(This is an e-mail I sent to some of the members of St. James Church on December 9th, 2013)
Several people have written me today asking for the Nelson Mandela quote I used yesterday in church. When President Bill Clinton was going through his scandal, many world leaders withdrew from him and many Evangelical leaders were determined to use his sins against him in every possible way. Clinton asked Nelson Mandela why he remained such a faithful friend during that time, to which he responded,
“My morality does not allow me to desert my friends.”
I think this goes to the core of our message. Our response to another person’s sin reveals whether or not we are Christ-like. If we are authentic Christians, we respond to others the way Christ responded to us in our sin, with healing and redemption, desiring to befriend us. In contrast, if we respond by seeing ourselves as superior and are willing to use others’ sins against them, we may actually become enemies of Christ’s work. We Christians are advocates of repentance, forgiveness, redemption, transformation, healing, and resurrection. Enemies of the Gospel, though they may call themselves “Christian,” reveal themselves by trying to deny another’s resurrection. Strangely, enemies of the Gospel’s work in another often believe in resurrection for themselves.
Another person’s sin is our opportunity to model what Christ is doing in us. When another sins, it should never be surprising to a Bible-believing Christian. Though we believers are to be dominated by His righteousness, we are perfected only when we see Him face-to-face. So another’s sin simply validates the Bible’s teaching about our human condition and every person’s need to grow in Christ. God saw our sin and revealed his heart toward us by sending Jesus, a sure solution for our sin problem.
For us to be like Him, we respond to another’s sins with the New Testament solution; forgiveness, hope, healing, and restoration. Another person’s sin is our opportunity to be like Christ, to be a healer and a minister of redemption. Too often, though, Christians have confused their morality as superiority and see another’s sins as the enemy, not the opportunity. Why? I believe many have not settled in their own minds the biblical solution to mankind’s sin problem, so rather than applying the Gospel, they naturally resort to natural law, which is judgement, punishment, humiliation, dehumanization, and death. The New Testament says we have a new and better way.
I do not know what Nelson Mendela’s faith position was, but I do know that the Holy Spirit has the ability to work with whomever He chooses (Acts 2:17), and that maybe during Nelson Mandela’s time in prison, the fundamental ideas of the Gospel and their inherent power came alive in him. As a result, he developed an understanding of friendship that makes allowance for the faults of others (see Ephesians 4:2 and Colossians 3:13), and helped advance the cause of equality under the law in South Africa through forgiveness of past grievances. He understood and demonstrated the power of forgiveness. He modeled healing as a response to the sins of others and as a result, changed the world one more time. And for this, the world honors him among its greatest men.
We all need to apply the Gospel, not simply believe it.
I Corinthians 13:4-7, “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”