This post begins a rabbit trail of posts, but I think it’s an important one. We need to dive deep in this topic, I cannot do it in one post, and I want to continue to be sensitive to the time you have available. So this will be split into four posts. These posts continues to encourage you that you really are able, by God’s power, to counsel (and be counseled by) others with power and great effect. But, I want to attack head on the question: “Can I relate to anyone?” Let’s take this in four parts: (1) I am in the same boat as my neighbor, (2) I can relate to my neighbor’s need, (3) I can relate to my neighbor’s rescue, and (4) I can powerfully leverage the gospel and my testimony for my neighbor. My hope is that these posts will apply the gospel to our sinful reactions of (1) pride and distance, (2) intimidation and hesitance, (3) fear and hopelessness, and (4) inaction and shame. These are reactions we all, if we’re honest, struggle with to some extent when someone comes to us with a heavy life situation. I want us to proclaim boldly with the Apostle Paul, “I am not ashamed of the gospel!”, as we enter our neighbors’ gray and difficult lives (not unlike our own). Nearly all of these posts will come from Romans 1-3, so it would be best if you went ahead and read that, really asking Paul what he’s wanting to tell you in the text. Also, taking cues from Paul, the driving issue here will be homosexuality.
Many of us, as we read Romans 1, we leave with a sense that homosexuality is really bad. But I fear that for many of us, our eyes glaze over. We don’t ask Paul why he highlighted it, nor do we let the passage flow and speak for itself as to the grand message it wants to communicate. For sure, Paul dwells on homosexuality, and we’ll get to why later, but for now, I want to set our eyes on the trap laid for us at the end of Romans 1. Here, we see a plethora of “they” language: “those out there, how could they?” Not unlike Jesus did on a number of occasions, though, Paul is pulling the prideful reader into a false sense of security. Paul lures the prideful reader to jump on board, thinking the likes of, “Yes, they do deserve it!” The traffic crashes to a halt at Romans 2:1, though, where we read, “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself.” Paul moved instantly from a safe, judge them from the sidelines, “those people over there” to an isolating and confrontational “you, O man, yes you!” I, the reader, am singled out. Not my spouse. Not my boss. Not my coworkers. Not my children. Not the person who snapped at me. Me, and me alone before the God I have defamed in my fleshly desires, desperately needing rescue, and joyfully treasuring the rescue that saves me from the flesh.
This is a hard word, I know, and I really don’t want to soften it because it bears good fruit, even joy because of the cross. We need to understand the reality that nothing separates us from the most flagrant sinners and tyrants in history except the gracious hand of God. In fact, this reality serves to further lift up His mercy and power in His rescue of us! Our rescue by Christ came counter to what we previously wanted, knew, or deserved. Our sin nature does not get any better, in fact. It only gets dead. In Christ, sin is conquered and embarrassed by new desires for God Himself above all things. This is what Paul is doing in Romans 2:1, when he brings us to realize that those we judge are, in fact, no different at all than ourselves in the flesh. This is wild implications for our counsel, but in this post, I want to fight our reactions of pride and distance. We’re moving from “What they do is stupid, hideous, beneath me, and foolish” to “God, apart from You, it is me who is foolish, blind, disgusting, and trivial. Thank you for such incredible grace!”
When you read in Romans 1 that homosexuals received in themselves the penalty due their error, that they acted unnaturally, or that they were given over, is your first reaction to distance yourself from them, as if it only applied to them and not to you and me? For sure, very few of us are so flagrant in our flesh as to hold up “God hates fags” signs, but we so often harbor thoughts like, “Whew, God sure had an easier time saving me!” Perhaps it’s not homosexuality, but do you do this to Mormons? Do you joke and say things that amount to: “How could they fall for that nonsense?” Do you do this to people who whine incessantly? To gossips? To dishonest brokers? To false teachers? Does your heart bash Rob Bell and Joel Olsteen without first remembering your own equal propensity to defame God apart from Christ’s rescue? Do you do this to unjust officers? To lazy people? To the excuse maker? To the homeless one who’s lost their mind? To the child abuser? To the woman who had an abortion? We are all the culprits here. I don’t think any of us really escape this. It’s tough to catch. Sin looks down, it judges, and this will not change. It will only be put to death by a heart enamored with God Himself.
There is no depravity outside our reach when we walk in sinful desires. The person we judge, that person is us apart from Christ, and we owe our rescue by Christ solely to His unfathomable wisdom, compassion, and power. Now, this is not at all to lighten the weightiness of sin since we all share it in common. Rather, this is to deepen our grieving over sin’s destruction and to further lift up God’s incredible grace that came counter to our sinful natures. It shows His grace all the more brightly!
I write this because as we counsel, I guarantee there will be times we want to give up on someone. There will be times we want to say, “Get your act together and stop being stupid.” There will be times we want to say, “What’s wrong with you? Why is this taking so long with you?” There will be times we will say like the Pharisee, “God, thank you that I am not like this tax collector.” When the truth is that I am the tax collector and worse. When we distance ourselves from the weakest among us, we lie. When we pretend our flesh smells better than another person’s, we forget. We will dive more into how deeply we relate to our neighbors, but part of this relating certainly means we are no better in and of ourselves. It leads us to see God’s grace afresh and to thank Him with renewed awe for His rescue of us. It leads us to be like Him in His faithfulness, His steadfastness, and His dirt-under-the-fingernails invasiveness. It keeps us from associating with the lofty. It reminds us that Christ came low and helped the lowly. It helps our counsel because we will not lift up ourselves to our neighbor since we are just like them in and of ourselves. Instead, we long all the more to lift up to them the God who rescues us and them. It leads to deeper God-centeredness.
Over the next couple of weeks, ask God what your specific issues are where you feel you are different and distant from “them.” Who do you look down on? What are the thoughts that come with that? This is not a condemnation for you because there is none left for believers (Christ became condemnation on our behalf), but it is actually a springboard to see far better the depths to which God went to save you, just how deeply He loves you in Christ. How does this affect your approach to them, your steadfastness with them, and your willingness to be uncomfortable and awkward with them? Take real, specific cues to what Christ did with you, and consider what that looks like toward the neighbor, brother, or sister you typically judge. Most of all, my prayer is that this helps you see God more clearly, especially His rescue in light of your desperation. Let’s place our own confidence for a changed heart in the One who has already rescued us, and let’s fix our eyes on His nature all the more securely.