Monday, February 22, 2016

Ungracious Christians

            Philip Yancey, in his classic “What's So Amazing About Grace?” describes ungraciousness as, “Ungrace does its work quietly and lethally, like a poisonous, undetectable gas. A father dies unforgiven. A mother who once carried a child in her own body does not speak to that child for half its life. The toxin steals on, from generation to generation.” Around us, ironclad in their pristine saintly attire, are ungracious Christians.

            A pastor requested prayer for an 80 year old pastor who was beaten up. Instead of sympathizing or offering his prayer support, a Christian responded by asking if the beaten up pastor was living a good Christian life or not.

            Isn’t it fascinating that we love to judge the spirituality of our fellow Christians? We are experts in ignoring the plank firmly lodged in our own eye while we rabidly bark at the speck in our brother’s eye (Matthew 7:5).

            How quickly do we forget that grace is the spirit of Christianity!

            If not for God’s grace, we would be doomed to eternal dungeon. Christ is the embodiment of grace and Christians are called to be Christlike – to be loving and gracious to each other.  

            If grace is at the heart of Christianity, why do Christians morph into ungracious beings to irrationally judge their fellow brother and sister? Who is responsible for this malady in Christendom?

            But unjust judgment and harsh condemnation is common in Christianity. The Bible amplifies this predicament. Even the Lord was not spared. Christ was condemned by the religious leaders.

            Philip Yancey, in “What's So Amazing About Grace?” captures this thought wonderfully, “Having spent time around "sinners" and also around purported saints, I have a hunch why Jesus spent so much time with the former group: I think he preferred their company. Because the sinners were honest about themselves and had no pretense, Jesus could deal with them. In contrast, the saints put on airs, judged him, and sought to catch him in a moral trap. In the end it was the saints, not the sinners, who arrested Jesus.”

            The religious leaders condemned Christ because they assumed greater knowledge. They not only assumed greater knowledge, but they believed that their knowledge was inerrant and infallible. Those religious leaders were proud and egotistic.

            Spiritual pride is the cause for ungracious and judgmental attitude. The super-spiritual Christian basking in spiritual pride thinks more highly of himself than he ought to (cf. Romans 12:3). When sober judgment of oneself is eclipsed by spiritual pride, he condemns his neighbor at every given opportunity.

            Recently I had the privilege of hearing a friend tell me that she lives a perfect Christian life. I was shocked to hear this statement from an ostensibly spiritually mature woman, who is well respected in her church.

            Did she not read her Bible that says that there is no one righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10) or that “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1: 8-10, NIV). These super-spiritual Christians think that they do not and cannot commit sin.  

            This super spiritual Christian forgets that it is because of God’s grace that he is able to live a righteous life. In this context, he forgets two very important aspects.

            First, his life is a gracious gift from God. Because God offers him life, he is able to live righteously.

            Second, this person is able to live a righteous life because God has placed a fence of protection around his life (cf. Job 1:10). If God had allowed Satan to inflict veridical damage upon this person’s life, this person, even if he had genuinely lived a righteous life, could have suffered under people around him. They could have suspected him of some offense or the other. They would have then showered inordinate malice upon him.

            So the so-called super spiritual Christian cannot be super-spiritual if not for God’s grace. Although he is a product of God’s grace, he remains ungracious to his brethren.

            Who is responsible for this malady?

            There is no dearth of sermons on living a Christian life. The church should not be blamed for emphasizing a holy lifestyle, for Christians cannot be hypocrites. But when we meagerly succeed at living a morally upright life, we, with all guns blazing, condemn sinful people.

            How often do you hear sermons on being gracious to your sinful neighbors? For every sermon about living a Christian life, there should be ten sermons about being a gracious Christian. This is the responsibility of the church.

            The church should take responsibility for the prevalent malady of spiritual pride.

            Being gracious is not to approve the sins of our neighbors. Grace does not encourage sins (cf. Romans: 1-2).

            But God loved us while we were unrepentant sinners (cf. Romans 5:8). So we should love our neighbors while they remain unrepentant.

            How can we share the love of Christ if we do not love our neighbors? Would our neighbors be receptive to a gospel message from people who disrespectfully condemn their sinful lifestyle?

            There is a huge disparity between disapproving a sinful lifestyle and disrespectfully condemning a sinful lifestyle. A sinful lifestyle can be lovingly disapproved.  Condemnation is usually accompanied by hatred towards the person committing the sin.

            If a friend lives a blatantly sinful life, we should continue our friendship with him. We should be kind to him and his family, encourage him in his other noble endeavors, visit, dine with him etc. Yet we should lovingly disapprove of his sinful lifestyle and try to gently talk him out of that sinful lifestyle.

            Christ did not crucify the woman who was caught in adultery. HE empathized with her and lovingly counseled her to not sin. Christ did not disassociate HIMSELF from sinners but HE entered their homes and fellowshipped with them.

            Condemnation raises its ugly hood when our friend commits a sin. We immediately break our friendship with him and vilify him in public and private. This is not an appropriate Christian practice.              

            Here is an intriguing factor while we criticize our fellow Christians, which is wonderfully revealed in the Bible.

            On one hand, Christians are capable of glorifying the blatantly sinning Christian. As a case in point, the Corinthian church was proud of their member who was sleeping with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5: 1-2).

            On the other hand, Christians could condemn those who may outwardly appear as sinners but who are faithfully living a holy life, “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” (Matthew 11: 18-19, NIV).

            If Christ the Lord and John the Baptist were victims to such condemnation, what prevents you and me from being condemned? Persecution is native to Christianity.  

            We will be condemned by our own family. Our dearest friends would flee from us when we are in difficult situations. When we stand for the Lord and HIS word, we will be condemned and persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). But let us continue to remain in the Lord, love and obey HIM despite the harsh condemnation from our fellow Christians.

            How do we remain gracious?            

            Step into the shoes of those who need grace. First, judge ourselves with a sober judgment. We are as much as a sinner as he is.

            Second, consider our neighbors at par with us or better than us. If we are no greater than him, we have no business to venomously judge him. Instead, love him just as God loves him and us.  

            We will be gracious if we are humble. The fast track to humility is to experience soul-wrenching pain. Unless we experience soul-wrenching pain, it is very difficult for us to remain humble.

            If a friend or an acquaintance asks you for prayer either pray or don’t pray. It is even acceptable if you do not pray, for God will care for HIS people. But please do not insult either the person asking for prayer or the person to be prayed for.  

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