I want you to think about the last person who disappointed you. Do you have that person in mind? Great. What are your thoughts about them? How is the gospel guarding your mind from thinking unkindly or in other negative ways about that person? The critical question is where do you place the “log and speck” when you think about those who have hurt you.
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Member question – I love Drive by Marriage. Learning to know and remember that I am the biggest sinner in the room is “Basic 101 Christianity.” It appears as though it is sanctification amnesia that happens to us after we are born again. Simply put, we forget where we came from, which is the critical problem that we all need to discuss when thinking about this concept. In my opinion, it should be foundational for the Christian walk.
The Humbling Effect
Every Christian should teach this concept that my supporting member was sharing with me. “Who is the biggest sinner in the room” should be like second nature to us. In a sense, it is our second nature, or as Paul calls, “Our former manner of life” in Ephesians 4:22. This truth should always be circling in our orbit of awareness.
Though we have a new nature, we still have an Adamic one. That old nature did not entirely die (Romans 8:13), which is why Paul appealed to the church at Ephesus to know how to deal with this truth about ourselves.
To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:22-24
Think about the implications of Paul’s words. Christians–who have the alien righteousness of Christ–are also carrying around their Adamic nature. We brought “Adam’s nature” into our Christian experience. That, in itself, should have a humbling effect—to think that there are still areas of corruption in me that can deceive me.
The Mephibosheth Factor
But Mephibosheth your master’s grandson shall always eat at my table. – 2 Samuel 9:10
Jonathan, the son of Saul, had a son who was crippled in his feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel, and his nurse took him up and fled, and as she fled in her haste, he fell and became lame. And his name was Mephibosheth. – 2 Samuel 4:4
David wanted to bless someone in Saul’s family, so he chose the lame boy, Mephibosheth, whom David blessed with the forever-privilege of always eating at the King’s table.
- Lame – There is always something wrong with me: For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. – Romans 7:18
- Sitting – I’m always eating at the King’s table: If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. – Colossians 3:1
As you think about this “dichotomy of always lame but always seated with the King,” there should be several characteristics that inform your mind and habituate your life.
- Humility: The fact that the Christian continues to carry evil in his body of death should humble him. To know his brokenness—lame in his feet—should set a low trajectory for how he engages life and other people.
- Self-awareness: These two realities–born in Adam and born in Christ–do not discourage him but motivates him to be alert to Adam’s tendencies.
- Self-suspicion: Being born in Adam stimulates him to know that he could be wrong in his motives, assumptions, and perspectives.
- Compassion: The attitude with which he looks at his fellow strugglers is not arrogance, but pity, knowing they are like him, whether that person is saved or lost.
- Confession: His imperfections should spur him on to get rid of anything that hinders “his lame walk” with the Lord (Hebrews 12:1-2).
- Teachability: The humble Christian is teachable because of all the self-awareness that the Spirit has given to him.
- Charitable Judgments: Knowing that he is no different from others, he is careful in how he thinks and responds to them. He is aggressive in removing self-righteousness.
- Unwilling to Compare: 2 Corinthians 10:12 trains him not to compare himself with the good or bad characteristics of others. The measuring stick is always Christ, not other people.
- Gratitude: Thanksgiving is what rolls off his tongue, as he sits at the King’s table, but always aware that his body is still lame.
Examine Your Log
- Humility: How does the reality of who you were and the current effects of who you were humble you?
- Self-awareness: As you engage life, how self-aware are you of the lameness that you still have, even though you are the King’s child?
- Self-suspicion: How self-suspicious are you of the potential deception in how you think and interpret people and situations?
- Compassion: How does “the Mephibosheth Factor” shape your view of others, especially those who have hurt you?
- Confession: Are you a quick-confessor when you make a mistake? You are entirely free to be honest and transparent because you’re the King’s child: “I have nothing to hide and nothing to protect because I’m a fully free child of God.”
- Teachability: Your biblio-centric self-awareness makes you teachable, not arrogant, aloof, or impervious to change: how teachable are you?
- Charitable Judgments: How careful are you in withholding uncharitable judgments of others?
- Unwilling to Compare: How prone are you to positively compare yourself to the negative aspects of others?
- Gratitude: You began with humility, and you end with gratefulness. How grateful are you because of what the gospel has provided for you?
The First Thing
If your chief and first aim is to figure out what the other person did to you, why he did what he did, or how you can overcome or persevere in spite of the realities of what he did, you have started in the wrong place.
In all conflict, big or small, the first place to begin is in your own heart, not with the other person. To make this mistake is to stay forever stuck in relational conflict or a morbid personal funk that could lead to problems like bitterness, criticalness, walking away from the Lord, unremitting anger, resignation, medication, or depression.
If you are stuck here, you will make your relational contexts the battleground for constant skirmishes. Regrettably, Christians and non-Christians have made it their passion to talk about the other person before they correctly and insightfully adjust their sails by first addressing their hearts. This worldview is tied directly to a victim mentality that has corrupted their thinking.
The gospel is better than this; it’s transformative. You must address how much the gospel is changing you. It would be wise and practical to invite another person into the conversation, as it could prove to be an excellent opportunity for you to keep maturing.
The Heart of the Angry Looks Down on Others
Stop the List Talk
Some counselors suggest that a good practice when working through conflict is to make two lists. List “number one” would be all the sins that the other person committed against you. List “number two” would be all your offenses.
I do not recommend this practice because you don’t need a list to prove anything. It is not about a list; it is about who you are, not what you do primarily. There is a difference between ontological heart dysfunction and functional sinful behaviors.
- Ontological realities represent your state of being—who you are as a person, whether in Adam or Christ.
- Functional realities represent what you do—the things that flow out of who you are.
The issues in view here are a matter of order and biblical sanity. In the context of this discussion, it does not matter what you have done. What matters is who you are, or in this case, who you were (in Adam) before Christ saved you. List comparison can be dangerous and soul-crushing.
(Of course, it does matter what you did and what someone did to you, but I’m talking about how to transform yourself from the inside out, and if you want to change yourself, the first call to action is to address your heart, not your sin list or what someone did to you.)
There is an evangelism approach that tries to get the unsaved person to admit that he is a sinner by getting him to acknowledge he has sinned. Following this course of logic, the unregenerate person must own at least one sin from his past and based on that information, he agrees (confession) that he is a sinner and asks Christ to save him.
On the surface, there is nothing wrong with this approach. It’s biblical. But let’s suppose the person did not own any sin; he did not admit any past wrongs. Guess what? Is he still a sinner? Regardless of what he wants to own or disown (functional behaviors), he is a sinner (ontological truth).
We sin because we are sinners. Not, “I’m a sinner because I sin.” The main thing that must be at the forefront of my mind is that I am a sinner regardless of the length of my sin list. Here is the critical point: If you focus on the sins rather than the fact that we are all the same in Adam, several bad things can happen to you:
- Self-righteousness: You immediately start comparing your sins to his sins. In God’s world, there are no righteous people—we’re all corrupt entirely and equally. See Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:10-12, 5:12.
- Foolishness: Comparing ourselves to each other is unwise, so says Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:12.
- Sin-centeredness: Lists require sin hunts: Either wallowing in morbid introspection or judging others so I can feel better about myself.
- Deception: We play mental gymnastics by ranking “sin sizes” or degrees of depravity while trying to make a case to minimize our sin by talking about the hideousness of theirs (James 2:10).
- Depression: Human-centered comparisons will lead to discouragement, depression, and ongoing relational hostility. The Lord deplores this kind of religious posturing (Matthew 23:1-39; Luke 18:11).
My Dear Fellow Bums
If I understand this “fallen aspect” of the gospel correctly, I know that as a “born-in-Adam” person, I wreak to high heaven. Corruption has taken hold of me, and apart from a divine rescue, I will spend a Christ-less eternity in hell.
I was born in sin (Romans 5:12), which makes me identical to every other person who has ever been “born in-Adam.” With this kind of clarity, I can conclude these ten things.
- I do not need to look for another person’s sin. No more sin hunts.
- I do not need to look for my sin.
- I do not need to compare my sin to someone else’s transgression.
- I am no different from any person on the planet as a born-in-Adam person.
- I do not need to think I am better than any other person.
- I do not need to think I am worse than any other person.
- I do not have to judge, criticize, look down on, or think less of any other person (James 3:9).
- I do not have to elevate myself above any born-in-Adam person by comparing our sin lists.
- I do not have to have a lousy attitude toward any person, as though their total depravity is worse than my total depravity. “Total” is total.
- I do not have to withhold compassion from any person.
Two bums do not sit in the gutter counting their pennies to see who has more or less. Bums are bums. Functionally, one bum may have fifteen cents to his name, while the other bum may have a quarter to his.
The first bum does not walk away thinking he is less of a bum than the “rich” bum. Regardless of what may be jingling in their tattered pockets, they are both bums. If the rich man in town adopted them, both would be equally grateful; from an ontological perspective, they are the same.
Sin lists and sin comparison comes from a heart of legalism. The person reared in the Christian home, who has a much shorter sin list, is no different from the most functionally vile sinner known to man, though his sin list could wrap a city block.
Perchance the other lame bum does not have this awareness of the gospel, your first call to action is to have compassion on him, not to be angry with him, as though he is worse of a human than you are. You both are “identical sinful twins.” He either has not been adopted by the rich man in town or if he has, he has not come to understand the critical differences between the log and speck fully.
Also published on Medium.