“I’m Not Being Defensive!”

This is one of the most common statements made by people who are in the midst of being defensive. It’s like people who angrily say, “I’m not angry!”

Being defensive is a common problem, because it comes out of self-centeredness, an area in which most of us are well gifted. Yes, that was a wee bit sarcastic.

When we are defensive, it not only leads to unnecessary conflict with people, it also makes it much harder to resolve conflict with people.

As people of the gospel, the only agenda we have been given for people is that of gospel reconciliation. We will not be able to fulfill that agenda with everyone, but it remains our goal at all times.

We see this truth of Christian living clearly laid before us by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17-20:

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

If we are to be seriously engaged in Great Commission and Great Commandment living, then we must labor at identifying and rooting out our expressions of defensiveness. Otherwise we are operating in the world perhaps with morality, but not out of the gospel.

Gavin Ortlund helps in this difficult task, with his article “Repentance vs. Defensiveness”. Gavin begins by clarifying what defensiveness looks like.

•  A defensive heart says, “But look at what I did right!” (diversion)
•  A defensive heart says, “But look at what was done to me!” (distraction)
•  A defensive heart says, “It wasn’t that bad” (downplaying)

I will add, to Gavin’s list, that a defensive heart says, “I am not defensive, so this article doesn’t apply to me” (denial)


Conflict is not something most of us enjoy, yet we do seem to spend a lot of time and energy mired in it. Conflict comes in many shapes and sizes, from minor snarkyness with our spouse to full blown nuclear warfare with our neighbor.

I have been blessed to have spent the past 23 years living with a woman who provides very little reason for conflict and when I am boneheaded enough to ignite some anyway, she has the wisdom and grace not to add any fuel to the fire I am trying to start.  As for my neighbors, we have enough tree coverage between our houses to keep us from stepping too much on each others toes. I witnessed a lot more fighting among neighbors when we lived in Ocean City where houses were 10 feet apart.

The conflict that has distressed me the most is infighting that takes place within the church. This happens within the capital “C” Church (conflict between factions of believers in the Church at large), and the small “c” church (conflict between individuals in a local church).

I can think of many reasons why believers would end up in conflict with people who reject the truth and authority of God. I am more deeply saddened by the all too common conflict between those who share the same salvation and the same Holy Spirit. How do we justify refusing to fellowship with someone Jesus holds in his embrace?

If you are in conflict with another believer or the next time that temptation arises, consider how this tension has come about and what God would have you do differently. As I have pointed out in other posts, some things are worth being in disagreement over. However in the overwhelming majority of  disagreements with believers, we can do this without disharmony!

In this 9Marks Blog, Michael McKinley gives the “Anatomy of Conflict” (which he got from someone else). Perhaps just reading this list will open your eyes to what is actually going on in your conflicts.  It very well may be a series of responses that are neither justified or God pleasing. Are we willing to have God dissect the motives and actions of our heart?