Lesson 9 Applied Theology
As Christians – especially we who are Reformed Christians – we ought to make better application of our theology in our relations with one another. In this message I will highlight three doctrines affecting our relationships – the doctrine of sin, of being adopted as children of God, and the doctrine of grace.
First, we are sinners. Do not be surprised when your Christian brother sins. Do not be surprised when you sin. If you can accept that sins dwells within you and your brother, you will find yourself more sober minded to deal with conflict. NonChristians are sometimes better able to handle conflict because of having more realistic expectations. They expect the workplace to have its share of conflicts and that they just need to deal with that fact. Christians, on the other hand, are appalled that a brother or sister could act "that way." "A real Christian wouldn't do that!" Usually, the reason for such shock is for one of two reasons (maybe both): the offense of the other is against them; or the offense is one that they "never do." "How could my brother commit a sin that I don't commit? What's wrong with him?"
What's wrong with him is what's wrong with you – sin is still in him. The "old man" may have been killed when he came to Christ, but his remains are still in us and will not be completely removed until our Day of Resurrection. Meanwhile, we have still to deal with sin in others and in ourselves. We should be grieved by sin and angered by it; but we should not be shocked that sin occurs.
So understand that Brother Bob or Sister Sue is going to get testy at times; that Joe is going to act like his "old self" occasionally and that Sally, now and then, is going to revert to her old selfish ways. How to deal with the sin is what these messages have tried to help with; but you cannot effectively address sin if you keep allowing it to set you up for a punch. So expect a person with a temper to express that temper; expect when Christians are placed in awkward situations that they will act awkwardly; they will get stressed; they will act in self-defense, in selfish ways. They should not act sinfully, but they do. Will you then be prepared when they do?
One way of looking at my job is that I of a security official. It is my job to spot where conflict may arise. A new event is proposed. All right, will it conflict with another activity that may cause ruffled feathers? What do we need to do to communicate properly so there will not be misunderstanding and thus gossip? Who is most likely to take offense? And the questions go on. Basically, I am trying the think of where sin may creep in through a gap. In other words, I expect sin; I expect good, godly people to sin in their reactions to sin. I expect kind people to make hurtful remarks and patient people to get flustered. I expect wise people to make judgment errors and charitable people to show irritation. I expect people saved by grace and who revel in the redemption of Christ to be judgmental. I believe that we all have logs in our eyes that blind us to what is obvious to others.
We all bring baggage into our relationships. We bring it into the church, into marriages, into dating relationships, the workplace, at school, where we live – everywhere. We struggle with varying sins. Some of us have trouble controlling our tempers, resulting in public outbursts. Some of us have trouble with being undependable; we are late to meetings; we fail to keep commitments. Some of us are poor at planning and end up creating last minute crises for ourselves and others. Some of us are thoughtless of how we are imposing on the goodwill of others. Some of us out of self-interest take advantage of others, while some of us out of the same motive let ourselves be taken advantage of and will not address another brother's offense or set limits.
We ought not to show such behavior, but the truth is that we do, as has always been done in the church. Another phrase that catches my eye from the Ephesians 4 passage is in verse 2, "bearing with one another in love." The very fact that Paul is calling Christians to bear with one another reveals the acknowledgement that there are shortcomings we must bear with. If everyone is meek and gentle, everyone kind and charitable, then there is nothing to bear. We would be told to enjoy one another. But just as we may have bodily aches and pains to endure (as I am increasingly finding), so we will have the same in the church body.
Another significant doctrine is that you are a child of God, a brother or sister of mine in Christ Jesus. Therefore, my goal must be to encourage you to grow in maturity in Christ. So when you cause yet another problem in the church out of your sin specialties, I must address you not merely with the objective to sort out the mess you've caused, but to help you in your walk with Christ. In the end, I know that God will not question me about how well I sorted out space problems and got through another church event. He will ask me about the people under my care. He will want to know if I helped them along the way to spiritual maturity; if I encouraged them in their trials. He will not hold me accountable for the theology taught at a PCRT conference, but he will measure my service according to how I treated the staff and the volunteers serving the conference. Did I encourage them? Did I help them, not merely to get their work done, but to see the blessing of God in being in this church? Did I encourage them so that they want to be with God's people and serve his people?
You are a child of God, which means that you matter more than schedules and events. We do not take the view of the world that says to expect individuals to be crushed for the accomplishment of great things. This means that beyond helping your ministry take place, I must think about what is for your best. I cannot hold on to you to keep a ministry going, if indeed it is detrimental to your welfare; nor can I bump you out to save me some trouble. What is for your good?
If I keep these truths in perspective – that you are a sinner and that you are a child of God – I am more likely to think through how to handle any given situation. I will not overreact to your sin, nor treat you in a casual manner.
A question always to ask yourself in addressing a person's sinful behavior is "What is your aim?" That is a heart issue. And because you know theologically (not hypothetically) that you are a sinner, you know you must keep examining your motive. You may think that your aim is to help the other person, when it really is to make that person less troublesome to you or to get him to be good to you. A wife says that she is concerned for her husband's struggle with an addiction, when her real concern is the offense she feels by his failure to be a good husband to her. The result is that she resorts to methods of "help" that in reality are expressions of her anger and distrust. She is shocked to find him not merely a sinner, but a sinner against her. A husband may think that he is concerned for the welfare of his wife, that he is trying to care for the spiritual condition of the child of God for whom he is responsible. The reality is that he wants a wife who is responsive to him the way he wants her to be.
Don't be blind to yourself as a sinner who hurts others, especially those closest to you. We all admit freely that we are sinners whom God deals with by grace. But we view ourselves as sinners in the abstract. We don't see how hurtful we are, because as Jack Nicholson would say, "You can't handle the truth!"
Expect sin; remember that your sinful brother or sister is a child of God; and exercise the theological truth that is the most significant in your life – grace. You are saved by grace. You live now by the grace of God who chooses each day to show you mercy rather than the judgment that would be yours were you not by grace covered with the righteousness of Christ. Let that theological understanding guide you in how you relate to others.
How does it guide you? It leads you to bear with one another as you overlook small offenses. It leads you to desire the good in others. It leads you to forgive seventy times seventy. If you grasp the grace shown to you – if you delight in the grace shown to you – and act from that vantage point, then the wisdom needed to deal with the problems and problem people that come your way...that wisdom needed will spring up in you.
Ultimately, our theology – what we really believe about God and his relation to us – is what will drive our behavior. Don't let good theology be only textbook deep. Make it heart-felt deep; use it to examine your heart and drive your relations with God and his children.
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