Forgetting The Gospel

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. – Romans 14:1-23

 

I’ve read through the book of Romans before. Maybe even twice. But reading it today, I wonder if I completely skipped over the verse above, or maybe that page was torn out, because if I had truly read and understood it, so much of my life’s ministry would have been different.

Found an interesting piece of literature a few weeks ago. It was a letter I wrote someone, another Christian, about 3 years ago, that I’m not even sure they received. As I read through it, I could visualize myself in the room writing it. With every passing paragraph, I wanted to strangle my own neck. I told this person I was disappointed in them, that I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be connected with someone that acted like such and such, suggested that their love for God was diminished because of so and so, I even had the balls to tell them “I would never even think of doing that,” as if I was the standard for the Christian life.

It was a letter polluted with pride but covered with a form of Godliness. What I mean by that is I was judging the crap out of this person, but doing it in a way that seemed like I was just looking out for their best interests. I wasn’t though; I was looking out for MY best interests. What would never be admitted then was I was hungry for attention and affirmation of the amazing, wise Godly man I was. I fabricated a way to crush this person to further elevate myself with MY knowledge, with MY purity, with MY righteousness. Like drowning in a pool, I was pushing someone down to make myself higher.

To be clear, I was the person Romans 14 describes as “the one who abstains”, but I disobeyed it’s command to not “pass judgment on the one who [does not abstain].”

Is homosexuality and abortion wrong? Yep. Is drunkenness wrong? Yep. But so is the lying, deceiving, lustful, covetous parts of my heart that Jesus died to redeem. I somehow made God’s law and wrath the focus of my life’s ministry, and left out Jesus’ fatal act of saving the world from their sins. It was all rules and regulation without the love and compassion. What I believe is right and not only are you wrong but you must not love Jesus enough.

I forgot the gospel.

Everything changes when your obsession shifts from the judgment of God to the grace of God. I’m so thankful God loves me enough to push ME to my knees, to turn the eyes of judgment upon my own sin, my own desperate wretched existence. What I was doing to others, God, the only person with the authority to do so, finally did to me. He removed me from my self-made throne, and set me at the foot of His. In the past three years since I wrote that letter, I have been made so sharply aware of all my mistakes, the depth of my depravity, and how imperfect I really am. The voice I thought I was hearing for so long, “That is wrong, that person needs to be corrected, that person must not love Jesus” silenced and a new one resounded,

“THERE IS ONLY ONE GOD, AND YOU ARE NOT HIM.”

I know I’m not the only one who has struggled with this. It’s so easy to think you’re doing the right thing and ignore all of your wrong reasons. It feels so good to be told how great you are, that you may lose sight of how much you suck. It’s so easy to know all the rules, think you’re lining up pretty good, and tell everyone else they’re not. What seemed right at that time, now makes me literally sick to my stomach. In the same book I used as a weapon against people, I now look inside and see a Jesus that specifically condemned judgment, and points a finger at me to say “Mike, who are you to tell someone else they’re wrong?? Look at how wretched your own sin is!!”

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. – Matthew 7:1-5

I will always have a log in my eye, and that’s the point.  I’m indefinitely imperfect, and therefore, an unqualified judge.

The proverb below pierced me right through the heart. Never did I desire to hear someone out and just be a loving ear, I wanted to tell them that regardless of their circumstances, they violated this, this, and this.

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. Proverbs 18:2

And a fool, I most certainly was.

Am I so bold as to claim that I doubtlessly know the mind of God enough to point my finger at any person? God’s primary concern is not rules, but people… people that we are not to judge by rule but to love by grace. “It is before his own master that he stands or falls,” NOT ME. I, nor the way I see scripture, do NOT have the final say on someone’s heaven acceptance. My viewpoint is not sitting on the Throne. I’m faulty, I’m frail, my opinions change, my heart changes. Even if I was appointed to be Judge, I’ll never be in any solid condition to play the role.

Our responsibility is to love. When society deems us hateful and judgmental as a whole, we have it wrong. The gospel is a controversial message, no doubt, but it’s a message that should give the church the display of love, servitude, and humility. OF COURSE people know how screwed up they are, do we really need to beat them over the head with it? Productively speaking, that’s crazy. Instead, we are to “Let all that we do be done in love” (1 Cor 13:4-8). We are to walk alongside people, “become all things to all people so that by all means some might be saved” (1 Cor 9:22).

Some feel we are to judge the sins of a nation or a culture that rejects us, but who are we to say that WE ought to be owed some sort of respect and dignity when this world isn’t ours? We are visitors here, ambassadors of another colony. We are representatives only. We are not sent here with the sole objective to change law and policy, but to reflect the love of the God who came to save this world. We don’t go to third world nations to judge the sins and ways of a people who don’t know Christ, we go to LOVE in any way we possibly can!! So why do we do it here? Because we consider America our home and want to worship as comfortably as possible? That’s not our calling. I read a book that told me that I would be persecuted for my beliefs, not catered to and called a dignified human being. All this is to say that our responsibility is not so much to judge a person or a sinful culture that we’re not a part of, as it is to love them unconditionally so that people can catch a glimpse of what this Jesus is we talk so highly of.

Offer a coffee or beer and a loving ear, not a rulebook and checklist. Use arms for hugging and holding, not pushing down. Love people like crazy. Love people like God loves you. Love people like you’ve just been offered a pardon on an eternal prison sentence. Nobody’s sin is worse than mine, and THAT is what brings me to my knees in desperation before a holy God that saved me, asking “what can I do?” He tells me, “Love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. Love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 John 4:7-8, 1 Peter 4:8)

I want to show the world the love he gave to me, not the judgment he freed me from… pedestal kicked aside.

Mike Arnold

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