Respect the Image | Conclusion: Grace to Do What We Are ToldApril 20, 2021
As a conclusion to our trek through Respect the Image we invite you to explore our previous posts on the topic of the Gospel and Race to help flesh out some particular ways we can apply what it means to truly love our neighbor. We pray that God would make us into a people who enjoys, declares, and displays the gospel of Jesus for the joy of all peoples.
Grace to Do What We Are Told
What is the antidote for constant reminders of failure? Namely, the constant promise that failure and sin will not determine our fate as Christians. I remember my first grade teacher saying this little jingle like it was yesterday: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." The point was that trying isn't futile. "Success" requires effort especially if the endeavor is going to be difficult. Applying these biblical principles of communication truly is difficult, but trying and asking for help are the first steps of seeing what spiritual fruit the Holy Spirit will produce in us as we aim to be doers of the Word.
Doing God's Word is the difference maker between the fool and the wise person—in other words—the one saved through Jesus Christ or the one whose life remains condemned and unchanged. It's necessary for us as Christians, empowered by the Spirit of Christ, to keep trying—to keep striving to be doers of the word. That sanctified effort might take on many shapes: If at first you don't succeed at giving an attentive ear to someone pouring out their troubles, ask God to give you his attentive ears this time and try, try again. If at first you don't succeed at bridling your tongue, go confess your wrong and ask for forgivenes, then try, try again. If at first you assume the worst of someone, recall God's benevolence toward you, then try, try again.
Are inevitable moments of failure reason to abandon the effort, the prayer, and the humility required to grow in a lifestyle of profound respect for others? No. The Bible never describes failure as as disqualifier from future faithfulness. If a runner is tripped in a race, he or she is not disqualified but is helped up and invited back into that same race. By God's mercy, our dishonoring communication habits can be forgiven as we bring our sin to the only place where it has been stripped of its power— the perfect life, the blood, the grave, and the ongoing pleading of Jesus Christ our Advocate (1 John 2:1-2). By God's powerful grace at work in us, we won't always fail. However, when we do sin in public or secret ways, he lovingly invites us back into striving to obey him. In other words—to try, try again. We are promised that he will complete the work of conforming us to Jesus (Phil. 1:6, Rom. 8:29)— even in the ways outlined in the book we've been walking through together.
For Sovereign Grace Church Dayton
We have yet to explore and discover all the ways these communication principles might apply in the life of our church and in us as individuals. Perhaps it looks like an every-Sunday commitment to take an interest in others before, during, and after our gatherings. Perhaps it simply looks like sincere, attentive eye contact when someone is unburdening their heart. It's a trite statement, but it's true that "the possibilities are endless." If you're wondering where we might start, here are a few ways to apply what we've learned together from Respect the Image.
Consider how the good news of Jesus Christ shapes how you listen and speak to others. If we're honest, we often boil down godly communication to some version of bridling the tongue which could be put this way: "Just don't say anything angrily or in an offensive way and we will have accomplished our Christian duty." But is that all Jesus has called us to in loving our neighbor with restrained tongues and intentional speech? How does his mercy and grace in saving you, making you a new creation, opening your eyes to see human worth in every person, and enlisting you in his mission to save others make a difference in how you communicate with people? Consider even studying the gospel accounts to see how Jesus models communication as he tailored his words for particular situation, doing so without sin.
Take time to dream about our church. By "dream", I mean imagine and envision a church body that is increasingly growing in opening up to one another (leading to transparent people who aren't scared of seeming flawed, James 5:16), that is consciously thinking the best of its brothers and sisters (thus cutting out the legs of judgment, James 2:13, James 5:9, Luke 6:37), that is eager to be at peace together (a major priority for us, Eph. 4:3, Rom. 15:5-6), and that is dedicated to nourishing as many people as possible with gracious words (resulting in those who are "built up", 1 Thess. 5:11). What would this look like in your mind? What evidences of godly communication do you wish were noticable? What are some key components that are missing or are preventing this from happening? How can we pursue that vision in prayer? How can you be an example of this true and rich version of godly communication?
Practice the X-ray vision of respecting the image. Whether we're sorting out a disagreement, noticing a stranger a the bus stop, or having a team discussion at work, we have a choice to make. We can either acknowledge that every person bears God's image and is worthy of respect or we could ignore it, opening the door to all varieties of untrue and disrespectful thoughts of them. How are we supposed to see the innate value of someone when we feel wronged by them? By practicing. How do we push against our own internal but inaccurate racial stereotypes? By practicing. How do we see past someone's poverty to see their worth? By practicing the x-ray vision of respecting the image of God in them. With the help of God's own Spirit, we may begin to see everyone through a filter of respect and love rather than shrugging off their worth and replacing it with judgment. What might it look like for you to practice directing your first thought of others in the direction of acknowledging their image-bearing worth?
In it all, we have a Savior who has walked this road before and succeeded at every point. He was the perfect image-bearer as well as the perfect "respector" of that image in others. Not only is he our example, but he is also our hope. Our hope to be delivered from every sin and our hope to be able to increasingly follow him in whole-hearted, thankful, joyful obedience.
Register Here for our Respect the Image Seminar: May 1, 9am-3pm.