Most of us are probably too scared to ask this question, especially about the big questions of life. We might be able to admit we are wrong about picking a car mechanic, forgetting to bring an umbrella, or choosing something off the menu at a restaurant. But how many of us are willing to ask ourselves, what if I’m wrong when it comes to what really matters in life? What if I’m working the wrong job? What if I’m raising my kids wrong? What if my doctrinal commitments are wrong? On and on the list goes. Let’s face it: any of us could be wrong about anything, right? Furthermore, if we never allow ourselves to ask this question, we run the risk of perpetuating lies, hurting others, and limiting our own potential for good in the world.
A biblical example that shows us why asking this important question is so helpful is seen in the people Paul encountered at Berea.
Acts 17:11. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
These Jews had only the Old Testament. They had probably heard of other messianic claimants prior to Jesus. Now a missionary arrives, bringing a message that the Messiah had come, had been crucified, had been resurrected, and was now living in heaven. These were not easy truths to accept. Yet, these Bereans were willing to ask themselves the question, “What if we’re wrong?” Paul’s message made them ask themselves, “What if the Messiah comes twice? What if he had to die before inaugurating the messianic age?” They didn’t reject the strange new way of thinking about the Messiah, nor did they accept it immediately. Instead, they turned to the Scriptures day after day to figure out if this new gospel was true.
After some time, “many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men” (Acts 17:12). Such willingness to ask themselves if their view of the Christ was incomplete or stilted by tradition benefited this early group of Jewish Christians tremendously. Although we don’t know much more about this congregation, we know that later one of them, a man named Sopater, son of Pyrrhus, ended up traveling to Troas with trusted delegates from other churches. (See Acts 20:4-7.) Such inclusion implies a stable church in Berea.
There’s also a dark side to asking yourself, “What if I’m wrong?” If you ask this question too much, you can become self-focused and judgmental towards others who aren’t as zealous for righteousness. The Pharisees, for example, genuinely wanted to serve God with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength. To be a Pharisee in Jesus’ world was to be a serious person of faith who didn’t make excuses or hold back from serving God. No, Pharisees were Jews committed to holiness, to doing the right thing, to wholeheartedly living for God. They were the watchdogs, faithfully calling out worldliness—usually in the form of compromises to Greek or Roman cultural practices. Without the Pharisees and their predecessors, the Hasidim, by the time of Christ, Israel would have fallen into idolatry, eating unclean food, and sexual immorality.
If the Pharisees were such respectable reformers and preservers of truth, then why did Jesus have so much conflict with them? Much of the disagreement related to Pharisaic traditions that they regarded as non-negotiable but were not clearly taught in the Torah. We find Pharisees criticizing Jesus for neglecting to ritually wash his hands before eating, fasting on particular days, or spending time with tax-collectors and sinners. For the Pharisees, these behaviors violated fence laws they had long ago erected to protect themselves from transgressing God’s commandments. Nevertheless, Jesus often occupied the space between the fence and the cliff. Sometimes, he even appeared to jump right off the cliff like when he healed on the Sabbath day. However, Jesus pointed out that his actions were approved exceptions to the general prohibition of work, since he was acting to free someone Satan had bound or rescue a lost sheep.
Over and over, Jesus prioritized compassion for the hurting ahead of obedience to the letter of the law. When he confronted them, he said:
Matthew 23:23-24. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
This is the flaw in striving to do good in the world. You can get so focused on the minutiae of doing what’s right that you miss what really matters. It’s honorable to carefully divide out God’s portion and give it to His work. However, if your meticulous attention to righteousness results in a nasty attitude toward others who are not wired the same way as you, then your virtue has become your vice.
Once again, consider the Pharisees of the Gospels. They saw Jesus preach about the Kingdom of God. They heard him teach about living for God. They were there when he cast out demons, opened the eyes of the blind, and healed the man with the withered hand. They witnessed all of this, and they missed it. They met the Messiah face to face and rejected him. The one God sent to teach His people, they ignored; the one God sent to heal His people, they harassed; the one God sent to save His people, they persecuted. What’s more, the Pharisees did all of this thinking they were right. Even though Jesus gave them so much evidence to believe he was the Messiah—even raising the dead multiple times—they still rejected him because he violated their expectations of what the Messiah should be and do.
What about you? Have you been so focused on doing something the right way that you were blind to how that affected others? Thankfully, God does not leave us floundering in despair like a fish on land. No, He gives us hope, but only if we can admit we don’t know it all; that we aren’t experts on everything; that we can be wrong about what really matters. The seed of the gospel takes root only in soft ground. Is your heart soft?
The gospel is that God alone is the rock whose works are perfect. All His ways are just. He is faithful and upright. He alone is without iniquity or corruption (Deut 32:4). He sets the standard for right and wrong.
As good as we might try to be, we still make mistakes. We still get it wrong. We still miss what matters and strain out gnats and swallow camels. We have not perfectly lived up to God’s standards of right and wrong. If we’re honest, we haven’t even lived up to our own standards. Coming to grips with this truth is painful but necessary. Only those who confess they have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God can be justified by His grace
Grace. What a mind-blowing concept God’s grace is! It can feel like a slap to the face and the most soul warming truth all at once. The fact that someone else died for our sins offends us. “I’ll take my own consequences, thank you very much,” we say. But here’s the truth. You can’t take your own consequences. Well, that’s not entirely true. You can take them, but it will be the last thing you do. After all, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). So, either you take your own consequences, or you accept God’s free gift of forgiveness.
Jesus was tempted in every respect as we are, yet never sinned (Heb 4:15). He is the only perfect man who has ever lived. He alone is qualified to be the sacrifice for us all. He carried our sorrows; he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities (Is 53:4-5). All of us like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—each one of us—to our own ways. So, the LORD laid on him the iniquity of us all (Is 53:6). In his death, Christ did what we could not do for ourselves. He paid the price and made redemption possible if we can just receive it
If you will confess that Christ died for your sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day, you will be saved (1 Cor 15:3-4). Not only can you be set free from oppressive perfectionism, self-criticism, and guilt, but you also receive a hope of a coming age when everything wrong with the world will be made right, permanently.
This gospel is indeed good news for everyone willing to ask the question, “What if I’m wrong?” It is good news because it answers definitively and unapologetically, “Yes, you are wrong, but it’s ok, because God has made a way to make you right.” The good news is that by accepting God’s grace earned through Christ’s cross, you can receive forgiveness, healing, and mercy, resulting in a gracious attitude towards others who likewise don’t live up to God’s perfect standards.
What’s more, as we continue through life, following Jesus as Lord, we can make mistakes. Falling short is not the end of the world; it’s a temporary annoyance we must put up with on the way to the Kingdom. Thankfully, Scripture tells us, “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). Because of him, we can confess our sins and receive forgiveness and cleansing from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). This ongoing walk with the Lord is worth it since the journey ends with a renewed heavens and earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Pet 3:13).
To conclude, we all need those who will hold us accountable, keep us from wandering away from what is true, and point out problems so we can improve. Without these people, we can cut corners, miss important flaws, or allow ourselves to slowly descend into laziness or dysfunction. Nevertheless, God’s grace helps us to stay in balance when we see imperfections in ourselves and others. Because we’ve been shown love, compassion, and forgiveness when we didn’t deserve them, we can do the same for others. Because God is always right, we can trust Him to satisfy the deepest desires of our hearts. With God as our guide, we can rest assured He will always lead us to what is right.
I want to feel the transformation
A melody of reformation
But the list goes on forever
Of all the ways I could be better, in my mind
As if I could earn God’s favor given time
Or at least “congratulations”
Now, I have learned my lesson;
The price of this so-called perfection is everything
I’ve spent my whole life searching desperately
To find out that grace requires nothing of me1
1 Sleeping at Last, “One,” Asteroid B-612, 17 on Atlas: II, April 23, 2018, YouTube.