THE GOSPEL, Context, and Expectations of the World

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So it became quite apparent to me after I saw the analytics and responses both at this site and over at Bread for Beggars, that I probably needed to write a follow-up to THE GOSPEL and Tone – the post where I said that Christians are not merely to promote the morality of Christ, but also to do so with the gentleness and humility of Christ. I argued that if you promote traditional family values, but do so with condescension and malice, you’ve stepped over into promoting conservative politics, not Christianity.

Some Christians aren’t going to like this statement. That’s fine. I’m less concerned with whether or not someone likes it and more concerned with whether or not it’s true: Presentation is not everything, but it’s definitely something. Consequently, if you proclaim truth, but do so with a transparently loveless heart, you are going to repel people in a way counterintuitive to the attractiveness of the gospel. Put differently, you think you’re making a mark for the truth when, in reality, you’re driving many further from the truth.

This all leads into the topic of the day, a topic that many reading my previous post on tone, seem to be struggling with a bit. Namely, how do we reconcile Jesus’ demonstrations of righteous indignation with a gentle and loving tone? Invariably, people want to say, “But Jesus showed anger over sin when he tossed over the tables at the Temple!” (Matt. 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-18; John 2:13-17). These individuals conclude, “Jesus got angry about sin. He openly expressed his anger. I’m also justifiably angry about sin, therefore I too should openly express anger to the world.” What are they missing? Answer: CONTEXT.

Let me run a couple of passages by you, passages where Jesus is getting angry, name-calling, and showing zero tolerance for sin. Tell me what they have in common….

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” (Matt. 23:17)

“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Matt. 3:7)

So, the common denominator? Who’s he speaking with? The RELIGIOUS people. The church people. Now, let me flip back to my post from a couple of weeks ago. Is this the same group of people who Matt Walsh is calling out? No, he’s lambasting the secular media, gay rights activists, and most things liberal. Now, we need to ask the question, what, if any, guidance does the Bible give to us on judgment regarding those who are clearly outside the Church? Well, let’s take the Apostle Paul for instance…

“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” (1 Cor. 5:12-13)

In the exact same section that the Apostle Paul is talking about intolerance for the unrepentant sins of a brother within the Church, he comments on how correcting the behavior of those outside of the Church is really not the main business of Christians. Now, the New Testament certainly makes general statements about not conforming to the wickedness of the world – (2 Cor. 4:4; 1 John 2:15-16; Col. 2:8; Rom. 12:2). But even there, the warning is being given to believers. The point is this: we have a right and responsibility to hold accountable those within the Christian Church. On the other hand, we cannot anticipate godly decision-making from those who clearly, by their own admission, do not have the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:14). That would be a naïve underestimation of the necessity of the Spirit for producing any true godliness.

Is God concerned about the wickedness of the world? Of course. Can you legislate, bully, or rationalize Christ into the heart of an unbeliever? No. So you have to recognize that God is not merely seeking obedience, he’s seeking a certain type of obedience (the secret to the Cain/Able distinction in Gen. 4). He’s seeking gospel-driven obedience. He’s seeking a faith-based response to the gift of salvation. He’s seeking hearts enamored with the One they were created for and redeemed by.

So what are Christians who believe in biblical values, who want the world to see the “rightness” of those values, to do? Jesus addresses this quite clearly in the Sermon on the Mount – we (i.e. The Church) are supposed to function as an alternate reality to the world, a reality characterized by grace, a more beautiful reality than what the world typically sees. Jesus refers to this as “salt of the earth” and “light to the world” and “city on a hill” (Matt. 5:13-16). In other words, let God’s directive unfold in your life and then speak for itself.

Here’s a quick illustration: If Christians demonstrate marriages that reflect the Ephesians 5 template, where husband/wife possess a relationship that mirrors the beauty of the relationship between Christ/Church, don’t you trust that such a demonstration will make a more powerful testimony to the world about biblical values than holding a sign at town hall meeting, a 25 cent bumper sticker, or a self-righteous online rant about the plight of American morality? The problem, however, is that 1) actually mirroring the Eph. 5 marriage design is much harder than the other options, and 2) we, by nature, don’t really trust that Jesus is right – that a simple gospel light will be more beneficial and impactful to the world than a snarky, condescending diatribe.

I’m curious what Christianity, and the world, might look like if we Christians worked harder at holding Christians (esp. ourselves) accountable, and worried less about holding a Spirit-less world accountable.

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4 thoughts on “THE GOSPEL, Context, and Expectations of the World

  1. Jerry Merritt says:

    Pastor, you have hit the proverbial nail on the head. Love has more facets than a smiling face, gifts, and pats on the back. The full spectrum demands that we also lovingly and gently correct those within our church and family at times. It isn’t always pleasant, but necessary. Wasting our efforts on trying to correct behavior outside the church before they understand the wonder of the gospel is really putting the cart before the horse! Your point is excellent. Thank you for your articles!

  2. Kiel says:

    Thanks for the poignant follow up, Pastor. As I was reading this, another story from the Bible came to mind that helps illustrate your points:

    In Luke 10 Jesus and his disciples come to a village where they stop at the home of a woman named Martha. It’s interesting, the Bible doesn’t say it was also Mary’s home, just that Mary was her sister, and it was specifically Martha who “opened her home to him.” All we’re told about Mary is that she was Martha’s sister, and that instead of helping out with the duties of hosting the group she, “sat at the Lord’s feet listening…”

    Most know where the story goes from there – Martha tells Jesus (and I always wondered if it was more of a tongue-in-cheek statement than a demand), “Tell her to help me!”

    In his response, we see the perfect TONE of Jesus in an appropriate CONTEXT. He says “Mary has chosen what is BETTER, and it will not be taken away from her.” I capitalized better to highlight that although our physical needs and entities outside of the peace that Jesus provides have to be addressed, faith and listening to God’s Word is always BETTER than all things, even good things in this life! Jesus says to Martha, “few things are needed — or indeed only one.”

    Basically he says, Martha, you’re so focused on all this noise going on around you. Playing host with a pure heart is not a bad thing in and of itself, but doing so is making you anxious and abrasive. Sit, listen. While all the noise going on around Martha (and going on around Christians today) is important, especially if it threatens the “few things” Jesus says we need, it should never be a distractor to the one thing that is most important, as you so aptly put it, “we (i.e. The Church) are supposed to function as an alternate reality to the world, a reality characterized by grace, a more beautiful reality than what the world typically sees. Let God’s directive unfold in your life and then speak for itself.”

    Wonderful.

  3. Thank you so much for the positive feedback you’ve been leaving. I appreciate Pastor Hein and am so glad when others support his efforts. I too thought of the story you mentioned; it’s one I return to often. I’m a night nurse in a rehab/nursing home, on the night shift, so I am the only nurse there. It’s busy. It’s chaotic more often then not. Many times I know I have become anxious and abrasive. It does no one any favors. Part of being a pastor and of being a nurse as well is giving of yourself, sharing grace. Just this morning I was speaking with an elderly lady who mentioned her son is more ill than she and unable to visit her, but that when she closes her eyes here on earth she knows she will see him in heaven and both will be healthy and perfect there. I smiled and thanked her for sharing, that folks who are afraid of death perhaps don’t really know grace, that I rejoiced that she did. She kept saying thank you, thank you, thank you. Best two minutes of my night. We can’t be too busy for this.

  4. Pastor Hein,

    I appreciate the response. It is not my view that overturning tables in the Temple equals an edict to take up the mantle of “righteous anger” and aim it at everything contrary to God’s will. I only wished you had addressed the obvious objections, since Mr. Walsh himself has used them.

    However, I have just two more observations, based on what I recall from Gene Edward Veith’s “God at Work,” which deals with vocation.

    First, there is the exception of Christian lawmakers. Those to whom God has given the responsibility of governing have a much larger role in the secular, political sphere than the average Christian. While gentleness and respect are certainly needed in politicians, their vocation requires much more than just leading by example. No, they can’t legislate morality, but it is their job to curb evil to the extent possible.

    Secondly, leading by example doesn’t address what to do when our fellow man is being harmed. I can care for my children and nurture life from conception to the grave, but that doesn’t stop millions of children from being murdered in utero every year. Isaiah 1:17 reads, “Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow.” Surely this doesn’t mean that we should only rebuke the oppressor if he is a Christian. It isn’t clear to me to what extent this verse and others like it apply to individual Christians.

    I realize the life of the Christian is very complex, and I suppose I don’t expect you to cover it all in one or two posts. It just appears to be an oversimplification for the sake of brevity.

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