I don't know about you, but I find it so satisfying when a problem is solved. I wouldn't necessariy consider myself to be a problem-solver in a technical sense (like troubleshooting a network issue), but when it comes to behavioral issues, I'm more than capable of recognizing the problem and suggesting possible solutions to achieve the desired outcome. While this is a helpful skill in relationships, it can also become a stumbling block. Sometimes I suggest a solution without the person first inviting me to suggest one in the first place. Other times I grow frustrated and impatient because I don't understand why the person continues to make the same mistakes over and over again (especially if they asked me for advice and then ignored it). And if the situation is really bad, I basically write that person off and label them by their problem with little hope of overcoming it.
Ouch. Stone cold, right? I know. But I have to be honest about my struggle with pride – this vice which tells me that I know best; that I'm better because "I have my life together"; that I should be judgmental instead of gracious. While I've grown a lot in this area, there are still moments in which I believe myself to be more righteous than I really am.
The Bible says that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). While I know this truth intuitively, I sometimes act contrarily. I create hierarchies of sin in my mind to build myself up and keep others down. Sure, I struggle with pride but at least I'm not x, y, or z. Next thing you know, I'm behaving just like the teachers of the law and the Pharisees did with the woman who was caught in adultery in John 8:1-11. The Pharisees want to punish the woman for her sin, so they bring her before Jesus so that He can determine her punishment. Jesus responds, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." As the story famously goes, the Pharisees drop their stones and walk away until it's just the woman and Jesus. With one line, Jesus cuts to the chase with the Pharisees: "Just because you're not an adulterer doesn't mean you're not a sinner." In the same way, I need to be reminded that just because I'm not x, doesn't mean I'm without sin.
The Bible also says that God saved us "not because of [the] righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy" (Titus 3:5). The Pharisees and teachers of the law considered themselves to be righteous because they knew the word of God and shared it with others in their community. They considered the woman to be unrighteous because of her adultery. But as the verse above explains, God saves us not because of the things we do or don't do but because of His mercy. When the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees had left, Jesus asked the woman, "Where are they? Have they not condemned you?" She replies that no one has condemned her. Jesus replies, "Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin." This is the definition of mercy. Jesus had the power to condemn her for her sin, yet chose to show compassion and forgiveness instead. Does that mean that Jesus approves of her adulterous lifestyle? Not at all (as evidenced in His command to leave that life of sin).
While it's never fun to see yourself as the "bad guy," this story reminded me to see others the way that Jesus saw that woman – not at her present state, but in her potential future state: living out God's purpose for her life as the unique image-bearer that He created her to be.
Whether you identify with those who want to throw stones or the one at whom stones are being thrown, may you rest in this truth: You are not your sin. You are a beloved child of God. Your salvation doesn't rest on your (in)ability to be righteous. "For it is by grace you have been saved ... it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast" (Eph 2:8-9). Now go and step into your identity as "God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for [you] to do" (Eph 2:10).
Image by Samuel Jeffery, as seen in his Photo Blog "Rock Pile Formation in Atacama, Chile," which was originally posted in November, 2011. No copyright infringement intended.