The Horizontal

portrait-of-jesus (1)

Becoming Christlike is the goal.

In my post A Lesson in Holiness I wrote about keeping a repentant heart before God by using the Word of God to separate who you are in Him from the sin nature that is in your flesh.  That’s the vertical beam of the cross:

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself.  The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments, (Matthew 37-40, emphasis mine).

For some of us the vertical is much easier than the horizontal because God is perfect and never changes.  Our neighbors are quite another thing.  The Bible says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God[1].  All means all.  And if all the people around you sin, then sooner or later some of them will sin against you—even other Christians.  Even those dearest to you.

The defeated enemy loves to pit us against each other.  He will whisper in your spouse’s ear to say or do something that will push your buttons.  For me it was being accused of lying.  When I was a young wife, I worked very hard at overcoming habitual lying, so this was a hot button issue for me.  I can just imagine the glee as the defeated enemy watched the fireworks when my husband would accuse me of lying.  Then one day he came home from work and asked if it had rained at home.  I said no.  “You’re lying!”  The absurdity of being accused of lying about something as trivial as the weather made me realize the true situation: that this was the voice of the defeated enemy echoed in my husband’s voice.  I said, “look out the window,” and left the room, no fight.

The defeated enemy will goad those who you love and trust into sinning against you.  And it is your sense of having been betrayed (even in the smallest ways) that makes it so hard to forgive—especially when you have to forgive them again and again and again: seventy times seven[2].  And even harder when they don’t apologize.  Yes, of course you’re supposed to forgive whether the person apologizes or not.  Forgiveness, in the end, is not for them.  Forgiveness is for yourself.  You’re letting yourself have peace when you forgive others.

Now here’s the really cool thing that will help this process: as I wrote in A Lesson in Holiness, you learned to separate your view of yourself (as God sees you) from the sin nature that continues to live in you.  Now do that same separation for your neighbor.  Learn to see them as God sees them: separated from their sin nature, too.

This is part of your personal sanctification process, too.  As you learn to do this separation, forgiveness will flow much easier.

I had a teacher who was very cruel to me.  For some reason she picked me from the whole class to verbally abuse and humiliate.  When I became a Christian I knew that I had to forgive her, but it was so hard because I was still wounded.  Then I read something that said that forgiveness is not something that you do when you’re feeling better.  Forgiveness is a decision you make.  So I made the decision to forgive her, even while not feeling like doing it.  In fact, I took Jesus’ words about forgiving seventy times seven seriously, and every time she came to mind, I forgave her.  Then one day several years ago she spontaneously popped into my mind, and my immediate response was: “How could she possibly have known how precious I am to You, Lord?”  When I heard myself say those words, I knew that forgiveness had done its work, and the wound had completely healed.

My teacher was not a Christian.  But what do we do when a Christian treats us cruelly?  The exact same thing.  Because again, forgiveness is not for them.  Forgiveness is letting yourself off the hook.

If we can get both the vertical and the horizontal right, then we will be truly Christlike.  And that is the goal.  God is good!

[1] Romans 3:23, NKJV.

[2] Matthew 18:22.

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