Recently, I found myself in a conversation with someone about one of the hottest topics of today. I don’t want to get into what it was or the details of the debate. I have no desire to belittle someone who is struggling with any of these issues we hear of. I felt as though I was being forced into a debate I didn’t want to have. Especially in this case. Fortunately it was lunch time, so I had an escape hatch. But, as I was in the conversation and for days afterward, I found myself wondering how can I share the gospel with the person whey they so clearly believe I am wrong for believing the Bible on issues of morality. Here is my response on how we ought to respond. It’s long, but hopefully worthwhile.
Let be begin with some background.
We are passionate about the gospel at our church. We believe in it’s work and that it is the one thing we would love for everyone we come in contact with to experience. All of our efforts as a church are designed to lead people to it. We spend a great deal of time training our people to live it out and share with the people in their sphere of influence. This is the main thing for us. The gospel, the good news is that Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross and resurrection from the dead sets us free from the punishment of our sins and gives us an inheritance as a child of God in the Kingdom of God.
I have talked in the past of the struggle we face in our culture today due to the justification of sin. So many issues that we would classify as sin have become justifiable rights. The challenge is, if we no longer sin, why do we need grace? So our first problem is, the moral boundaries are being pushed further and further out. The road is getting wider and wider – so to speak.
I have also heard it said that you can’t legislate morality. Which I don’t necessarily agree with. But, let’s say that’s true – that you can’t legislate morality. What appears to be happening now is that we are trying to legislate a guilt-free society. A society where we can do whatever we want and we don’t have to feel guilty about it. So, we make more laws (or do away with existing ones) that make it legal to do or be whatever we want in the hope of not having to feel guilty about whatever it is.
If the cross is supposed to put us in a right standing with God (atonement), there has to be something that put us in a wrong standing with God. Right?
We have also talked, at length, about truth. There is such a thing as absolute truth. Truth is not relative. The fact that you may or may not believe in something does not make it true/untrue. It’s true whether you believe in it or not. 2 + 2 = 4. Always. You may choose to believe that 2 + 2 = cat, but that does not make you right.
So, we have justified sin, legislated out guilt and rid ourselves of the idea of truth.
That makes it a challenge to share the gospel with people. It’s hard to tell people they need grace when it would appear we have done everything we can to erase the need for any kind of externally received grace. We, in essence, have become our own savior.
So then, how are Christ-followers supposed to respond when issues of morality are forced upon the church?
Let me explain. For me, grace is the most important issue. All the other sin-issues are secondary. We all sin. We all have sin issues. That’s the problem. The solution to that problem is grace. So, the primary issue is grace. To be honest, I don’t care what your sin issue is. We all have sin in our lives that requires grace. The more important thing is grace.
So, how are we to respond when sin issues triumph and are touted as a primary right?
One more clarification. You might be surprised to hear me say this, but you do have the right to do whatever you choose. You can be as nasty of a person as you want to be. God gave you a free will, and you are free to exercise that free will however you choose. But, as you have probably read, “You are free to choose, but you are not free from the consequence of your choice.” You may choose to be as evil as you wish, but you are not free from the consequence of that choice.
Our culture is working really hard to remove the consequences of our bad decisions.
So, you are free to live however you wish. And yes, you can even say you have the right to be whoever you want to be and do whatever you want to do.
But, what you may not do is require truth to change to alleviate the guilt you feel or the consequences you encounter as a result of your choosing.
This is where some veins of the church are getting into trouble. They are allowing the pressure of an unbelieving world to affect the truth that we have believed and been guided by for Millenia. People can live however they please. But, the church is not under any kind of obligation to acquiesce to the demands of society to alleviate the consequences of that choice.
How do we respond?
The temptation is strong to want to get into a verbal exchange about how we are right and they are wrong. While I believe we need to know what we believe and be able to give a defense of our beliefs – the majority of people aren’t brought to grace in this way. Honestly, I wish they were. Because the logic of scripture is infallible, it would be much easier to just argue the truth of our faith with those who don’t believe. But, that’s just not the case most of the time. In fact, when you find yourself in a conversation that has been forced on you, you will realize that truth has no place in the argument. Trust me. I have been in these conversations. Logic doesn’t matter.
So, how should we respond?
Let me first say, I don’t think it does us a lot of good to get into debate that is devoid of relationship. Instead, I think we should get to know someone and build trust with them. Does that make the dialog harder? I guess it can. But, remember the ultimate truth is that they are ultimately lost if we don’t. We want to set ourselves up for the best chance to have the most important conversation. We don’t want to put more up more road blocks.
So, this is how I think we should respond.
1. We love people unconditionally.
No matter how repulsive their behavior is, we still love unconditionally. Of course, we don’t want to put ourselves into unnecessary danger. But, we have to be in the mess if we are going to be used by God to redeem people out of it. Your hands will get dirty. You may suffer some scars and bruises. But, everyone is made in God’s image. Regardless of their beliefs or actions, they still deserve to be treated with dignity and respect because of whose image they resemble.
2. We follow the truth unswervingly.
As difficult as it is becoming, we still cannot neglect the truth. When we are pushed to condone a behavior, we simply cannot. It sounds intolerant. You will be called intolerant. You will be called a bigot. Get used to it. How can we condone a behavior when someone doesn’t believe and then condemn it once they do? Do they have the right to do whatever they want? Yes. Does that make what they are doing right? No. We believe that following God’s design for humanity is what brings about human flourishing. If we live by it, we find a better way of life. When we live against it, we struggle. If we compromise on that truth, we are not living by God’s design.
3. We live out the gospel universally.
We cannot have any area of our lives where we aren’t living out the gospel. No, we don’t have to be little holiness machines, running around trying to scrub the earth of any form of ungodliness. But, we have to be consistent in all facets. You never know when someone will encounter you in a different arena than they normally do. You need to be the light, even if you don’t think anyone is watching. Every chance you get, be the light. Do good deeds so that people will see God through you. Live out Micah 6:8 in all areas of your life.
4. We share personally.
While it may be difficult to tell another person they are sinning, it’s not difficult at all to point to the sin in your life and how you have been forgiven. Don’t focus on trying to make the other person feel guilty for what they are doing. Instead, speak of your own life. Speak of how the price you had to pay for your wrongdoing was paid by Jesus. And how amazed you are by grace.
5. We pray incessantly.
Pray for those you encounter without ceasing. Pray for them in your head while you’re speaking with them. Pray for them as you’re walking away. Pray as often as you can. Pray that God will send His Spirit to open the eyes of their mind and heart to His truth. Pray and expect that God will not only do it, but that He will give you opportunities to share with them.
6. We invite them to receive freely.
Invite them into the Kingdom of God. The door is open for all who choose to walk through it. It’s not our job to decide who can come in and who can’t. It’s our job to invite freely. Instead of condemning their lifestyle, invite them into something they can’t experience on their own. Don’t try to get them to your side of the argument. Instead, show them what they’re missing out on. Then, maybe they might be drawn into the Kingdom and be willing to lay everything outside the gates.
Perhaps we’ve been focused for too long on trying to convince people that they are evil instead of trying to show people the joy and goodness that awaits us all in the Kingdom of our Creator. The next time you find yourself in a conversation where someone is trying to force you to condone a behavior the bible says is wrong, remember that you too once stood on that side of the argument. It is only by grace that you stand on the other side now. It will only be by grace that they come stand with you. Focus on inviting people into something instead of on what’s keeping them out.
Life the life. Don’t compromise. Invite people in.
You may not know this about me, but one of my favorite things to do is write and record music. While I definitely know God has me right where He wants me in ministry, there is also a great desire He has given me in music. And I’m happy to tell you there’s a new addition!
I’ve added a new song to my collection of royalty free stock audio that is available for purchase on Audio Jungle. It’s called “New Day New Hope.”
This song is another, upbeat/positive song. It’s not “in your face” positive, but more subtle. It’s kind of like waking up in the morning, getting that cup of coffee and getting started on the right foot. My wife she could hear it being used in a cereal commercial. So, that’s kind of the vibe. I’d love it if you could pop on over and take a listen! It’s free to listen!
By the way, the pack includes several files. The full length file and three loops. You can seamlessly loop each section (A, B & C). Which means you can create a custom length version of the song to use for your video!
I invite you to listen to it (as well as my other songs) by clicking here!
We are living in a different day and age than the one I grew up in. We have gone through an enormous amount of change in the last 20 years. I know things are always changing. I have said before, every morning we wake up to a world that has changed over night. But, things have changed a great deal. And they are changing faster all the time.
In contrast, the gospel never changes. Just as truth is always true, the truth of the gospel never changes. The hope for all of humanity is found in Jesus.
So, what is the challenge?
The challenge is our vast desire to eradicate guilt from our society. For this to be done, we must also do away with a lot of sin issues.
We have a hard time talking about sin anymore. I have a hard time with it. It’s hard to tell someone that what they are doing is sinning. It’s hard to look at my own life, see the areas I fall short in and call them sin. It would be much easier if sin didn’t exist and I didn’t have to feel as though I come up short.
And I’m not the only one who feels that way. In fact, I think this is what is behind the legalization of a lot of issues that used to be considered sin. I’m not going to single anything out. That’s not the point of this post.
But, if something makes us feel guilty because it’s against the law, and we change the law, then we don’t have to feel guilty about it anymore. Right?
Now, imagine building a relationship with someone and wanting to share with this person about the most important relationship in their life. I’m not talking street evangelism, I’m talking someone you care about.
What is the premise of the gospel? Is it not that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God?” Is it not that we live in “glad rebellion” against God, as Matt Chandler puts it? That we are born into a fallen world as fallen individuals, and if we are left to our own we will choose what makes us happy instead of what’s right.
God had a design and ideal in mind when he created the world, and we chose to do something different. We had to do things our way instead of God’s way. As a consequence, we also lost relationship with God. We no longer walked and talked with God in the garden.
But God provided a way for us to be reunited with him. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. While we were still rebelling against God, He sent His son to die for us. Thank God for grace! Thanks be to God that there is a cure for my rebellion. And the price that needed to be paid for me to be in relationship with God was paid by Christ on the cross.
It’s an amazing story. It’s an amazing offer.
But, what happens when you take sin out of the equation. If there is no sin, then what is the need for the gospel? What is the need for grace?
Our attempt and desire to rid ourselves of the guilt that results from sinning, is resulting in ridding ourselves from the gospel.
“We haven’t done away with all sin!” you might be saying to yourself. Sure, there are areas that we have yet to venture into when it comes to justifying our desire for sinning. But, we sure have done away with a lot of them. And we hear more and more justifications for bad decisions all the time.
Of course, this all has to do with truth. If there is no absolute truth, then there ultimately is no sin. More on that later…
If there is no sin, there really isn’t anything to be saved from, therefore, there is no need for a Savior and no need for the gospel.
It would even seem that the good news has become bad news. Once we have legalized things that used to be classified as sin so that we can rid ourselves of guilt, if something comes along and makes us feel guilty (besides our own conscience) then that’s a bad thing. We have made our peace and no loner feel guilty and thanks to our progressive culture, we don’t have to worry about getting in trouble for it anymore either. But then someone comes along and shares the good news of Jesus.
But, it’s not so good anymore, because instead of being good news that Jesus saves us from the penalty we deserve for our sin, it’s pointing out that we should feel guilty about this thing. And we don’t like that, so the good news is actually bad news.
So, how do we share the gospel in a world that is doing away with sin more and more every day?
We live in an interesting tension don’t we? Especially in the church world. I know how you feel. It can be a really big scale to try to balance. On the one hand we’re supposed to be leading people. Yet, at the same time, if we push to hard or offend people, they’ll stop following us.
More often than not, we end up playing it safe. Instead of getting out in front a little farther and working to get our people to follow us, it’s easier to just let them stay where they are.
We imagine ourselves out in front of the pack, blazing the trail that those who come behind us will walk on. But are we doing that? Are we blazing a new trail, coaching our people to come behind us? Or are we standing in the midst of the people, trying to keep them where they are and from taking steps backwards?
I know where most of us end up, because I’ve been there too. It’s so much more comfortable in the middle of the pack. It’s easier to feel like we’re successful when we’re surrounded with the people who have followed us to this point. And if we take that step toward something new, we’ll have to step out of the comfortable spot inside the pack and put ourselves out there in front of the pack.
It’s risky out there in front. It’s dangerous out there, maybe even a little scary. Everyone thinks we know exactly where to go and what to do, but the reality is we’re figuring it out too. We may know a little more than those who are supposed to follow, but we don’t have a crystal ball to use to read the future.
So, every once in a while we get out in front. But, as happens when we start prodding most people to move, there’s a little resistance. And when you add the frustration of resistance to the uncertainty of the future, the sum is a load that can be hard to carry. Too hard.
And it doesn’t get any easier. We think it will get easier if we can get a few more people on board. But the reality is, the more people who follow us just means the more people who can choose to stop following us. And the more people who are following us, the more people who are relying on us to lead them well.
So we retreat to where we have already been. Back into the middle of the pack we go. At least there, we’re relatively safe and the risk is relatively low.
But is it?
What exactly have we been called to do? If we are supposed to be leaders, can we really call ourselves that if we aren’t actually leading our people anywhere? If we’re just trying to keep everyone around us, is that really leading?
Have you ever thought about this? It’s much harder to get a group of people moving than it is to keep them moving. Once a group is in motion, it’s easier to lead. When a group hasn’t moved in a while, it takes an enormous amount of effort and energy to get it moving. The longer it’s been sitting still, the harder it will be.
At the end of the day, what’s need of us most is to lead. We won’t always do it right, we don’t always do it well. But, that’s our job. Yes, we do it in the best way we can so that those who are following us are being cared for. But, we must drop this myth that we can’t lead people and care for people at the same time. In fact, if we really care for people we will really lead people. Forward motion is what’s best for everyone. When is it better to sit without moving? Is it better to sit on the couch or to go on a walk?
So, will you join me in leading? Our job is not to cater to the people around us in the hope that we will keep them. Our job is to coach people as we lead the charge. Our job is to get out in front and figure out where we need to go, and then coach those we are leading on how to take that next step, giving them the helping hand up on the way.
Leaders don’t cater, leaders coach,
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to talk to someone who speaks a different language. But, as has often been mocked, there is this thing that happens. When you don’t know the language, you talk louder thinking that will help the person that speaks a different language, understand.
I’m old school. I am only 35, but I’m old. Why do I say that? Because I believe in truth.
I’ve noticed a problem. There are things that are simply untrue that are being shouted.
Just because a lot of people say something doesn’t make that the truth. Even if the majority of people agree, that doesn’t make that true either. In fact, it doesn’t matter how many people agree with you, if you’re wrong – you’re still wrong.
I hate this idea that is emerging that someone who clings to a belief in the Bible is wrong. Why? Well, just look at how many people don’t believe it.
Let’s take evolution for example. I don’t believe in the whole amoeba becoming human thing. But, especially in the western world, that is the accepted belief. There are a lot of people who believe it. But, just because a lot of people believe that’s what happened, doesn’t mean that’s what actually happened.
I can shout “This is a shoe!” as loud as I want, but if I’m holding a rubber chicken, It’s not the truth. Even if I can convince hundred, even millions of people that the rubber chicken is a shoe, that doesn’t mean the rubber chicken is a shoe. Only shoes can be shoes. Only rubber chickens can be chickens.
It doesn’t matter how many people believe in an idea. Volume doesn’t make an idea truth. And idea is truth when it is true.
In this edition of “Timeless Wisdom from Rev. Ermal Wilson” we will hear the first of three sermons from a Revival at Trinity Wesleyan Church in Oak Hill, Ohio. In this first message he shares with us from the prayer of Jabez, which he had been preaching on long before the book make the verse popular. You’ll hear a little of the Pilgrim Holiness style prayer meeting at the end of the talk. But, just before that, there is a really powerful illustration that I had never heard him share before. The illustration is worth the time listening in and of itself. (There is a bit of a gap in the content of the talk. This was recorded in the days of Tape. So there is a gap where the tape had to reverse directions to record.)