On Gospel Amnesia and Standing Before Your Own Master

October 8, 2012 · 23 comments

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by Luma Simms

A few weeks ago a few friends and I were bantering back and forth about what our children watch on TV.

It was a playful exchange.

At one point I realized how two years ago it would not have been friendly or playful at all. My mind would have been full of criticisms and my heart would have stood over that conversation with judgment.

You see, my heart used to be a very sick heart. I was a Christian, but I had set aside the gospel as something that was just for getting me into the kingdom. I set my heart on other things at the expense of cherishing Christ: becoming a “godly” wife and woman, being content in domesticity and doing it well, offering unparalleled hospitality, keeping my children as far away from worldliness as possible, homeschooling because it was the only truly “godly” way of educating children, healthy whole food eating because that meant I was in line with a more “biblical” agrarian type of living, and on and on… you get the picture.

I had “gospel amnesia,” big time.

You don’t need to have full-blown gospel amnesia like I did to despise other women, tear them down, and pass judgment on their choices. When we forget the gospel and turn away from the charity and grace we are called to have for one another we can turn into women who look sideways at each other.

I’ve learned so much about grace from Romans 14:1-4:

“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”

On its face, Romans 14:1 says that there are Christians with stronger and weaker faith, and that the one with stronger faith should welcome the one with weaker faith and not quarrel over things that are a matter of opinion.

Paul assumes here that there are indeed things in the Christian life that are a matter of opinion and not of primary “salvific” importance.

So, from verse one we know: We need to welcome each other; we should not snub each other, or refuse or avoid fellowship with each other, and we should not quarrel over matters of opinion.

If we apply the principle here to any type of secondary matter (e.g. children’s entertainment choices, education choices, diet choices, diapering/clothing choices, birth choices, etc.), we see that the Christian with stronger faith has a broader acceptable spectrum, whereas the Christian with weaker faith has a narrow understanding of what is acceptable or right.

When it comes to secondary (non-sin) issues we are tempted to strain gnats and swallow camels (Matt. 23:24). Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’…” (Matt. 9:13) and “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless” (Matt. 12:7).

I grieve in my spirit when I remember how I have condemned the guiltless.

One of the most important manifestations of gospel living is treating each other with grace and charity. Scripture says that a gracious woman retains/gets honor/gains respect (Prov. 11:16). Nitpicking at each other and judging each others choices will not make us women of honor. In the end, we will make a mockery of the grace of Christ when the world sees our lack of graciousness.

May we who love Jesus and cherish his gospel look on each other with a tender grace that seeks to build each other up with sisterly affection rather than tear each other down by rendering our personal standards as the watermark of sanctification.

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Pet. 3:8).


ABOUT THE WRITER
Luma (@lumasimms) is a wife, mother, daughter, and friend. Luma grew up in Iraq and Greece before her family moved to the US. Luma is educated in physics and law, and is especially passionate about applying the message of the gospel to the important cultural and theological issues of our day. Luma is the author of Gospel Amnesia (forthcoming) and she blogs at Gospel Grace.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kim Shay October 8, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Thanks, Luma, for this. My older son has hair that is longer than some like, and my other son wanted to pierce his ears. I know that there are people in my church who look at me and feel sorry for me, thinking, “That poor woman; what did she do to deserve this?” The irony is that none of those critical people ever ask about my children or take the time to get to know them. And one of the cruelest, most unruly boys in our youth group a few years ago was the boy with the practically bald head. When our kids are little, women tear each other down about television viewing; when they get older, it’s about things like these.

Thanks for this reminder.

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2 Luma October 8, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Kim, I chuckled at your examples, I definitely would have made some judgments and kept my kids away. It seems every day the Lord reminds me that I DO NOT know the hearts of people and it is way too easy for me to make quick judgments. Lest you think I’ve only dished this out, it has happened to me. I also have been on the receiving end of criticism and lack of grace.

Thank you for your thoughtful response.

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3 Kim Shay October 8, 2012 at 10:07 pm

Well, there are a lot of mothers who did exactly that; warned their kids away from mine. It was pretty hurtful at the time. My boys are good boys; they try hard to live for the Lord, and they’re still growing. The sad part is they don’t like to be at our church now. My older boy, who is at bible school, has a church where he belongs to near school, and he has found much more grace there. My younger son is looking for a church.

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4 Lindsey Carlson October 8, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Luma! I love this. So very important for today’s newest brand of Pharisees (of which I’ve been a part.) thanks!

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5 Stephanie October 8, 2012 at 6:11 pm

Former Pharisee here too. Thank you for this, Luma…Beautiful…And so right on.

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6 HeatherHH October 8, 2012 at 6:17 pm

I think it’s an oversimplification to say that those who have a broader acceptable spectrum across a wide range of undefined topics have a stronger faith. The problem here is defining what are secondary matters. The Bible teaches physical purity before marriage. So, you’re not of weak faith if you think there are certain things that aren’t to be done before marriage. And you’re not of stronger faith if you have a broader list of acceptable physical interaction before marriage and of weaker faith if you have a narrower list.

To fit with your argument, anyone that has an “anything goes” philosophy is of strong faith because they had a broader range of the acceptable. But, people who don’t consider their lives and choices in light of God’s word do not have strong faith. At this point in our culture, those who don’t evaluate and just pick the norm would be sending their kids to public school. It seems foolish to say that those people have a stronger faith because they think any manner of education is acceptable.

We believe that God makes certain commands and instructions that have a bearing on education, such as in Deuteronomy 6. We believe those contradict with sending our young children to be taught for most of their days apart from the word of God, by others, often unbelievers, and being molded and shaped by spending most of their time being influenced by fools (i.e. children and unbelievers). So, we don’t believe education is completely a matter of opinion, because we are obliged to live our lives in light of what God instructs in His word.

Can there be strong Christians who disagree on this matter? Or strong Christians who actually send their children to public school because they want them to be salt and light? Yes, we disagree with their understanding of Scripture, but we all have our blind spots and fully expect to be in error ourselves in some areas. But I don’t think that believing all educational choices are acceptable automatically equals strong faith and believing only one or two options are acceptable before God automatically equals weaker faith. You could say I have a broader acceptable spectrum of viewpoints that can be present among those who are of strong faith. ;-)

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7 Luma October 8, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Heather, thanks for your thoughtful response.

First, physical purity is not a secondary issue. It is a sin issue, and the Bible makes that clear repeatedly. Romans 14 is not talking about sin issues. It is talking about issues that are a matter of opinion and I tried to give examples of what some of those are (Paul gives several examples in the rest of the chapter). I understand your view of Deut. 6:7 because I used to hold to it also. Even those who sincerely hold to that interpretation must recognize that it is an interpretive innovation and a minority opinion within Bible-believing Christians. Being in that position requires a different kind of grace. I sympathize, and I love my many friends who have that conviction and would never want to stumble them or cause them to violate their consciences. I want to stay with the heart of the article so I don’t think it would be helpful to turn this into a hermeneutical discussion.

Second, the logical implication in Romans 14 is that those with strong faith will have broader acceptance, not that those with broad acceptance of things will have stronger faith. You and I can easily find examples of people with broad acceptance of things who have little or no faith. That isn’t the point. The broader tolerance of a strong Christian (proper biblical tolerance) is actually an overflowing of grace, and its source is God himself.

The heart of what I am saying is that as sisters in Christ we can still build each other up instead of tearing each other down when we disagree on life choices. As Christians we look to Scripture to define what is sin and what is not sin; what we cannot do is to bind each others’ consciences with matters that God in the Bible has not defined as sin.

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8 Laura October 8, 2012 at 7:57 pm

Love this post! I have been considering the Romans passage, too. My heart gets this so wrong so often. Thank you for your thoughts!

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9 melissa pidal October 8, 2012 at 8:10 pm

thank you for such a challenging post. i too struggle w/ being critical and pharisaical so this is such a great reminder.

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10 Rachel W. October 9, 2012 at 9:03 am

You really hit the nail on the head with this one. This particular area of grace is one that I’ve been struggling with and trying to implement. It all started with Jerry Bridges’ book “The Discipline of Grace” and one of the chapters discussing the ‘nicer’ sins. He’s being VERY tongue in cheek when he says that, by the way. One of them is self-righteousness and the incredibly over critical attitude of others many believers are prone to get. The typical pharasaism attitude. This level of criticism is not only applied to other believers, but unbelievers as well. It’s moments like that when I really need to remind myself I’m absolutely nothing of my own merit, and who am I to judge when Christ came to bring the unrighteous to repentence?

We are to seek peace with ALL men (Rom. 12), and it’s not dependent on believer or no because we don’t know how God will use a situation to lead to the salvation of an unbeliever. We represent Christianity to the world, and are under harsher scrutiny by the world as a result of it, and that’s where our own display of grace and mercy come in to play.

I don’t want to turn this comment into a lengthy personal story, but it’s been a very humbling experience realizing how far my heart was from the gospel, and how I desperately need to remind myself of the gospel multiple times a day. The over critical attitude leads to a multitude of other sins, and God really made me realize how far from the mark I was by thinking I was some how impervious without complete dependence on Him and remaining disciplined in continually building on my relationship with Him.

Thank you for this post, it was a wonderful reminder to me and very encouraging.

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11 Luma October 9, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Thanks for sharing, Rachel. Jerry Bridges really gets it! The first year I was recovering from gospel amnesia I read Transforming Grace and Respectable Sins—conviction!!

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12 Kendra October 9, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Just recently I met a Christian women who is such a beautiful example of this. For those privileged to have gospelly gracious people in your lives, have you ever noticed how infectious it is? The thought of looking down your nose at another becomes sickening. It is replaced with a desire to open your arms, offering Godly grace and compassion, to a hurt and broken world. At that point, it’s as if you’ve just caught a fresh vision of Jesus and how he lived out his life while here on earth. Was there not one person he came into contact with that hadn’t been tainted by sin? No, not one!

My personal experience is that I had someone come alongside me at a point in my life when, by all appearances, I was living contrary to God’s word. I had just givin birth to my oldest son and was living with my boyfriend, now husband. We were living in my hometown, a small community where I’d been raised in an “effluent” Christian family. A pastor’s wife, from a church I’d never attended, reached out to me – making calls to affirm the good decisions I’d made (to stay at home and nurse), invite me to go walking (yes, she was unashamed to walk in public with this Jezebel) and join the churches women’s group (talk about feeling like a wolf among sheep!).

That was 15 years ago and, boy howdy, has the Lord done a work in our lives! The sad thing is that being critical is something I’ve battled at times, even towards those who’ve been through similar circumstances. How quickly we forget! Sometimes I think conquering that critical spirit is a right of passage that all Christians must face, at some point and to varying degrees. It God’s way of keeping us ever humble before His throne. Let’s all pray for a contrite and less critical spirit…

Thank you Sister Luma for these encouraging words and being an example of seeking God’s wisdom in this area of your life :) !!!

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13 Luma October 9, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Thank you for sharing your story, Kendra. That pastor’s wife that was not ashamed or afraid to reach out to you—that is what communicates Christ’s love and wins souls.

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14 Tim October 9, 2012 at 7:04 pm

“I grieve in my spirit when I remember how I have condemned the guiltless.” Right there with you, Luma. The Romans passage you cite has taught me that differences in Christian living does not equal differences in faith. I also appreciate Paul’s insight in Phuilippians 3:15 – “All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.”

God will make all this clear to everyone eventually. I’d rather get his clarity sooner than later, but I am so glad he has promised it to me in his timing and not mine.

Tim

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15 Flyaway October 10, 2012 at 11:57 pm

My whole family struggles with self righteousness. When my youngest brother was 2 he walked up to someone who was smoking and told them they they would get “tars,”as in tars and nicotine. One day I told him that he should eat his peas because there were children in Africa starving. He started crying. As an adult he went to Africa as a missionary and taught junior high students how to plant gardens. We must love each other enough to tell each other the truth in love but at the same time we are supposed to “test the spirits.” Some things are just not that important.

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16 Kimberly Walker October 15, 2012 at 7:20 pm

Dear Luma,

I was on my way to write a friend, Keri Folmar, when her link to your article distracted me. What a blessing to hear a sister meditating on this verse! You hit the hot issues so well. When it comes to recognizing that our interpretation of Scripture is finite and fallible, especially in application of general texts, it takes the Holy Spirit’s work to keep us humble. This year that verse has helped me preach to myself in more mundane situations as well. I, in my self-respecting discernment, interpret conversations and behaviors and judge others’ motives, thoughts, and attitudes without God’s all-knowing, all-righteous, merciful, perspective. God has shown me how sinful I am when I do this, for I do not judge others as I want God to judge me.

By way of illustration, about five years ago, maybe six, I had a leading Christian philosopher over to diner. As we entered into more personal conversation, it became apparent that his current wife was the same age as his daughter. Initially, I was tempted to hold God’s work through him suspect. He did not volunteer information as to why this was the case. But I, by the grace of God, consciously decided to withhold judgement and listen carefully to him and respect him that evening. A few weeks later, I found out that his wife had died young and when his daughter was out of college she introduced this friend of hers to her father and God blessed him with another helpmate. I was both ignorant and unimaginative, but God in his blessed holiness is not. What a wonderful God we serve.

Perhaps, but maybe not, by looking back to Christians of the past and even international Christians who are faithful, we can glean a better understanding of where we are being doctrinaire and where the Spirit has testified clearly as to how we ought to live to glorify God. At one point in history, truly earnest Christians thought that the Bible was quite clear that the earth is stationary. Most modern Christians do not find those passages clear enough on that point to establish dogma. Perhaps there are some interpretations of Scripture that should be the same for us. For instance, how was God upholding Deut. 6:7 when he had Daniel and Moses trained by pagans, and worse yet, pagans who were persecuting God’s people? If the Proverbs 31 woman was strictly working at home, how was she negotiating the sale of her material? May God give us the grace to know how we, in our particular situations, can please him. And may God give us the grace to desire only his praise and to joyful extend praise to our brothers and sisters when we in charity can see them glorifying him.

Love,
Kimberly Walker

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17 Luma October 19, 2012 at 10:44 am

Dear Kimberly,

Forgive me that it has taken a few days to respond to you. Your story, of the Christian philosopher you had over for dinner resonates with me. How merciful of our Lord to give us grace at times to hold our lips and set a guard over our mouths! So many times we do not judge rightly and by so doing we shrink God down to our size. Whereas in reality, his ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts. But oh how I long to consistently think his thoughts after him!

You’re right, it would do our souls good to be exposed to Christians from around the world (and of the past). One of the things I love about all of my mom’s Arabic friends is that the Lord uses them to show me my arrogance. Many times I mock them in my heart for their “cultural Christianity” and then walk away convicted after being loved and given sound wisdom by them.

Let me Amen what you said here:
May God give us the grace to know how we, in our particular situations, can please him. And may God give us the grace to desire only his praise and to joyful extend praise to our brothers and sisters when we in charity can see them glorifying him.

So glad to get to know a friend of Keri’s.

With love in Christ,
Luma

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