If you’ve grown up in the same town for a while: there are many who time-stamp you with certain labels that are nearly impossible to shake. You’re the lazy one. The angry one. The unreliable one. The bad kid. The loud girl. That one time you ___. And when we outgrow those labels, the shackles can still follow us.
Most of us do grow up: but we feel a need to defend ourselves or explain our actions or really win the trust of our neighborhood opinion. Yet there are always a few who have made up their mind about you, and they will always see you as the little punk kid who can’t possibly change.
I’ve been in the same town almost two decades and have made bad choices at least the first half of it. So up to this day, I’m still in a gossip-chokehold. Every few weeks, someone else is saying, I can’t believe you’re really a pastor now. Didn’t you hate God? Weren’t you at the strip club every weekend? Weren’t you running into the cops all the time?
Even in ministry, there are tons of pastors and leaders who will subtly sow those seeds of suspicion about other people. Be careful with her, she’s a little too friendly. Yeah that guy can preach but he’s got some issues at home. You don’t want to attend that church, they’re all crazy there.
Recently I made a sacrificial decision to my own hurt that was intended to be gracious to others. I knew I had to because it was the right thing to do. It was done secretly without much fanfare. And as expected, 1) most people assumed I had done the easy dishonorable thing, and 2) they were surprised to find I had done the right thing.
Which means, no one ever wants to believe that people can change. We think the grace of God is reserved for the people we prefer. We say that “God loves everyone” until it comes to a difficult person, to some guy with history, to some girl with baggage, as if Jesus died for everyone except the people we don’t like.
We find grace an uncomfortable proposition. It’s easier to assume that someone is the one-dimensional cartoon caricature that we wish them to be, because it means we don’t have to expend energy to get into their struggle. We write someone off and dismiss them because it’s our natural flesh-driven position. We don’t contend for love. We call it “wisdom” when it’s really just laziness.
May I please beg of us to reconsider this? Because the moment any Christian thinks that someone is beyond redemption: we are calling ourselves God. We’ve traded the truth for a wicked evil idol. We’re suckerpunching God’s sovereign grace.
The only reason you might have any happiness today is because someone else gave you a chance you didn’t deserve. Your friend decided not to believe the local rumors about you, and even when they were true: your friend acted like they were not. Jesus gave you grace you couldn’t earn, and if you’re not offering that to others, you haven’t understood grace at all.
But regardless of who says what — keep doing what you’re doing. Do your best anyway. You might not get to share your side of the story. No one might ever believe you’ve changed. Maybe no one will see you’re striving for sincerity, that you actually love Jesus, that you’ve become more patient and humble and gracious than you’ve ever been.
But that’s okay. Because you have grace for the people who don’t.
The thing is: Even when you do the right mature thing, others will assume you’re doing it to get ahead or look good or show off. When you do wrong, it’ll only confirm pre-made biases that were set in stone way before you. Both of these judgments are obsolete antiquated opinions that will almost never change no matter what you do: so do what’s right anyway, and don’t worry.
Your life will be a testimony to Christ, and they will believe Him.
His glory will be enough.