Behold Your God — Week Eight, Day Three

19 Jul

Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” These verses at first glance seem to say that there are some who are healthy and some who are righteous. But we know from reading the Scriptures that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We know that before God there are no healthy people and no righteous people apart from His grace. So Jesus was not saying there were people out there who didn’t need Him, He was saying there were people out there who didn’t think they needed Him, people who considered themselves righteous and healthy.

Today’s study reminds us that a big part of our efforts in evangelism is to help people see that they are not healthy and righteous before God. In order for them to see how valuable Jesus really is they must see how needy they are. We can do this by sharing our own testimony, as we show them how we came to see our need for Jesus. But even more effective than our story is the law of God itself. When we bring people to the law and show them how they fall short in thought and action, then they begin to see that their own goodness is not that good and that it is certainly not good enough to please a perfectly holy God. Then we follow with the good news of the gospel. Yes, we are spiritually unhealthy and unrighteous, but God has done something for us in Jesus to bring us to spiritual health and righteousness. I think both of these aspects are important, because God has promised us in Jesus both right standing with Him and genuine moral transformation. God saves us in order to transform us in the here and now and to bring us eternal life. That life and salvation is found in relationship with Him. This is why Jesus speaks the language of coming to Him and abiding in Him as the way to life.

The problem we face in talking to our neighbors about Jesus is that many people believe either that they are too bad or that they are too good for Jesus. Some, beaten down by their sin, think they are beyond grace. For these we can come with the good news that the God of the universe sent His Son to save the thief on the cross and the Prodigal Son, that no one is beyond God’s grace. For those who think they are too good for Jesus, the task is more difficult. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day did not come to Jesus in large numbers because they believed they were already right with God.  For people like this, we must use the law of God and trust God to awaken them to the fact that no is above the need of God’s grace.

Here in the Bible Belt, many people are convinced they are saved but they have no spiritual health. Jesus came to bring both righteous standing with God and spiritual health. So something has gone wrong. Some of these people who have had an experience of some sort in the past yet find their life going off the rails have wrongly assumed that Jesus is not really who He says He is and so they quit any sort of Christian life, or just fall back into the margins of life. Others had some sort of past experience but their hearts all along have really been captured by other things. They wanted right standing with God not for the sake of knowing God but in order to escape hell or to be accepted by a peer group or for some other base motive. So the Bible Belt is a particularly challenging place to do evangelism, because many people believe they are going to heaven when they die but are deceived. There are many people who have never really come to know Jesus. How has this happened? On one level, in any place where Christianity has a high level of popularity, there is also a high level of nominalism. When Jesus’ ministry was at its peak of popularity, thousands followed Him. But at the cross, almost everyone abandoned Him. Even before the cross, when Jesus’ teaching became more direct, many stopped following Him (John 6). So we should understand that part of our problem in the Bible Belt is a result of the widespread popularity of Christianity in previous generations. But we must also admit that part of the high level of nominalism can be explained by an emphasis in past generations on decisionism. We have in the past put such an emphasis on people making decisions for Christ in order to have eternal life that we have often failed to see Christianity as something that affects all of life and eternity. We have boiled down Christian living to church involvement and quiet times and have missed the New Testament emphasis on character transformation and true community. In our own day, as a desperate reaction against nominalism, we are making a second deadly mistake with an emphasis on marketing and innovation. The unique, but biblically-irrelevant, characteristic of our church life takes first place and becomes the drawing card for people. The leader with great charisma becomes the focus. Or the unique music. Or the soul-stirring preaching. Or the powerful marketing strategy. Or the community ministry. The problem is that these things can draw great numbers of people and bring a sense of excitement but none of them carry enough spiritual freight to bring authentic spiritual growth that lasts. Only abiding in Jesus can do that. So what happens in our day is that people who came up in a culture of decisionism long for more, so they connect with churches that are focused on marketing and innovation. They cling to the distinctives of their church experience (and tend to take a critical view of other churches) and this can sustain them spiritually for a time. But we are fickle creatures. Leaders age and their messages grow stale. The music of today is old school tomorrow. The marketing strategy is something many people see through, because they see it all the time in the rest of their lives. They know they are being played. We find the community ministry is hard as soon as it gets beyond the surface level of doing events and gets into people’s lives. We need more that what any of these things can give. So many young people, realizing decisionism doesn’t cut it, have opted for innovation. But I believe many of them will end up burned out, broken and beaten down, sitting on the sidelines as they moan about the decline of the Church, even as they have contributed to that decline by putting the emphasis where the Bible doesn’t put the emphasis.

What can be done? We must return to an emphasis on the gospel as the Bible presents it: good news that Jesus brings us to God and that God gives us eternal life with Him and abundant life right now, today, as we abide with Him, trusting Him and walking with Him day by day. This kind of life is not flashy. It is not impressive. It is not immediate. It is right. If we walk this way, we have something truly unique and valuable to share with the healthy and the sick and God will be honored in our lives.

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