But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.... For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your doing; it is the gift of God -- not the result of works, so that none may boast. -- from Eph. 2:3-10
God made us alive even though we were dead through our trespasses. By his grace, we have been saved so that none may boast. As Jesus said, "When you have done all that is commanded you, say, "We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty." (Luke 17:10)
This says to me that we cannot lord our righteousness, our perceived righteousness, over anyone else. We cannot say that we are better Christians than others. We cannot judge another as unworthy of God's grace. For we were unworthy, we are still unworthy, and yet God's grace saved, and continues to save, us. All of our good deeds only come about as the result of God's grace to begin with.
Then how do we respond to those whom we think have it all wrong? Certainly not by judging them to be outside of God's grace. Who are we to judge whom God will grace? "God saved us when we were dead through our trespasses." When we judge our neighbor as being outside of God's grace, and ourselves as correspondingly righteous, we have become less humble. Being judgmental in this way only serves to separate ourselves from the other, either in anger or in alienation. If our desire is to help someone understand God's way as we understand it, then this attitude defeats our purpose before we even get started.
So, how do we rightly engage people who think differently about Jesus than we do? This is a recurring question for me. About four years ago, I began to think about Christian unity. Most recently, a week or so ago, I was asking myself this question again. Later that same day, after a group discussion about Islam, my pastor recommended a book he had recently read. I took a glance at it. The first words I read were: "How do we engage the other?" Needless to say, I asked to borrow it.
After reading just the first few pages of "Jesus, the Word, and the Way of the Cross," by Mark W. Thompsen, I felt that God was again speaking to me. Mr. Thompsen writes that one must approach any kind of witnessing of Jesus from the perspective of Christ's crucifixion. The reason I found this so striking is because a couple of years ago, when I was in the midst of struggling with all my being to prevent our church from splitting over different understandings, I woke up one morning thinking about Jesus' death.
This was not something I cared to think about. In fact, I was surprised and disturbed by my thoughts. I wanted to know how to prevent my church from dividing, not why Jesus died. To me, Christians placed too much emphasis on Jesus' death, and not enough on his life. In my devotionals that morning, in Oswald Chamber's "My Utmost for His Highest," I read, "You are brought face to face with a difficult case.... This is your line of service -- to see that nothing is between Jesus and yourself. Is there? If there is, you must get through it...." (Oct. 3) That directness forced me to try to figure out what Jesus' death meant. Unfortunately, I got bogged down in theories of atonement.
Now here again, with this book, was a pairing up of Jesus' crucifixion with our ability to engage the one who thinks differently. What is it about Jesus' death that is so important in this situation? Well, it is not atonement. According to Thompsen, "The depth and breadth of the significance of Jesus' non-violent prophetic ministry and the violent death inflicted upon him is often lost in a simplistic theory of the atonement." I could relate!
The importance of Jesus' crucifixion lies in understanding that in "contrast to all forms of Christian arrogance, intolerance and imperialism, Jesus' disciples are called to be servants washing people's feet, 'Christ-minded' persons...." (pg. 9) Jesus' mission was marked by compassion for those who were physically and spiritually disabled, and by vulnerability in offering himself as a living example of God's way, even unto his own death. If we want to be one with Christ, then we must humbly live and breathe and have our being in him who humbly lived and breathed and died to bring the Gospel, the good news of God, to all.
Dear God, please be with me as I struggle to listen to your word, and share it with others. Love always, Pam.