In 1970 cartoonist Walt Kelly penned an infamous line and attributed it to the character “Pogo” when he claimed, “We have met the enemy, and it is us.” As I look across the landscape of modern Evangelical churches I worry that the statement is unfortunately all too descriptive of our movement. Sadly when I consider my own heart, I find that thought to ring all too true of me. We talk a good game about all the influences, temptations and challenges we face in contemporary culture which keep us from walking faithfully with Jesus, but when it comes down to it the failure rests on our shoulders as we choose to ignore righteousness and instead walk away from the Savior.
Now to be fair, I know that ultimately our fight is not against ourselves but is instead a spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:12) but I also know that this fight manifests itself in our bodies and in order to successfully walk with Jesus we must develop a pattern of resisting in this fight. We have to share the repentant heart of King David from Psalm 51 as he assumed personal responsibility in his admission of guilt before God.
Sadly we are often not found to be fighters in regards to personal sin. Instead we seem to share the passion of James and John as described to us in Mark 10 as they asked Jesus for the honor of sitting on either side of Him in His eternal Kingdom. When the other disciples heard about the request they were indignant, but sadly their indignation is most likely due to their own frustration over not having thought of making the request themselves rather than a faithful understanding of righteous humility.
When I look across the New Testament I see a pattern emerge in how we treat ourselves and others. God’s Word seems to point us towards a two-fold approach to life. We are called to be personally critical and corporately compassionate. What I mean by that is that we are called to treat our sin as serious before God. We are called to kill our sin in Romans 8:13. That is pretty harsh language in regards to how we treat ourselves. We are also called, however, to show grace towards those who are around us. In John 8 we see a tremendous example of Jesus extending much grace towards a woman caught in adultery. Instead of picking up the stone to kill her for her sin He instead offers to her an opportunity for restoration. This grace that Jesus extends, and which by extension we are called to extend, is never an opportunity to excuse sin, but instead should be viewed as an opportunity to love someone in their sin and to lead them from their sin and towards Christ’s likeness. In this passage, after Jesus has extended grace to her He sends her away with the call to “go and sin no more”.
As we consider most of our lives, however, we should be honest and admit that instead of critiquing self and showing grace to others most of us love to extend grace to ourselves and we then become quite adept at offering withering critique of others. We love to pick apart those around us, to ridicule them for their sin and even pity them for their obvious lack of righteousness, all the while failing to realize that our own smugness and self-righteousness screams of our own personal need for grace.
We would do well this Christmas season to remember that Christ came because we needed Him to. Our need is ultimately met in His sacrifice and resurrection. Apart from that great privilege we are hopeless. Until we consistently find ourselves weighing our own lives against God’s Word, we will never faithfully walk with Jesus; and until we find ourselves consistently showing grace to those around us who fail we will never faithfully embody the pattern of Jesus’ own life.