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Reconciliation On Mission: What The Cross Means For Wrongs Done Against Me

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The holiday season is upon us, and do you know what that means? Drum rolls please: conflict! Doesn’t that bring about the soft, gooey feelings? Ok, perhaps I am being a bit of a Grinch, but amid a season labeled by festivities and joy, the reality for so many of us is that we will be reengaging often strained relationships with family and friends. The Spirit has been pricking my heart lately about my self-righteous, non-Christ-like reaction to conflict. And what better time to let the Spirit convict us of this than a season filled with hurts against one another and unfilled expectations? It seems especially applicable during a sermon series on hospitality, which is a well-oiled, conflict-generating machine! And the truth of any conflict is that either person remaining entirely pure and sinless is rare, if not non-existent.

I was “preaching a sermon” to myself this morning about what Christ means for my part in offenses I commit against others. My first reaction, especially in marriage, when I’ve been caught in an offense against someone else is to begin legitimizing what I did based on what they did. I say: “You made me …” You made me get mad, yell, curse, walk away, throw up my hands, get sarcastic, watch TV for 5 hours, and blame. I did this because you did that. What about what you’ve done? I’m often sneaky enough to make it sound less juvenile, or maybe even controlled enough to keep it in my head, but my fuming thoughts are indicting enough by themselves.

Christ enters into this mess in several ways.

My Part In The Conflict

First, Christ killed sin and death in His own death and resurrection. While I used to be utterly enslaved to sin (a helpless, suffering sinner), I am no longer and never again a slave of sin to any extent. We were ”delivered over” to sin as captives, but this is what it means for Christ to be “delivered over” to death on our behalf: He killed that captor, made a mockery of it, delivered us over to God, and raised us to new life with overwhelming power over sin. If I believe a circumstance, even a living breathing one, can make me sin, I admit I am powerless to overcome sin and express a functional disbelief in Christ having overcome sin on my behalf. I have the power to repent and turn at any point, no matter how much my blood is boiling. To believe I cannot turn and avoid returning sin for sin is to disbelieve God’s very words.

Christ also enters the scene in that He exchanged identities with me, giving me courage to face my terrible, ugly, and intimidating sins. Because Jesus purchased for me, forever, a new identity as “perfectly obedient son whom the Father lavishes over with joy,” I can know with confidence that my failures have no bearing on this. What shall separate us, whom God has purchased, crushing His Son on our behalf at our very worse, from God’s love? Nothing can, not even my failures.

Knowing that my deserving identity as “rebellious slave of the enemy” has forever been destroyed, I can view my sin and my firm, new identity together in one as I gaze firmly on Christ, who tells me both. I can face my sin courageously, not looking within, not looking to others, but looking to Christ in Whom it is all laid out for me graciously. I can say, “Yes, I messed up, and it was unreconcilable and ugly. Yet Christ, has indeed reconciled me to God and done the impossible.” Not only do I have power over sin, but I can fess up to it without despair but with complete hope and joy, looking to Christ, the founder and perfecter of my faith.

So for my part in the conflict, where my sin reveals its true ugliness as it lashes out unrestrained, I can know firmly that I have power over it, and I can courageously face it in light of the cross that gives me a new identity and new power over sin, neither of which can be moved or changed.

Others’ Part In The Conflict

In parables, Jesus had a knack for pulling a twist at the end that suddenly confronts those who thought they sat safely on the sidelines. This section had a similar impact on me as the Holy Spirit brought it to mind. What about the other person’s part in the conflict? Conventional wisdom, which inevitably seeps into the church, into me, says: “own your part and leave be what you cannot control.” I’ll own up to my part, and as for your part, that’s all on you to deal with. This is sneaky because we can say the exact same phrase and mean it in sinful or God-glorifying ways, but my hunch and personal experience is that it nearly always errs on the sinful side.

I’ll deal with my part, and you can deal with yours. Admittedly, this sounds a lot like “For each will have to bear his own load” (Gal 6:5). It is, in fact, true and flows right out of the section we just read that each is at fault for own part in conflict. There is a soft side to this in that Christ offers unimaginable grace to each of us as we bear our own loads. So in and of itself, it can look gospel-centered. We even see that Paul says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom 12:18). In a cursory reading, this all makes us seem safe if we just act cordially with people who offend us. But this is not what we have learned from Christ.

The Command Of Christ

What do we do with the other person’s sin? Are we justified by saying, “What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours” and letting them be? The point of Galatians 6:5 is not a relational dynamic for the church but a destroying of our personal pride as we engage the true relational dynamic for the church: Galatians 6:1-2. Let’s sidetrack for a moment to soak in this section of scripture.

If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.

In calling some people spiritual, Paul is contrasting them to the those who are fleshly (see 1 Cor 3:1 and the spirit vs flesh themes in Galatians). It carries a notion of being more than merely human, being higher, eating spiritual food, and being more mature in Christ. And “restore” carries a notion of coming down to mend, equip, and make complete. All in all, to me this passage of Galatians 6:1-5 seems to be a discipline to those who feel they are “high” in the church to come low, get their hands dirty in the work making others complete, equipping and mending them gently and carefully. Romans 12 is the manifesto for this humility: “outdo one another in showing honor [to the other],” “bless those who persecute you,” “weep with those who weep,” “do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly,” “never be wise in your own sight,” “never avenge yourselves, [...]; to the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.”

The command is not: “Own what is yours and leave to the other what is theirs.” Our typical problem in the south and my problem personally, is a tendency to stiff arm those who have offended me and disengage from them relationally. I will apologize for what is mine and wipe my hands clean of what is theirs. I exit the relationship  and leave the law of Christ unfulfilled. If straightforward notions of justice alone were the only say in the matter, we would never have been saved. Christ did not leave us to straightforward justice but came down on our behalf as the just justifier of the ungodly. So if we think ourselves high, we learn from Christ to come down low, to get our hands dirty with lowly tasks, to enter into another’s just burden, and to bear it with them. In fact, from Galatians, we learn that this is fulfilling the law of Christ! It is a firm, unavoidable command, and to ignore it is to live in active disobedience.

Reconciliation On Mission

What do I do with the other person’s part in conflict? I assume responsibility with them — not that I am at fault nor as though I can pay it for them but certainly to bear it with them. This means I feel sorrow for what is sorrowful for them: that they sinned and grieved God. This means I see how it reflects on my own indwelling sin and relate to them openly and honestly in a common need. This means I prefer gentleness, knowing that I myself received gentleness. This means I engage them passionately and preach the gospel, inviting them into my own struggle to dissect how I am overcoming by faith. I join them in their mess of sin, and I do not stand to the side, detached and unaffected. I do not stiff arm, I do not wipe my hands clean, and I do not stay “high.” I embrace, I live with mud constantly under my fingernails, and I come off my high horse to join my Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve.

In Legacy, my hunch is that we’re not so bad at the realizing and repenting for our own part in sin and conflict. I would bet that we generally can see that what we’ve done is on us. Some of us are probably very good at admitting this, telling it to others, and repenting before God. But I don’t think many of us are good at owning their part of the conflict too as our own burden. Do we exit the tough situations and distance ourselves? Do we disengage relationally when someone offends us or loses our trust? Do we cease to pray for them or write them off? Do we leave them alone to their own struggles? Do we wipe our hands clean? Are we stiff-arming them?

As hard as this message is for myself, it is a grace for our eyes to be opened to this and to realize that this is not what we have learned from Christ. This is not hospitality as He has shown us. This is not His law. This is not His command. What this is is rampant disobedience in our hearts and refusal to walk in the Spirit, the very context from which Paul enters Galatians 6. Christ came down from a much higher place, to a much lower place, saved much dirtier people (you and me), engaged them much longer and more deeply, and bore a much greater burden. Having the same Spirit that lived in Him — that is, the Holy Spirit He sent to dwell intimately with us each moment — in our reconciliation we can (1) obey His command (2) with intense joy (3) trusting in His promises and nature (4) to spread Him on mission to our church, to Knoxville, and to the world.

Throughout this holiday season, even before this holiday season, take some time to chew over the conflicts you expect to have in the church, in your family, at work, and with your unsaved friends. What do you expect to come up over the next month, and with whom? What do you expect your temptations to be in those conflicts? How will you own up to your part and repent in front of them? What do you expect their failures to be toward you? In what tangible ways can you go beyond your repentance to come low and bear their part with them? How will you relate to their need? How will you open your own strivings to them? How will you preach? How will you weep? How will you link arms instead of stiff-arming?

Even more importantly, what is it about God that you will trust in order to get you through this: that He is a good Shepherd, that He works all things together for your good, that you cannot be separated from His promise, that His commands are a grace to you, that discipline produces the peaceable fruit of righteousness, that He cannot lie, that He is powerful to do what He says? What pictures and movies from scripture will you chew on to make this powerful and vivid, stirring up your faith? When we obey God by faith in His Son, beholding and soaking in what He has done for us and meticulously linking that to what we do in our everyday lives, we take reconciliation and put it on mission to spread His glory. When others (including the church) see us doing what God does, not to get something, but because we trust Someone, they will behold the same One we behold, and His fame spreads as it is intended to as the ultimate goal of the gospel.

Posted by Matt Norman with

“Lay aside” My Sin?

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Recently, I’ve had a verse on my mind a lot.

Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely (Hebrews 12:1)

There is a lot to say about this section of scripture, but what strikes me most about this verse lately is not so much the main analogy of running a race. It’s how the writer chooses to describe weights and sin and particularly what we do with them. He says, “let us lay aside.” I don’t know how you feel when you read this, but to me at first reading, it can sound demeaning, right? Of all the ways the writer could have described how we interact with sin, why “lay aside?” It sounds so small, so menial, so anticlimactic. “Just lay it aside.” Like putting your clothes in a drawer, set aside the sin and weights that encumber you. To many of us, probably most of us, sin is not something we just lay aside.

Most of us have that one sin or weight in particular that ensnares us over and over again, and we are engaged in a life or death struggle. We’re caught in the Romans 7 struggle minus the “thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” part, and that sin, that abuse, that addiction is the largest thing in our view, blocking out practically everything else. Consider the struggle of reliving sexual abuse, the hopeless feeling of being addicted to sex and pornography, the seemingly irresistible pull of alcohol, the control of anger and bitterness. Do these sound like things we just set down, take off, lay aside? Is the author being ruthless, discompassionate, and dismissive? I think the question begs asking. How does something so overwhelmingly big become so menial, so dismissed and so insignificant? The answer to this question has two big implications for our struggles against sin.

Christ’s Overwhelming Greatness

First, the context of Hebrews 12:1 is illuminating to exactly what the author intends, and it is far from discompassionate:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

This cloud of witnesses is not the group of people in Hebrews 11 looking down upon us to whom we look for approval or applause. Rather, their lives bear witness to God’s faithfulness as we trust Him throughout life with patience and endurance, setting our hope fully on the inheritance still to come when Christ returns. In fact, there is one witness left out of Hebrews 11 who has the greatest testimony of all, and that is Jesus who is included now. First, let’s focus on what Jesus did: He “despised” this unimaginable shame of the cross, the very God of the universe spat upon, stripped, ruthlessly lashed, left limp and dying on a cross, and scorned by everyone passing by. Even worse, Jesus felt contempt from the Father as, for the first and only time in all of the existence of time, the Father looks away from His Son in disgust, seeing the sin of all who would believe on Him as Christ Himself embodied it and took on Himself wrath for it.

If you’re like me, “despise” carries the everyday meaning of hating intensely. That’s not necessarily wrong, but here it carries the nuance of looking down on and thinking little of. He looked down on shame as a lesser compared to Him, disrespectfully, even in a dismissive sense as if it wasn’t really worth His attention. To convince yourself, see how it’s used elsewhere in scripture (Rom 2:4; 1 Cor 11:22; 1 Tim 4:12,6:2; 2 Pet 2:10). This is why I do believe that the writer of Hebrews is probably intending his language in verse 1 to seemingly make light of our weights and sin nature. Christ basically made light of the shame of the cross, but how and why did He do that? How does the One who should be honored above all creation think little of such mockery and scorn? Please don’t take that question lightly or quickly. Think about who God actually is and what He deserves. Then think about how people treat Him here. Soak in the infinite separation between what He deserved and what He received instead. Think about your own situations of being misunderstood, mocked, lied against, shamed; and then how much greater Christ’s really was. How does He actually think little of it all?

Luckily, scripture does not leave us blind here, since we are among many other, deeper things to imitate Christ. We are to think light of shame as well; yet for us to breathe is to be infected with the fear of man. He did it for the joy set before Him — He did it by faith in grace to come, in the promises of God. Christ knew the Father would raise Him up and glorify Him above all creation as He deserves, but He also knew it was the Father’s will for this road to pass through the ugliest scene in human history, the worst suffering possible: the disgusted turning away of the Father’s eyes from His beloved Son. Jesus’ trust in the Father led Him to dismiss the weight of shame coming against Him, and He is now seated at the Father’s right hand. Christ’s gaze upon the Father and trust in Him completely eclipsed the shame.

Clearly, this shame is not small or something to be dismissed. Clearly, the author is not being dismissive of Christ’s agony on the cross. What he is doing is trumpeting the glory of God all the more, saying that whatever Christ’s suffering entailed, the joy set before Him was so much greater so as to render the suffering menial, disrespected, and dismissed. Yes, His shame and pain were unimaginable, and I actually mean that here as we honestly cannot begin to grasp the weight of what He bore. But this only serves to magnify the greatness of what was set before Him, a view of which cured the shame and rendered it insignificant by comparison. What was set before Christ was the Father with Whom He has eternally co-existed, and the Father rendered Christ’s suffering puny.

We, likewise, have lesser yet still extremely significant sufferings, sins, and weights bearing down on us. I don’t think the author has any intention of pretending otherwise or he wouldn’t have brought up Christ’s shame. Yet, we, looking to Christ, imitate Christ in His dismissal and His means of dismissal. As the Father promised to raise Christ from the grave and set Him on high above all creation, Christ has promised to raise us and make us co-heirs with Him, forever in the presence of the most beautiful, satisfying Person who ever lived. Christ trusts in the Father, and we likewise trust Christ as we look to Him, believing His promises and receiving eternal life. It is displaying (by preaching the gospel) and gazing upon (by meditating, obeying, believing, and trusting) Christ and His promises — the joy set before us — that does this supernatural act of rendering our admittedly great sufferings and sins insignificant by comparison. Paul says in Romans 8:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Scripture often commands us to lay aside and put off sin with similar type of language as we see in Hebrews 12:1. This is the key that unlocks that door. This is how Christ did it and how He enables us to do it as well as the Holy Spirit whom He sent reveals God’s nature and promises to us and gives us the faith to trust Him. This notion is definitely similar to the very helpful sermon of Thomas Chalmers called the “Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” Just as it is only the surpassing greatness of God that renders otherwise significant sin and wight insignificant, it is only the surpassing greatness of a new affection for God that powerfully expels other affections for creation and ultimately ourselves.

God’s living water out-identifies the names we take on because of sexual abuse. His sure hope overcomes the hopelessness of addiction. He out-allures sex and pornography. He overpowers the tug of alcohol. He disarms anger as we see Christ absorbing the guilt of many on the cross. Only in His gospel, the highlight of His glory, do our weights and sins shrink from our eyes. Only then do we stop living as moons revolving around a sad, dark planet and become solar systems revolving around a brilliant galactic center.

The Main Point Of It All

Let’s not forget that this passage is a racing metaphor, and we’re doing something as we race: looking to Jesus. Christ is not merely our example by any means; but if you’re running, the thing you’re looking at the entire time you run must be the thing you’re running toward, or should I say, the One you’re running toward. I believe there are two things to glean from this treatment of sin and weight in Hebrews 12. First, as mentioned before, is that it becomes insignificant only in light of an overwhelmingly greater and more satisfying God, and the pinnacle of this satisfaction is yet to come. Second, the insignificance of sin and weights bearing down on us has a further implication: sin has almost nothing to do with this race.

What I mean by that is that the whole point of this race is to make it to Jesus and enjoy Him forever in future glory to come. Consideration of sin is a very distant second, and it only exist in so much as it hinders us from looking to Jesus and running with endurance. The race set before us is one of faith (trust in God, namely His nature and promises), and sin is not the main player here. I believe the primary goal of speaking about sin and encumbrances this way is ultimately pastoral: to urge us to get our eyes off of sin and onto the One who cures it: Jesus Christ. As we embark on this race with endurance, we cannot constantly cast our eyes on the junk in our backpacks or we’re going to be pathetic runners. Runners keep their eyes forward, not up, down, left, right, or backwards.

As we fight sin, we must always keep in mind the goal of fighting sin: to see and savor Christ all the more by forsaking that which is replacing Him in our lives. Suppose that we succeeded in fully and finally putting down sin. What then? If all you’ve thought of is “personal holiness,” this day might come as a shock. There’s nothing else to wage battle against, so have you kept in mind the point of the battle in the first place? This day will come. It will be when Christ returns and all evil desire is fully and finally put down, freeing our hearts to never again suffer temptation to disbelieve or disobey. On that day, we will forever fulfill our purpose of being created: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We cannot lose sight of this because we are to be doing that now as we fight sin. Not only that, but glorifying and enjoying God is precisely how we fight sin and put it down as well. The end is the means, and it is ultimately a Person: the triune God Himself.

I’d like to leave with this plea. If we’re breathing, then sin and suffering are big, difficult, and overwhelming for us. Jesus made light of incredible shame as He considered the joy set before Him that the Father promised. Let’s look to the gospel of who God is, what He’s done, and what He will do, and let’s watch sin and suffering shrink in light of His greatness. Let’s press on in the race the way Jesus did and by Jesus’ constant enabling grace, always looking to the joy set before us: God Himself. May sin truly be secondary for us, may we lay it aside for the sake of what is primary. May the sins taking up our eyesight which we fear and respect shrink dramatically and become disrespected. And may Christ fill our vision and demand our respect as we run full to the end.

Posted by Matt Norman with