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The only means for peacemaking in our daily lives is the peacemaking of the cross. The humble substitutionary sacrifice of Christ is the fuel for all of our peacemaking. We can combat daily conflicts because Jesus stood at enmity with his Father in our place. By bringing us close to God and remaking us in his image, the perfect image of God, the work of Jesus motivates us to resolve conflict and teaches us how to resolve conflict.
With the cross as our means and motivation for peacemaking, there are tangible and practical ways that we can make peace in the midst of our conflict with others. Gospel-centered peacemaking requires self-emptying humility, self-surrendering sacrifice, and self-forsaking satisfaction in Jesus. What we are after in peacemaking is reconciliation. Since conflicts are to be expected in a fallen world, we must be ready to live out the gospel by seeking peace and reconciliation when we sin against others and when others sin against us.
Seeking and offering forgiveness can be sticky, messy, and confusing. While we desire to live peaceably with all, there are times when conflicts must remain because convictions cannot be compromised. But in order to practically seek and offer forgiveness and reconciliation during conflict, some guidance is helpful. Ken Sande offers a helpful guide in seeking peace and reconciliation in a way that is humble, self-sacrificial, and Christ-centered.
In what he calls the “Seven A’s of Confession,” (The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004. pp. 126-133). Sande provides a practical guide that flows from the peacemaking work of Christ on the cross to help us pursue reconciliation. Here I list his seven steps and provide brief comments below each of them.
1. Address everyone involved.
If we have sinned against a group of people, then we address everyone involved. We don’t just go to those we like. Partiality has no place in gospel-centered reconciliation. In my own life, if I have been hard to get along with in a staff meeting, it isn’t enough to only come to the lead pastor and ask his forgiveness. Before the whole staff, I need to say, “Guys, I was a jerk in that last meeting. Please forgive me.” It’s not enough to only address one person in a group you have sinned against. Address everyone involved.
2. Avoid if, but, and maybe.
When you meet with someone to seek reconciliation, you don’t need to set conditions on your forgiveness or request for forgiveness. Conditions lack humility, sacrifice, and ultimately faith in Christ. Peacemaking requires taking sin seriously. When you place conditions like “if, but, and maybe” on forgiveness and reconciliation, you are making peace, but accusations, which will lead to greater conflict.
3. Admit specifically.
This is crucial. Asking forgiveness for “messing up the other day” is not enough to encourage peace. When confessing sin to others, be specific. You sinned. You know what you did. Be transparent and clear. Specifically confessing sin communicates that you recognize how you have wronged someone and how remorseful you are because of it. Again, in this we see the humility and self-sacrifice of Christ. Pride wants to stay as general as possible. But humble faith in Christ dies to self and admits specific sins.
4. Acknowledge the hurt.
Something I have learned in the early years of my marriage is that it isn’t enough to just ask my wife for forgiveness. I need to truly sympathize with her hurt. The sweetest moments of reconciliation usually come on the heels of silence on my part. Listening to how she feels when I say or do certain things shows that I actually want her forgiveness and that I really want to be reconciled with her. Going through the motions doesn’t fool anyone, especially wives, guys. Humble genuineness goes a long way toward making peace.
5. Accept the consequences.
Reconciliation doesn’t always mean that the relationship goes back to the way it was. There are always consequences to sin. When you sin against someone, you need to accept the fact that there are going to be consequences, and sometimes this means the whole dynamic of the realationship has shifted. Reconciliation is still possible, even if the relationship changes. Accept the consequences.
6. Alter your behavior.
The cross redefines your relationship with God. By no merit of your own, Christ reconciles you to God by the blood of his cross. But this unmerited favor, or grace, isn’t only powerful enough to give you new standing with God. No, this grace empowers you to live out the implications of this new relationship every day. And a reconciled relationship with God means we can have reconciled relationships with others. The grace that reconciled us to God works to reconcile us to others. So, we don’t just ask for forgiveness and then go right back to what we were doing. The gospel demands that we repent. Repentance is the natural vibration of the Christian life. So, from the position of peace with God based on no merit of our own, we should change the way we interact with others. If we are harsh with our tone, ask forgiveness and then change the way you speak to others. Repentance is an expression of your trust in the peacemaking work of Jesus.
7. Ask for forgiveness.
Simple, yet profound. A beautiful expression of Christlike humility and self-sacrifice is to simply walk up to someone you have wronged and say, “Please forgive me.” Whether they actually forgive you or not is irrelevant. We do need to be prepared for the moment when you follow all of these steps, but sometimes you will not be forgiven. If someone doesn’t forgive you, this would not be the time to jump in defense and say, “Hey bro, I humbly repented and asked forgiveness. It’s your job to say, ‘I forgive you.’ Get with it!” No, all you do when someone doesn’t forgive you is love them, bless them, pray for their good, and show them grace. As Paul would say, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:14). As one who has received peace by the blood of Christ, you are to pursue peace regardless of how the other party responds.
Peacemaking requires humility. Peacemaking requires sacrifice. Peacemaking is only possible through the blood of Christ. Pursue peace in all of your relationships. And know that when you fail in your efforts to reconcile, know you belong to one who perfectly offered himself as the perfect image of God to die in your place so that you might eternally be brought into the presence of God where there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. In the macro and micro conflicts in your lives, run to the ultimate Peacemaker who makes peace by the blood of his cross.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.