In 1 Corinthians 9:1-6, Paul wrote, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?”
The Old Testament law, contrary to what you may have believed, is not just a list of the obligations of God’s people; it is also a list of the rights of God’s people.
Now a Christian may or may not choose to turn over his or her rights…but, for God’s sake, don’t tell me that a Christian has no rights. It simply isn’t true.
What are your rights as a believer?
You have the right to be human.
Matthew 9:36 & Psalm 103:14
In some Christian circles it almost goes without saying that real Christians don’t sin (or, if they do, they can’t let anyone know). The fact is high, unrealistic expectations can kill you. They are dangerous to your health. God works in a process, and if you have the expectation of being at the end of the process before you have gone through the process, you are going to suffer great disappointment. God isn’t finished with you yet.
Perfection is not attainable in this world. If you think it is, you are going to end up a neurotic Christian. Instant goodness, instant power and instant perfection…It simply doesn’t work that way. While you ought to feel properly guilty when you don’t measure up to God’s standard, you ought to be properly relieved to know that you didn’t surprise God when you didn’t measure up to his standard, and that he has made provision for you at the foot of the cross.
Do you know what it means to be human? It means that sometimes you are angry and withdrawn. It means that sometimes you will be tired. Sometimes you will just want to go away and cry. Sometimes you will want to junk the whole thing and walk away.
Being human also means that you say stupid things, do stupid things and think stupid things. It means that sometimes you will feel silly. Sometimes you won’t want to go to church. Sometimes you will want to cuss.
Christians bleed. We have family problems. We are in pain. We struggle. I believe that when a non-Christian has cancer or is in great pain, a Christian has cancer or is in great pain…so that the world can see the difference.
When I was growing up, the sentence I heard probably more than any other was this: “Stephen is not living up to his potential.” That was true, of course. It was always true; it is still true; it will always be true (until I become like him in heaven). There is always more that I could do. I could always be better than I am. I could always love him more and serve him better.
Now, when my brothers and sisters in Christ motivate me to a better walk with Christ by reminding me that I’m really not trying very hard, they have done me a service. However, when they have selfish, vested interest in their motivation of me, it ceases to be motivation and becomes manipulation.
The writer of Hebrews, who spoke about the sacrificial system in the old covenant, points to the difference between the sacrifice of Christ, once and for all, and the sacrifices that had to be made in the temple. Then he says, “But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sin every year” (Hebrews 10:3). In other words, we don’t need to be reminded over and over that we are sinners who fall short. The death of Christ removed the need to be constantly reminded.
The next time someone tells you that you aren’t living up to your potential, tell them, “Of course, I’m not living up to my potential and if it is okay with you, I think I won’t live up to it for a while longer.”
On the authority of God’s Word, I give you permission to be human.
You have the right to be right.
One of the great weapons used by manipulators is the knowledge that if they sound right, those who are suffering from guilt will assume they are right. Recently I was speaking at a Christian college, and a student who appeared to be very upset asked if he could speak to me. As soon as we sat down in the coffee shop he said to me, “Mr. Brown, I need some help in getting my life straightened out.” I braced myself for a confession about drugs, pornography or cheating on exams. What this young man said surprised me. “Mr. Brown, I have to deal with my arrogance and pride.”
As I looked at this young man across the table from me, his head bowed, his spirit broken, and his eyes welling up with tears, I thought to myself, He may have a lot of things wrong with him, but arrogance and pride aren’t on the list. So I asked him how he knew that he was arrogant and prideful. He told me about a small group of Christians with whom he met regularly. One of the tenets of the small group was total honesty, and the week before, the group had decided to be totally honest with him. The whole meeting had been devoted to a discussion of what was wrong with him. It all boiled down to his arrogant and prideful attitude.
I said, “Have you ever considered that they were wrong about you?” From the look on his face, it was clear that he hadn’t. I continued, “I suspect that, given the fact that you are human, there must be some elements of pride in your life, but from this short time of knowing you, I don’t see that as your glaring sin.”
We talked for almost two hours. At the end of the time, he decided that maybe the group was wrong. But the fact is he had a horrible struggle because of his guilt. He had assumed that if someone said something untrue about him, he had to change.
Have you ever considered that they are wrong and you are right? (And, as a child of God, you should always be treated with respect…right or wrong!) There is absolutely nothing sinful about being right sometimes.
Maybe you have been told you’re dumb. Did you ever think that the people who told you that could be wrong? Perhaps you are afraid to articulate your ideas because you have been told that your ideas aren’t worth much. Did you ever think that the idea that your ideas aren’t worth much isn’t worth much? Perhaps you don’t need to apologize all the time. Have you ever considered that one doesn’t need to apologize when one is right? Have you ever entertained the idea that you were right?
The law of averages says that, generally, you will be right 50 percent of the time when you disagree with others, even if you only guess at the answer. That means that if you are counting yourself wrong more than 50 percent of the time, it may be that you have allowed your guilt to “muddle” your brains.
So, if you are apologizing most of the time, 50 percent of those apologies are lies. If you are assuming that, in every argument, you are wrong, you are lying to yourself at least 50 percent of the time. If you assume that others know better about your life, remember that you know better at least 50 percent of the time.
On the authority of God’s Word, I give you permission to be right.
You have the right to be wrong.
If the law of averages suggests that you will be right 50 percent of the time, that same law suggests that you will be wrong 50 percent of the time too. That’s okay.
I love the story of the physics professor who, at the end of the semester, made this announcement: “50 percent of everything I have taught you this semester is wrong. I just don’t know which 50 percent.”
Wouldn’t that be refreshing to hear from your pastor, your Christian friends, your Christian leader, yourself?
On the authority of God’s Word, I give you the permission to be wrong.
You have the right to fail.
John Mark’s experience—Acts 13:13, 15:37-39 & 2 Timothy 4:11
I once heard a commencement speaker say, “Failure is only in the dictionary of fools and cowards.” That’s a lie. It’s in all of our dictionaries.
Let me tell you something: A successful person is not a person who doesn’t fail. A successful person is someone who got up the last time he or she did fail.
I often tell my seminary students when they become especially adamant and unbending about something, “You haven’t lived long enough, sinned big enough or failed nearly enough to know anything about that.”
On the authority of God’s Word, I give you permission to fail.
You have the right to be offensive.
Contrary to popular opinion, Christ didn’t die to make you nice. Christ died to make you his.
If you look at much of the media, one gets the feeling that if Christians would just stay “in their place” (i.e., say prayers and sing hymns), they wouldn’t be bothered. For some reason, everybody has the right to proclaim views no matter how banal and silly, except Christians. Christians are supposed to smile, love everybody, and be nice.
Guilt causes many Christians to feel that because they are bad, they have to work hard at being liked. I believe that most Christians ought to, at least once a day, offend at least one person. That way we’d make sure that we haven’t sold our souls. We might have to ask forgiveness a lot; but, at least, we would get honest.
The thing is truth almost always offends. Jesus said, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26).
Do you ever say what you really think? Most of us don’t and, as a result, in our effort to be nice and sweet, the church has become the most dishonest institution in our culture today.
On the authority of God’s Word, I give you permission to be offensive.
You have the right to think, act & believe as God leads you.
2 Corinthians 3:17
Have you ever had a strange thought and then stopped yourself, thinking, I must not think this way! What would people say if they knew? Have you ever acted in a way that was silly and not very proper and then thought, I can’t do that. I must be more careful! Have you ever thought a thought that was not in conformity with Christian doctrine and then suddenly thought, I must never think that…What would people say if they knew that I didn’t believe all of this?
Paul makes an interesting comment to the church at Corinth: “But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth” (2 Corinthians 13:7-8).
If you want to think truth, live truth and believe truth, truth will eventually become the reality of your life without the help of others who think they are your mother.
The principle is this: The genuine can be tested…and God will test it so that its genuineness can be proved.
If you think contrary to what God thinks, he is perfectly capable of leading you to proper thinking. If you act in a manner contrary to how God would have you to act, he is perfectly capable of leading you to proper action. If your doctrine is other than his doctrine, God is perfectly capable of leading you to a proper doctrinal position.
On the authority of God’s Word, I give you permission to think, act and believe as God leads you…not as he leads me.
Now go out and exercise those rights.