““Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called Sons of God. (Matt 5:9)"
This week during my preparation for Sunday’s sermon on Ephesians 4:1-6, I have been meditating on the subject of why we, as human beings, fight. Let’s be honest, at one time or another, this is a subject that plagues all our marriages, all our children, and most of our more intimate relationships. And more than just why we fight, how can we stop?
As I was processing all of this, I stumbled across a quote in Tim Keller’s helpful little book on preaching that I thought apropos:
“Sanctification proceeds only as we grow in faith -- as the reality of what Christ has done for us personally loosens our hearts’ need for idols. The sin under every sin is the failure to believe the gospel at the point where we turn instead to an idol….. (We need to have our hearts) softened and reprogrammed only by bringing them to Jesus. Otherwise we will believe we can be sanctified on the basis of our own effort.”
What Keller is getting at here is that it is not enough to resolve to try harder and to do better in our battle against sin. We need something more, and that something more is the motivation only the gospel can give.
Let me explain. Let’s say for example your soul is infested with the idol of “approval.” It lurks in us all somewhere, sometime, especially when we feel criticized, condemned, or rejected. In such times we get ready to fight.
If you think about it, anger is the emotional energy God designed to motivate us to protect that which really matters and to punish those who threaten it. The problem, of course, is that we tend to get the “What really matters” part wrong, horribly wrong. So, we fight to protect the wrong god(s), and hurt our nearest and dearest with needless conflict.
Trying harder to be nice won’t solve this problem. We can’t pretend “approval” doesn’t matter to us. We can try to bottle up the frustration “unfair” criticism causes, but it’s only a matter of time before it will all become too much and, “Hey presto!” another argument, all to protect the honor of the old idol. Even if we applied duct tape to our mouth, we’d still be seething inside, sharpening our tongue like a lance, and longing for the ability to lash out with a lethal word.
But there is hope, and it is found in the gospel. Say your spouse has just criticized you unfairly (Let’s face it their criticism is always unfair, if not in content, then in tone-- at least that’s what pride always whispers!). In response, you want to mount an angry, frustrated defense, proving you’re not quite as bad as they think you are, and in any case who are they to throw stones at your greenhouse! Then you remember the gospel: Do I not deserve a much worse criticism from God. I might not be as guilty as my spouse might think, but I am more guilty than she or I could ever possibly imagine.
Second, was not Jesus willing to take this withering judgment in my place? Was He not condemned instead of me? Didn’t he remain silent under the very condemnation I deserve? Now, there is no condemnation for me. None whatsoever. Now, praise God, I am free forever!
So then, do you see, rather than reach for the old idol of self-justification, the gospel offers a better way. Embrace the truth of “No condemnation in Christ Jesus…,” refuse to allow the little condemnation of a mere human being to bend you out of shape, and bless Jesus for the willingness to save you from eternal condemnation by bearing that burden for you. Perhaps, I can put it like this: What would it say about me, if I received a windfall of a million dollars, but lost my temper when a child misplaced one of my nickels? Wouldn’t this reflect poorly on my character? Well how much more, when we allow the criticism of a fellow human being to blind our eyes to the justification of God and the love of Jesus? Of course, it takes faith to see any of these things, but as the prophet said, “The just shall live by faith!”