I Might Be Wrong
Rev. Robert Fleischmann, National Director, Christian Life Resources
“I thought I was wrong, but I was mistaken.”
Admitting errors can be a tough pill to swallow. In the last book of the Bible, the church of Laodicea faced the harsh reality that they were wrong. We read:
You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (Revelation 3:17)
In these contentious times, we find it very easy to spot an error in others’ arguments and reasoning. Here’s a challenge to consider how this reality applies to us.
A Dual Reality
Each week, our worship liturgy invites us to confess the sins we continue to commit and assures us of our forgiveness in Christ. What more can be expected?
Because this is a matter of deep religious conviction, we are inclined to take great offense at any suggestion of insincerity. Therein lies some of the problem.
Our logic suggests that if we truly believe it, we live it. Yet, the Apostle Paul – who referred to himself the “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15) – described himself in this way:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. (Romans 7:15)
He concluded a few verses later with the summation:
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? (Romans 7:24)
On the one hand, we know we have been washed and cleansed of our sins through Jesus (1 Corinthians 6:11). Yet, we continue to sin. Faith often conflicts with performance.
Our Sad Inclination
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3)
This is more than a warning against self-righteousness. Look deeper. Where does our blindness to the plank in our own eye come from?
Following the Genesis Flood, God inhaled the fragrance of Noah’s offering, placed the rainbow in the sky, and made this pledge:
“Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.” (Genesis 8:21)
Did you catch it? Even after the Flood, every inclination of the human heart remained evil. Now personalize it: “Every inclination of my heart is evil.”
It is our inclination to be hostile towards God (Romans 8:7), to see the faults of others (Luke 6:41-42), and to do the evil that our faith instructs us not to do (Romans 7:19).
Not only do our actions, thoughts, and words deprive us of the right to be self-righteous, it compels us to face the harsh reality that at times we are wrong, sometimes very wrong, and sometimes frequently wrong. When you have this kind of internal force at work, it is advisable to be careful how quickly we share our opinions about things. After all, there is a rather likely chance it might be wrong.
This is not an argument for silence. Hardly! It’s an argument for prudence.
A wise Seminary professor once said, “Even our sincerest of tears are tainted with sin.” Everyone is impaired by the natural inclination to rebel against God. It even taints sincerity.
There is a philosophic movement underfoot known as alethic nihilism, which is the premise that there is no such thing as truth. The notion runs contrary to Christ’s words when he prayed:
“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17)
We live in a time of great moral complexity. Most everything involves ethical challenges. The shortcut approach is to merely give an opinion. The more challenging approach is to speak the truth.
You see, truth-speaking is not simply parroting bumper-sticker slogans which are lifted from the pages of Scripture. Truth-speaking comes with responsibility and is to be delivered with nuance.
Responsibly speaking, the truth means being responsible for knowing what “truth” is. It’s not just a cursory knowledge of Scripture; it’s an understanding that “truth” is much more than a single sentence – oblivious of context or consistency.
Yes, there are the simple passages that speak clearly about simple matters. For example, while knowing the gravity of sin puts us at odds with God, we also know the simple reality that God provided the solution. It is summed up in a nutshell:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
This truth is not found in nature, science, or the deep ruminations of philosophy. It is supernaturally revealed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Contrary to our evil inclinations, we believe. Simply put, it’s a miracle.
The objective truth of God’s sacrificial love in Jesus Christ compels a reaction. It is our reaction to the truth which testifies to how much we value that truth.
When someone gives us something of immense value, and we throw it away, ignore it, or never speak of it again, it suggests that we don’t value it. In contrast, when we treasure the gift, put it on display for others to see, and speak of it often, it becomes clear we greatly value the gift.
Making right ethical decisions in a culture opposed to God or warring against our own evil inclinations requires more than modest effort.
We are told:
Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:13–14)
It is wonderful to know we are saved by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Yet, unless we dig deeper and mature in our diet of God’s Word, we are not able to demonstrate our right response (righteousness) to the ethical challenges that come our way.
The actions that God calls “right” are rooted in the dual principles of loving him above all things and loving others ahead of ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). How those principles are put into practice in our relationship with others is called “application.”
“Maturity” in living right comes by “constant use” of God’s Word. The Greek word for “constant use” describes a “habit” or “repeated practice.” Maturity does not come by the occasional study of Scripture. In chapter 2 we are warned:
We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. (Hebrews 2:1)
Infrequent and inattentive exposure to God’s Word does not equip us to make right decisions as a demonstration of our love for God.
You might be thinking, “I’ve got this.” You attend church, listen intently to the readings and the sermon, and even read a three-minute daily devotion. Shouldn’t that suffice?
A test of rightness is consistency. Consider how consistent you are in your love for God and for others. Our inclination (remember that it is sinful) focuses on the high points. This is what the rich man did in his encounter with Jesus. As Jesus ticked off the commandments for perfect living, the man responded, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” (Matthew 19:20). Jesus’ reply demonstrated both our inability to earn eternal life and our ignorance of our own inconsistency:
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Matthew 19:21–22)
The Laodicean Christians thought they were doing it right. They “didn’t realize” that they missed it. Their actions were not as “right” as they thought or realized.
I propose a Biblical-caliber dose of humility.
Read Romans 7. The Apostle Paul did not call to mind any particular transgression. He recounted a flawed life, both in the past and in the present.
Resolving the great ethical challenges of our time doesn’t begin with a great knowledge of science, medicine, or philosophy. It begins with the humble realization of our flaws and desperate need for constant recalibration to rightly know what it is that pleases God and demonstrates our love for him.
Before we quickly give an opinion, perhaps we begin with the words, “I might be wrong…” That honest awareness might make us better bridge-builders with those who differ with us. All of us have evil inclinations – knowing that should help us to be more patient with the flaws of others, for in them we see ourselves.
Truth is found in Scripture. Knowing that we are evilly inclined should drive us deeper into God’s Word, to assure that if we proclaim “thus saith the Lord,” the Lord truly does “saith thusly.”
We cannot say or write as many words as we do without being wrong at times. Yet, it’s a reminder to zealously study Biblical truth. It compels us to become better disciples of our language and our subject in order to find the best vehicle, the best wording, and most compassionate way to convey the truth in love. In this way, we build a bridge for a continued dialog that leads to a discussion about him who saved us.
July 27, 2017
May 7, 2018