning to trust that what God says is true about you and about me. I am learning to love you because of God's grace. To paraphrase Lee Ann Womack, perhaps I'll think of "another" reason later. For starters, grace is enough.