What is there to gain?

I entered this new year with one main goal-learning more about Christ.

There have been great gains so far from studying, with plenty of lessons learned and opportunities for application. What I didn’t count on was what I began to learn about myself.

As much as I would gain insight about Jesus, it was an automatic reflection of what I did or didn’t see in myself. Much of the time, my inward perspective and processing are NOTHING close to the way He would respond.

So you can imagine what would come next-CONVICTION.

But that’s a good thing.

A great thing actually!

Because without conviction, I will stay less than what He intends for me. Freedom is found as I welcome conviction and respond accordingly.

Why is this a great thing?

Apart from the loving refinement of Christ, I am helpless to mature as I should as a Christian. Conviction is meant to help me recognize my sin that separates me from God AND others.

That’s the thing about sin- it harms me and those around me, as it also hinders my relationship with the Lord.

All in all, it is just plain destructive.

Left to myself, as I’m sure many of you can relate, I am blind to it. Sin is easily ignored, justified, and condoned. That’s why it is actually a grace from God to receive His conviction on an area wrecking havoc in my life.

Two such areas I am learning that can be most destructive when left ignored, are clearly identified in Scripture. These two sins have a way of hardening hearts and deceiving minds like little else in my estimation. They are equally as dangerous to our faith, as they are devastating to our personal relationships with others.

In essence, they are behaviors that drive others away.

What I have learned is that I have the propensity for them both, so I have to be extra vigilant in my fight against them. Conviction, therefore, is my help in overcoming their isolating effects in my life.

How can I learn from Scripture?

Continuing to read through Jesus’ sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7, I come across His powerful warnings against these behaviors. His intent is not to instruct unbelievers in these passages but rather His disciples because they were the audience He was addressing.

After Christ gives the timeless example of how to pray, He adds this warning.

“In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part. Matthew 6:14-15 MSG

I find it frightening to think my own unforgiveness of others can impede the forgiveness I need from God. Yet, Jesus’ words are so clear.

As much as my own sin is offensive to a Holy God, the sin of others against me cannot compare in the slightest! My sin against God is worst than their sin could ever be against me. So what Jesus is saying is that if God is willing to forgive mine, I must be willing to forgive them.

I know how easy it is to SAY I have forgiven others when in reality, I have not.

How do I know when this is happening?

when I keep thinking about an offense
when my anger is not subsiding but grows with intensity
when I want to keep talking about it with others
when emotions of resentment and bitterness quickly surface
when I can’t seem to move past the hurts
when I want others to validate me and support my right to be offended more than my responsibility to forgive
when an apology given does not satisfy my wrath
when I desire to keep the offender owing me rather than allowing their sin debt to be paid in full as mine has against God
when I keep a running tally of who has done what to me in the back of my mind
when I have to make continual changes in my life in order to accommodate avoiding the growing list of people on my list

Truthfully, unforgiveness on my part isolates me from God and others. It changes me on the inside but it also changes me on the outside.

I remember about 15 years ago, standing in the sanctuary of my church when someone I felt “owed” me walked by. Instinctively, my lip curled! I didn’t mean for it to do that but it did. No one saw it but I was totally embarrassed!

I was trying to hide my true reflection on how I felt but I couldn’t! My heart was revealed by that curled lip. God was not snowed nor were others probably. Body language and facial expressions reveal volumes!

What is going on inside of me inevitably shows itself outwardly, thereby driving others away because of the negativity oozing out.

What else drives people away?

Not only do I not want to face God at my death with a heart full of unforgiveness toward others, neither do I want to judge others with a level of harshness that God will then use with me!

“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt?Matthew 7:1-4 MSG

Unforgiveness drives people away just as much as a critical spirit. Looking for the faults of others will leave us lonely and isolated.

The enemy has a field day with Christians by keeping them distracted with mindfulness of the sins of others as opposed to their own. He wants us deceived! Ignorant of what the real issue is!

When we give in to the ease and dare I say fun, of going through life making lists of all that’s wrong with other people and their choices, we are in jeopardy with God and others.

Discipline await us from God and isolation from others. People can tell when they are being critiqued and ammunition is being gathered against them.

What is our calling?

I know my tendency to nurse grudges, rehash the wrongs and find the fault with others rather than address my own. The temptation to isolate myself because it is easier than extending forgiveness and love to others is ever-present. But the more I repent from the convictions God grants me, the more freedom and joy I experience. Unforgiveness and a critical spirit aren’t worth giving these blessings up!

As believers, we HAVE to forgive others and forsake our critical spirit. There is NO OTHER OPTION than obedience to the words of Christ. Faith without deeds is dead (James 2:26). What we say about ourselves and our faith must be evidenced.

The Apostle Paul shows us what is better. Love keeps no record of wrongs, is not self-seeking and does not delight in evil (1 Corinthians 13:5-6 reference).

Jesus Himself embodied love and forgiveness. Shouldn’t we?

We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.

If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.

1 John 4:19-21 MSG

Did this article encourage you?

Read more from the author Gretchen Fleming at Gretchenfleming.com. Gretchen is a Bible study teacher and speaker at Four Oaks Community Church in Tallahassee, Florida.

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