Human beings naturally want to be ‘right’. We will go to great lengths to justify ourselves using all the arguments and force we can muster.
Christians can also find themselves doing it. In a dispute we also try to persuade others with the strength of our argument, sometimes even to the point of forcing agreement.
And, to prove their point, Lutherans will naturally bring out the ‘big guns’ of Scripture and Confession.
Of course, we do need to follow our beliefs and hold to what is true. But what happens when two sides of an argument are both equally convinced they are right?
When we shut our ears to our sisters and brothers, then, like a bushfire, even small arguments will escalate into major disputes, raging out of control. And if we use Scripture and Confession in unloving ways, we make it almost impossible to find a peaceful resolution. It’s deeply ironic, because Scripture and Confession are both witnesses, not to our ‘rightness’, but to the righteousness of Jesus Christ, the gospel of love, forgiveness and peace.
We believe that God has redeemed us at great cost. He has remade us into the very image of Christ.
We also believe that we are still sinners, prone to sinful ways. The law always threatens to uproot the gospel. Defending myself as ‘right’ in whatever argument I face doesn’t help me if, in doing so, I fail to love my neighbour as I love myself (Luke 10:27).
Is there another way? I believe that there is and that Jesus shows it to us. He met many sinners during his ministry. At times he corrected them, usually those who were certain that they were right, and condemned others because of it, like the Pharisees and scribes who criticised his disciples for not ritually washing their hands (Mark 7:1–13).
But more often, Jesus just ‘sat in the dirt’ with sinners and loved them, for example, the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3–11), even though he also spoke sternly against adultery (Matthew 15:19 and elsewhere).
He even spontaneously forgave people without first requiring their repentance, such as a paralysed man (Matthew 9:2–8) and a sinful woman (Luke 7:36–50). Of course, we know to our eternal benefit, that in his passion and crucifixion, Jesus paid the price for their errors, their sin, and he did not ask for anything in return.
This kind of non-judgemental meeting people ‘where they are at’ is the model Jesus sets.
He made people ‘right’, not by arguing, but by patiently giving himself for them. This approach transformed people like Zacchaeus (Luke 19:2–8). Jesus also taught this approach in his parables, such as the waiting father (Luke 15:11–32) and the Pharisee and the tax-collector (Luke 18:10–14).
This month, as we again celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, my prayer for the LCA is that all our relationships will be transformed by Jesus’ sacrificial love. I pray for the Spirit’s gifts of ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’ (Galatians 5:22).
Truly, we are only ever ‘right’ because of Jesus Christ. He gives us his undeserved love and forgiveness in baptism and the gift of saving faith. Now God is giving us the opportunity to extend the same grace, forgiveness and understanding to each other. And that’s how people will know that we are his disciples, by the love we have for one another (John 13:35).