I think I spend a significant portion of my life not to be a jerk. It’s just too easy, isn’t it? There’s a sense of joy in telling someone what you really think of them or perhaps ramming the car in front of you for taking too long at the drive-thru. And I’m sure TV didn’t make it easier by ingraining the belief that verbally eviscerating someone’s soul is perfectly acceptable as long as you were really funny.
But I’m a Christian. I can’t do that. And truth be told, I don’t want to. I want to be at peace with people more than I want to pop their heads off like wine corks. But like many Christian things, this got twisted. Instead of just not being a jerk, I simply stopped doing verbs. The less you do, the less you offend, see? I didn’t want to be mean to anybody because being mean was unChristian. Be at peace, don’t hurt feelings, don’t offend or God will be unhappy. After all, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”
That’s right, I lived my life according to the Gospel of Thumper. Thankfully, I’ve recently discovered that this little “nice” quote isn’t as Christian as it sounds. In fact, in some ways, it’s the opposite.
Case and point: Jesus. Jesus was good, he was loving, and he was accepting. But he wasn’t nice. He called the religious leaders a bunch a vipers (Matthew 3:7, 12:34, AND 23:33). When his disciples couldn’t cast out a demon, he said “Oh, faithless and perverse generation…how long will I bear with you?” (Mark 9:19). And several times, Jesus basically said, “A lot of people are going to Hell.” Nice people don’t say those things. Nice people don’t want to make others uncomfortable.
Jesus wasn’t nice, but he was right, and right beats nice any day. I’ll repeat that so you can tweet that (rhyming!): Right beats nice any day.
But what if it might not be right after all? I mean in case I’ve fooled any of you, I am not Jesus. I make mistakes, and mistakes can hurt people. But passivity can be sinful, too. Take Adam who didn’t stop Eve from sinning. Or the guy who doesn’t go when the light turns green. So we often need to act, but how can you know for sure this is the time and place? And how can you be certain that what you’re saying or doing is absolutely the right thing?
You can’t. But that’s what grace is for.
I would bet my life savings of twenty-three dollars that I’m not the only Christian who suffers from paralysis because he’s afraid he might offend God in some way. I bet I’m not the only Christian who grew up with a PhD in “What Not to Do” but got a D-minus in “What to Do.” Christians tend to put up more road blocks than roads. So maybe you, too, are stuck in neutral because you might drive the wrong way. Freedom can be scary like that.
But here’s the awesome part: with freedom comes grace. Jesus brings both with the cross. The cross doesn’t go on a sin-by-sin basis. And you can’t sin your way out of God’s reach or his love. If you mess up, you’re covered. If you lose your temper and call your wife all sorts of nasty names, he’ll forgive you. If you make a business decision that turns out to ruin your company, he’ll forgive you. If you make a choice that ends somebody’s life, he’ll forgive you.
Now hear me: this isn’t license to sin. The Bible specifically says, “Shall we continue in sin so that grace may abound? Certainly not!” (Romans 6:1-2). But you don’t have to be paralyzed in fear because what you’re doing might be the wrong thing. If the Bible says it’s wrong, don’t do it. But if it’s one of the many minute situations in which the Bible is mum, use discretion.
That’s the other truth: practice makes perfect. Trial and error is a wonderful teacher (albeit a painful one). Through experience and walking with God, you learn over time which situations call for action and which call for endurance, when to speak and when to shut the heck up. So when you are a jerk, you don’t just stop talking period, you simply learn what to say and how to say it. This is called sanctification. Yes, God does give wisdom to us, but every single person has to practice walking in it before they get the hang of it.
God knows you’re not perfect. And he’d much rather you step out boldly than freeze in fear because freezing shows that we don’t really trust the power of the cross. Go ahead and make some mistakes. And when you do, let God show you how to make fewer of them. I know this breaks a lot of unspoken social rules, especially in Christian circles, but then again, welcome to freedom.