Early in my marriage, I interviewed for a ministry position that I didn't get offered. There were a lot of reasons why I wasn't offered to position (the main one being that I was immature and a jerk), but things started badly because the Senior Pastor knew a good friend of mine in seminary.
My friend (I'll call him Steve) had, at one point in his life, been militantly dogmatic and so wholly-unloving that he isolated a lot of other believers. Steve is a smart, well-read, and articulate man who can hold his own in any discussion or debate, and can be quite persuasive-- and early on he used his powers of persuasion for beating others over the head with his dogmatic beliefs. Years later, hecame to a deeper understanding of grace, and God used that season to make my friend into one of the most pastoral, caring, and gentle people I know, who is able to love others in ways that are living demonstrations of God's grace. In short, in many ways Steve is almost nothing like he once was.
I met Steve years AFTER his re-awakening to God's grace, and only knew him as that man. This Senior Pastor, though, only knew him before then. And at one point in the interview trip, the Senior Pastor asked me who some of the men who were helping me to grow were-- and among them I named Steve (not yet knowing that this pastor also knew Steve). His response was, "anyone who has been heavily influenced by STEVE is not someone I want influencing our children." The interview may as well have been over then.
Every time I think about that interview, two things always occur to me: first, what a jerk I was the whole time! And second, what a shame that this Senior Pastor has such a low estimation of the power of God's grace, that he cannot conceive that a man like Steve would ever be brought out of his dogmatism and unloving spirit. It had been almost 20 years since these men were in seminary together; was there no hope in this pastor that spiritual growth could occur in his classmate?
This was a valuable lesson for me. Since then, I have wondered how this same pastor would regard me, were we to meet again. Much has happened to me since then, and I believe that Christ has brought a lot of maturity to me in that time. While I still have a long way to go with spiritual maturity, I would hope that he (and others who knew me "back then") might give benefit of the doubt, trusting that God could have done much over 12 years.
Also because of that experience, I have often second-guessed my estimation of someone else, and by God's mercy have frequently checked myself when I was disappointed in the behavior or character of others. When I was in seminary, I occasionally saw immaturity in my classmates, and was inclined to wonder, "could God use men like that in His service?" Remembering my own experiences and times (like the one described above) when I was far-worse than merely immature, I determined to hope in the capacity of God's grace, and pray that He would exercise it beyond my wildest expectations.
Even now, just a few years after seminary (I finished in December 2005), I already see how He is doing that. I see and hear of men who I knew that are instruments for God's Kingdom in mighty ways. How much will God have done with them when 20 years have passed?
What is your view of the capacity of God's grace? Do you doubt that He can bring even the most hardened or entrenched sinner to Himself? Do you question whether grace could be powerful enough to overcome the dogmatism, the anger, the unloving spirit of the most difficult Christian? Do you recognize and admit how far His grace has brought you from who you once were?
If we don't believe that someone can truly be new creations in Christ, perhaps we don't understand the measure of His grace. Perhaps we are blind to how far He has brought us. Maybe we even misunderstand the Gospel.
But if we see the depth and width and length and height of His grace and love for us, and how greatly He has saved us from who we were, we might also hope the same for others.