I should start by pointing out that this blog post has nothing to do with the Britney Spears song by the same title, so if you landed here looking for insight into her lyrics (or anything else about the song), you might be lost. Having said that, though, maybe you didn’t end up here by accident after all, so feel free to stick around.
What I wanted to talk about instead is my tendency to screw things up. And your tendency to do the same. Well, and everybody’s tendency to do things we wish we wouldn’t do.
If that makes you feel bad, you should know that when the Holy Spirit inspired various people to write the gospels, letters, and historic accounts that eventually became the Bible, He anticipated that we would all be challenged by the temptation to sin. How do I know this? Because there are passages that are not very flattering for some famous leaders of the Christian church.
Peter and Paul
My first example is Peter. Jesus told Peter that He was going to build His church upon that rock (most likely a play on the name Jesus gave him–“Petros” is greek for rock). Of course, that’s the way it turned out, but it wasn’t a smooth road to get there. Before Peter became a great leader in the early church, He lied to Jesus. Or at the very least, he was disingenuous and failed to live up to his commitment to Jesus.
As Jesus was preparing Himself for His coming crucifixion, He shared His Last Supper with His disciples. Then they went out to the Mount of Olives, where Peter made his bold promise to his Saviour:
Actually, it’s really two promises, since he restated it more emphatically. The great Apostle Peter committed to Jesus that he would never turn his back on his friend. But we know he did just as Jesus had predicted (see Mark 14:66-72).
Also, there’s Paul. He wrote about half the books in the New Testament. And yet, he admits in his letter to the church in Rome that he screwed up regularly:
Of course, he wrote it in as obscure a way as possible (even for Paul), maybe hoping that nobody could sort out exactly what he was saying…?
What’s it All about, if not Grace?
So, what’s the point of reminding us all how rotten we are? Well, for one thing, we are rotten by nature, whether we realize it or not. But that’s OK, since it is only by God’s grace that we are saved–not because we are particularly swell people. What do we have to do to earn that grace? We can’t, really, or else it wouldn’t be grace! It would be something we’ve done so God has to save us from ourselves.
But that’s not God’s way. His was was to send His Son to save us and show us the path to heaven: believe in Him. And although “believe” is an action verb (perhaps tempting one to think, Aha, there is something I can do to earn my salvation!), in reality, belief is more about your posture of heart than it is about something you can force yourself to do.
Here’s how Paul embraced the beatiful exchange of belief and grace:
This is the passage where Paul famously says “Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand”, but I really like Eugene Peterson’s expansive view of this in “The Message” paraphrase.
So, how is it that the perfect and holy God accepts us in spite all our blemishes, regardless of all the awful things we have done and will ever do?
It’s the gift offered freely to all of humanity, for those with eyes to see, ears to hear, and softened heart to receive.
Fundamental Attribution Error
One last point about this. There’s a term in social pshychology referred to as the “fundamental attribution error”. Although I may not be 100% correct about this (I’m not a shrink, just an avid reader), my interpretation of this is that when we judge other people’s behavior, we judge them mostly by their actions; however, when we think of our own actions, we judge them by our intentions.
This is probably why I have uttered the phrase, “I didn’t mean to hurt you” more times than I can probably count. And I’m guess you have, too. I justify what I did by my (hopefully) loving intentions. However, if I saw someone else do the same thing, I’d likely think something like, What a turd, that wasn’t very nice. (We’ll talk about judgment another time–I know we shouldn’t do it, but that is a long, hard lesson to learn in our western civilization).
So, what’s the point?
Well, of course, when we screw up, we should ask for and receive God’s forgiveness. If what we have done something that has hurt someone else (regardless of your intent), we should ask for and receive God’s forgiveness (it probably also a sin against Him) and we should apologize and seek forgiveness of the person we’ve harmed.
You mean there’s more??
Yes. And, we should go easy on other people, even when they are behaving badly. Maybe especially when they are behaving badly (I’m not talking about when lives are in imminent danger, that’s a different story). Instead of a knee-jerk negative reaction ramping up to a fight, we should try to think about why that person might be behaving badly. Try to consider what might make you act in that way. Maybe they feel like they have no other option. Or maybe they don’t think they are behaving badly.
Either way, our reaction, and the words that may come out of our mouths, might be more uplifting for that person than if we react without pausing to reflect on what might have led them to this behavior (and maybe even saying a quick prayer for them and for you that you respond well). This is the way Jesus interacted with people (except for “holier than thou” religious leaders). You just never know the impact you might have on that person. If you react gently (but firmly is still OK), you might diffuse a very tense situation. You might reflect a little bit of God’s Light into that person’s life. Or, at the very least, you might help them realize they were being a turd and flip their switch back to being a regular person.
Public service announcement: For the sake of the Kingdon, this should always be our approach to interacting with fellow followers of Christ in the public square, which these days is mainly social media.
Anyway, I think this is one of the things that Jesus came to show us: how to treat other people, whom He also saw fit to die for. We should all try following His example.