The Joy of Being Wrong
Has the discovery that you were wrong about something ever delighted you? Often I respond to such discoveries with a grudging admission. But there is something wonderful about responding properly to truth, even the truth of being wrong. It shatters the illusion of self-righteousness and offers the possibility of true righteousness. When that possibility dawns on you, it is like a brightly glowing sun, rising to light up the landscape of your life.
Think about when you first received Jesus. Up until that moment you had been headed in the wrong direction, away from God. Then the Lord saved you. His truth invaded your heart and mind, and it didn’t matter that you had been wrong about Him before. What mattered was that you realized not only that you needed forgiveness, but that you’d found it in Him and in the truth of His love and grace. You acknowledged your sin, not grudgingly, but gratefully . . . because you could joyfully embrace His forgiveness. When I reached that point, I had been a rebel, living a life of guilt and sin. The week I repented and turned to Jesus I went to church and we sang the hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul.” When we came to this verse I broke down and wept:
“My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought,
My sin not in part but the whole,
Was nailed to the cross and I bear it no more.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord O my soul.”
I still can’t sing that verse without getting a lump in my throat.
As a missionary, I have the privilege of helping people see they are wrong. It is odd to think about evangelism this way but it is true. When people can admit they are wrong, they are grateful for it, and for the opportunity to become right. Of course it is more common to see people absolutely refuse to consider the gospel because they absolutely refuse to admit they are wrong. Most people have a vested interest in maintaining the illusion of being right at all costs. No wonder the world is in such turmoil.
Some Christians ask me why the rabbis don’t believe in Jesus. My answer is because no one would let them be rabbis anymore. The few rabbis I know who have come to Christ have suffered not only the loss of their jobs, but their families as well. The more a person stands to lose by admitting they are wrong, the less likely they are willing to consider the gospel, whether they are Jewish or Gentile. Salvation is always a miracle of God’s grace because only by grace can we admit that we are wrong and turn to the Savior. We can say as Paul did, “I am the chief of sinners,” and say it with great joy.
Sometimes we find that what we had accepted as a sad truth is actually not true at all . . . in which case being wrong is an obvious blessing. My friend Mike made such a discovery. When Mike began to follow Jesus, he was told that since he was a Christian he was no longer Jewish. Mike accepted that loss in order to follow Jesus but it caused a deep sadness within his heart. Then he met me and heard our Jewish gospel music team, the Liberated Wailing Wall. He told me that night he didn’t sleep a wink. He spent the entire night weeping and praising God over the realization that he, too, was a Jew for Jesus.
It is easy to see how being wrong like Mike was wrong comes as great news—like discovering that you made a math error in your checkbook registry and you have more money in your account than you thought. However, most of the time discovering we were wrong means seeing where we failed. And there is normally a cost involved in being/admitting we are wrong.
I generally find that the main thing I have to lose when I am wrong is my pride—and that does not come naturally. Most of us cling to our pride—because pride so often disguises itself as something else. Independence, freedom to exercise my choice, expressing my preference, etc.—these and other “options” are often just a cover for pride. But we have a choice. We can be wrong, refuse to admit it, and go on happily thinking we are right—or we can be wrong, admit it and go on happily becoming right. At times I would rather avoid the realization that I am wrong, which pretty much means I’ll keep on being wrong rather than admit it. How embarrassing is that? It is especially frustrating because one of the spiritual disciplines of my life is reading a chapter of Proverbs each day, and Proverbs speaks to this more than any book in the Bible.
“He who keeps instruction is in the way of life, but he who refuses correction goes astray” (10:17).
“Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid” (12:1).
“Poverty and shame will come to him who disdains correction, but he who regards a rebuke will be honored” (13:18).
“A fool despises his father’s instruction, but he who receives correction is prudent” (15:5).
“Harsh discipline is for him who forsakes the way, and he who hates correction will die” (15:10).
These are just a few of many verses that teach the benefits of admitting we are wrong and the consequences of failure to admit same. Failure to admit mistakes is a common way of refusing instruction. If I do so, Proverbs tells me that I am stupid, poor, shameful—a fool who will go astray and die.
Thankfully God’s grace is at work in me and in each one of us who have His indwelling Holy Spirit. My initial reaction to the suggestion that I am wrong is often to resist because of my sinful pride. But I want to be the kind of person who loves the truth more than I love a false impression of myself. So I am working on developing a listening ear and heart when people tell me things that run contrary to my own opinions. I ask myself the question, “Have you honestly considered what they are telling you or are you just trying to prove them wrong?” In the process I have discovered that I am wrong a lot. I have thought ill of certain people and found to my delight that I had been misinformed. I was wrong. As a result there is a restored relationship, my trust and respect for them has grown deeper than ever. There is great joy in that.
I have rejected advice that was contrary to my own opinion only to discover that my opinion had been wrong. By admitting I was wrong and going back to follow the advice, things worked out much better than I could have ever hoped. That’s not bad.
Jews for Jesus was actually born out of Moishe Rosen’s willingness to admit that he was wrong. Maybe you’ve heard the story. It was back in the ’60s and Moishe was invited to speak at an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship gathering at Columbia University. In the course of his talk he made a snide remark about hippies. “They talk like Tarzan, look like Jane, smell like Cheetah, say ‘make love not war’ but are incapable of either.” Moishe got a laugh from the audience but later faced a rebuke from a fellow Jewish Christian named Bob Berk. Bob asked Moishe, “Have you ever gotten close enough to a hippie to smell one of them? Don’t you know that many of these hippies you make fun of are Jewish? Instead of making fun of them you should be trying to tell them about Jesus.” Moishe listened to that rebuke and his response was a catalyst for the launch of Jews for Jesus. Bob went to be with the Lord last year but his role in our ministry will never be forgotten. Moishe’s willingness to admit he was wrong became a source of great joy for him and so many others, but most important, it has brought great glory to God.
What else might God do through people who love the truth enough to admit they are wrong? As we enter this New Year I hope to grow in this area of my life. I want to learn to love the truth more than my own pride. I want to discover the joy of being wrong so that God’s truth can shine out and bring Him the glory. I know that I will be wrong about a lot of things in this coming year. I hope to be quick to admit it and I am excited to see what God will do as a result.
Executive Director, Missionary
David Brickner is executive director of Jews for Jesus. David oversees the world-wide ministry from its headquarters in San Francisco. David received his Master’s degree in Missiology with a concentration in Jewish Evangelism and Judaic Studies from the Fuller School of World Mission. He has authored several books, and has been interviewed on national television shows such as Larry King Live. David’s daughter, Ilana is a recent graduate of Biola. His son, Isaac is on the missionary staff of Jews for Jesus. Isaac and his wife, Shaina, have one daughter, Nora, which makes David part of the grandparent club, a membership he is very proud of. See more here.