Ours is an era rife with painful division. Republican v. Democrat; Pro-life v. Pro-choice; Young Creationism v. Evolution; Reformed Theology v. Arminian Theology; in too many spheres, we are defined by where we stand in relation to a hard line that’s been drawn usually by someone else.
Finding a place in the center is not possible, nor is it commendable to try. For instance, either you think abortion is the killing of a baby, or you don’t. If that is what you think, then every abortion is the murder of the most defenseless of victims. On the other hand, if you think abortion is the exercise of coercion on the bodies of women, who have had their bodies fondled, ogled, used, and abused throughout history, then your position is just as clear. Either way, there’s no middle ground.
What reveals our character is how we handle the disagreement. Does every disagreement prompt us to be ready to fight, to stand our ground, and to draw defiant lines in the sand? Or, are disagreements the opportunity to show grace? How an individual answers says a lot about who he or she is. How you or I conduct ourselves in the conversation more clearly reveals our character than whatever stand we may take.
Titus 2:1 says, “Teach what is consistent with sound doctrine.” Of course such an imperative strikes up a debate. “What exactly do you mean by ‘sound doctrine?’” An argument ensues as two views are posited. Instead of the unending back-and-forth occurring over most litmus-test issues to day, turn back to Titus 2 and read all the way to the end of the chapter. Verses 11-14:
1 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all,[a]12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior,[b] Jesus Christ. 14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deed.
First note that grace precedes “training.” Before we even begin trying to live as Jesus’ disciples, we receive grace, that goodness from God that we desperately need, do not deserve and have not earned. Verse 14 is absolutely clear. Jesus gave himself up for us. We know “gave himself up” refers to his death on the cross. He did it so we would not be defined by sin (“iniquity”), but rather we would be seen as righteous. Because by his sacrifice he removes our sin, we, in spite of our continued mistakes and flawed ideas, stand in position to be in a right relationship with God and each other. That’s a relationship grounded in love, not in one’s stance on this or that issue.
Second, because grace defines us, we are free. We’re not bound by past mistakes. We’re not reduced to party affiliations or the stances we have proclaimed in the past. Instead, something else indicates who we are. Christ, not some compromised, moderated position, is our center. Christ is where we are located. Christ is where we stand.
Additionally, verse 13 makes clear that in Christ, God initiates the action, not us. This is especially hard for American Christians. We sometimes think we are the cause of the good things we get to be part of. But verse 13 says, “While we wait for the blessed hope and manifestation of glory.” That “while we wait” line lets everyone know blessing is coming, but coming on God’s timing. The idea of waiting feels frustrating and breeds anxiety, but it need not be so. While waiting for God to act, we can allow ourselves to be shaped by the Spirit. Instead of frustration, during the waiting we humbles ourselves, submitting to God’s timing and God’s initiative. If nothing happens, we wait for God to make it happen. During the waiting, we willingly die to self (Matthew 10:39) to become new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
As New Creations, we are who God makes us to be. We let our “gentleness be made known to everyone” (Philippians 4:4). What would the debate look like if the debaters (no matter the issue), instead of establishing their ground, stood on Christ, formed by the Spirit, and strove to embody gentleness? In that scenario, one can still be Republican or Democrat, Arminian or Reformed, but the gentleness of the Holy Spirit dictates how the conversation plays out.
We Christians cannot determine the social climate. There will be seasons of great and emotional contention and American culture is in the middle one of the most intense examples of such a season. That just is how it is. In the midst of the world, as it is, Christ-followers bring glory to Him by standing on him and letting that stand define how we participate in debates. We don’t permit the debate to say what kind of Christians we are.