What if you know the truth but everybody will be offended if you speak it? That’s where Christians find themselves today and, frankly, it’s quite uncomfortable.
I recently read an article, “China’s Christian Future,” in one of my favorite magazines, First Things. It is by Yu Jie, a Chinese dissenter, and one of China’s most prolific and prominent essayists and critics. He is the best-selling author of 30 books and continues to speak truth to those who would prefer he just go away and shut up. Maybe the most surprising thing about Yu Jie is that he’s a Christian. In the article, he reports that the Christian faith continues its astounding growth in China and the more the persecution, the greater the revival.
Something he wrote created a sea change in my thinking. Yu Jie has every reason to condemn China’s leaders, and he does so with great skill and cogency. And he has every reason to be self-righteous given the price he has paid for his writings. What he wrote, however, was so biblical and profound that I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
“When I became a Christian,” Yu Jie wrote, “I learned to recognize myself as a sinner. In doing so, I developed a sensitivity to sin that helps me recognize evil and injustice when I see them. As I point out the tyranny of the Communist regime, I reflect on and judge myself. This interior work of repentance for my own sins has transformed my fight against totalitarianism. No longer am I merely pointing out faults in the world. I also recognize them in myself.”
This morning I talked to a young missionary raising his support for an overseas ministry. As he told me about his life, the missionary referenced how he had come to understand the radical nature of God’s grace in his life, and how that experience had so radically changed his life in the areas of shame, fear and guilt. He now noticed the lack of “gospel clarity” in many of the churches he visited. Then the missionary winced because he had been so judgmental. Actually, his judgmentalism was something he couldn’t help. It was a gift from God…one God gives to Christians when they recognize they are loved, forgiven, and accepted when they don’t deserve it.
He or she becomes more (not less) judgmental.
“Judgmental” may not be the right word, but it’s the right and normal quality, and experience given by God. Maybe the quality should be called “unconditional judgmentalism.” In short, it’s what happens when we see truth and can’t unsee it. Let me give you a principle that I hadn’t recognized until I read Yu Jie’s article: There is a direct correlation between the clarity with which one recognizes one’s own sins and the clarity with which one recognizes others’ sins.
One of the things I notice about people who get the radical and wonderful nature of God’s grace (and I see a whole lot of people who are there because of Key Life) is that they don’t know what to do with other people and their sins. Many ignore others’ sins, rightly recognizing that God hasn’t called them to be anybody’s mother. Many just live in denial, thinking that if they knew the truth about others, they would understand others’ destructive actions. Some speak out about injustice and sin, but feel the need to repent for having done so. And then there are a few who change their views about what is and what isn’t sin, violating the clear teaching of Scripture.
Truth—God’s truth—is one of the most valuable gifts God has given his people and truth must never be compromised. But truth, for a number of reasons, can be quite dangerous. For instance, we’re right about what we believe and that means those who don’t believe it are wrong. Those who are wrong don’t take very well to being told they’re wrong, and if we’re right and they’re wrong, they’re in some serious trouble. So given that we’re right, the Devil has a field day in fanning the flames of selfrighteousness and intellectual arrogance in Christians. And given the fact that self-righteousness and arrogance are in our DNA, being right and knowing truth can violate the very essence of the Christian faith.
Let me show you a better way.
In Philippians 2:3 Paul said that Christians should “in humility count others more significant [better] than” ourselves. That’s the key because almost all the time others really are better than we are. In fact, it’s one of the reasons Christians are so bad and, when we know it, it becomes a gift from God for the work to which he has called us. There is no other way to reach the world without first recognizing one’s own need and one’s own sins. God in his grace has not allowed us to be as bad as we could be, and that’s a good thing. But God in his grace has not allowed us to be as good as we could be either. It would destroy everything.
That changes everything.
Jesus said Matthew 7:3-4, “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 a log in your own eye?” What would happen if you and I really did see the log in our own eye and didn’t try to hide it? What would happen if everything we saw in others we had to see by looking over, under and around the log in our own eye…and knew it?
I’ll tell you what would happen. First, we would be surprised by how clearly we can see when looking around, under and over a log. I don’t know why that is so, but it is. And second, we would become dangerous. Our truth would have a clarity and power to it that would make us dangerous.
Do you know why?
The truth we spoke would recognize another truth behind the truth of “logs and specks.” It’s the truth that there is no one without logs. Whether we spoke the truth about social justice, sexual morality, greed, or anger, it would be spoken as fellow sinners without the self-righteous judgment that so often attends the Christian (and pagan too) critique.
Calvin Miller tells a wonderful story about apple stealing in his book, An Owner’s Manual for an Unfinished Soul. (It’s one of my favorite stories and you’ve probably heard me refer to it before.) Cora keeps stealing apples. She confesses it to a self-righteous and pompous priest who, all the while he’s turning Cora away from the confessional, is in fact stealing apples himself. That priest falls from a tree where he is stealing apples and dies. Subsequent to his death, a new priest comes to town, one who also steals apples. When Cora confesses to him, this priest’s response is, “You too?” They end up stealing apples together and making apple pies.
The final lines of the story are profound: “After Cora and the priest had eaten many a pie, they found they actually were beginning to help each other for support and prayed for each other, and finally both were able to quit stealing apples…at least they did not steal them all that often. Still, some sins are hard to quit, and confirmed apple thieves must help each other pass the best orchards.”
I read a lot of books, articles, blogs and tweets by Christians that speak truth. I’m learning to ignore most of those not because what is written isn’t true (generally it is true), but because the writer believes the truth doesn’t apply to him or her (which makes him or her insane), is lying (making him or her a bad witness), or thinks it doesn’t matter (making him or her an idiot).
I know, I know. That applies to what I’ve written too, but with one caveat. What I wrote is still truth. It doesn’t matter that it applies to me too. It’s still truth.
So I repent of the self-righteous part and I’m making a resolution to continue to speak truth.
He asked me to remind you to repent and to do the same thing.
Not a bad New Year’s resolution, that!