There are several types of accusation that cause us to circle our wagons in a defensive posture. There is JUST accusation – you are accused because you did wrong, and the accusation is true. It is just. There is INCONCLUSIVE accusation – you are accused of something you don’t think you did, but your accuser is pretty sure you did. And there is UNJUST accusation – your accuser is speaking clear, provable falsehood about you. The gospel meets us in all of these types of accusations and equips us to bear each.
I wrote recently on how the gospel equips us to embrace authentic confession and eschew self-justification. Today, I am thinking about a similar idea – that the gospel frees us from circling the wagons in defensiveness when we are accused.
Defensiveness–excessively concerned with guarding against the real or imagined threat of criticism, injury to one’s ego, or exposure of one’s shortcomings. (www.dictionary.com)
After a long history in the church, I’ve gotten to watch a number of different people from a number of different backgrounds accused in each of those categories. Sometimes they are humble people who are already well familiar with their failings. Those people rarely embrace defensiveness. They know all too well their ability to wound those they love. They value repentance and find in it a balm that soothes their soul.
[I need to stop to clarify the difference in the Christian understanding of repentance and the general use of it in English-speaking societies. It’s used in our culture to mean regret for something you have done. However, in Scripture, it’s not just feeling bad about something. It’s a recognition of our wrongdoing and NEED for forgiveness that ALSO turns to God to forgive and correct it.]
In contrast to Biblical repentance, defensiveness is a response that says “I don’t have a need.” I expect this from those who don’t understand the gospel. But I note this response quite often among Christians that, in theory, embrace the gospel, especially Christian leaders – like somehow preaching or teaching the gospel has freed them from their actual need of it. What it is that causes people who should value repentance more than anyone else (at least if you measure the veracity with which they call others to repent) to avoid it like the plague for themselves?
The foundation of the gospel is that I NEED THE GOSPEL. It’s good news because apart from it, the news is so very bad! We were made in the image of God. Yet we were born with Adam’s sinful DNA. And while any one of us may do many good things, the gospel teaches that there is no end to the evil we are capable of. By our very nature, we deserve the wrath of God (Ephesians 2). But God has stepped in and clothed us, not with our own righteous works which are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), but with CHRIST’s righteousness. The mark that you really get this truth is HUMILITY, not defensiveness that you are too moral to even consider you may have sinned.
In light of this gospel, let’s consider the 3 types of accusation that I mentioned in the opening. We probably all agree with the problem with circling your wagons when you are justly accused. But what about defensiveness when you are inconclusively accused or outright unjustly accused? I highly recommend my pastor’s sermon on Absorbing Injustice for those who are outright unjustly accused. It centers on Christ’s example at His trial and how the gospel equips us to absorb and endure injustice and return it with grace, the exact opposite of what is deserved by our opponent.
As for those who are inconclusively accused, let me challenge you. What would you do if someone came to you and said that 15 years ago, when they were a teenager and you were a spiritual authority over them, you said or did something to them that wounded them? Many respond, “What? Who? Me? No way I’d EVER do something like that!” My unbelieving friends recognize this hypocrisy among Christians easily. They know well when we are more concerned about their sin than our own. Few things strangle evangelism like Christians who sniff out sin in their culture while ignoring the stench of their own.
I read one conservative Christian pastor defending his wife online by saying that no virtuous woman would ever say something as offensive as she was accused. Apparently, in his belief system, she has reached some level of Mother Theresa type sainthood and is no longer capable of sin. Frankly, in that case, he needs to examine his understanding of the gospel. Even if you accepted Christ as a young person, you weren’t saved from BECOMING a really bad sinner. Some of us became a believer at a young age and have strived to reach that virtuous status, where you finally become above the capability of sinning. I bought into that idea for a while, trying to become a person full of wisdom who always got it right. It finally dawned on me, via Paul’s struggle in Romans 7, that wrestling with my sin nature didn’t indicate failure on my part. It just indicated reality. Making peace with the fact that you are indeed a sinner is pretty core to moving past a preschool-level interaction with the gospel. The gospel is precious to me because I need it today, and I REST in it today.
Personally, if someone comes to me and says that 20 years ago when I was their camp counselor, I said something that wounded them, I’d tend to believe it. Because I’m not always right. I don’t always respond correctly. And I am capable of flippantly hurting someone with careless words that didn’t mean enough to me that I’d even remember. When we are inconclusively accused, we likely don’t recall the details. But remember that things can seem trite to a grownup in power though they profoundly impact the younger person under their authority.
If you have been accused, do not choose defensiveness. Defensiveness is for people who DON’T UNDERSTAND THE GOSPEL. The gospel completely frees us from a need to circle the wagons and defend ourselves. God circled the wagons 2000 years ago and accepted Christ’s perfect sacrifice in the middle. Then He smashed the wagons. We don’t need them anymore. God has freed you from your need for self-protection.
This is the dividing line, the fork in the road. When you are accused, do you defend yourself and try to discredit your accusers? Or do you take a serious look at yourself and recognize that even if you don’t perceive things happening that way, this person DID? Perception is reality for the one who perceives it. Whose sin are you more suspicious of – theirs or yours? Are you more suspicious that they are trying to persecute you by telling lies about you? Or are you more suspicious of your own ability to say or do something in passing that wounded someone else that you then forgot? Remember well Paul’s exhortation in I Corinthians 13. Biblical love is ever ready to give the benefit of the doubt. Give the benefit of the doubt to your accuser. Biblical love calls you to do this, and the gospel protects you from being destroyed by their accusations.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, says Christ in Matthew 5. Not the humbly dressed or the poor in bank account. Being of humble means is irrelevant if you have a high view of your personal spiritual abilities. In contrast, poverty of spirit is a counterintuitive means of blessing. Happy are those who are spiritually bankrupt, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Don’t fear humility. Don’t embrace defensiveness. Humble repentance in light of the gospel is a wonderful, freeing thing. And it’s a fundamental of our faith, is it not?