Healthy churches are known for what they are for, not what they are against.
Most people know what churches preach against – sin. Depending on the pastor, certain sins are preached on more than other sins. It quickly becomes clear to a new believer that there are all kinds of things God is against, and it can be discouraging. A new believer can easily conclude they may never be good enough to experience God’s love. I grew up in a church environment like this.
I could easily tell you what my church was against, but if someone were to ask me what my church was for, I’d struggle to answer. The correct answer was, we are here to make disciples who make disciples. Another answer would be, we are for sharing God’s love. However, the messages rarely focused on God’s love—they often focused on God’s anger toward sin and sinners. Sermon topics mentioned the good news of salvation, but with the focus on things we needed to “overcome” in order to “qualify” for salvation, the gospel didn’t seem like good news. There was a lot of guilt, shame and angst for those of us who wanted to do good, but didn’t do what we knew we were supposed to do. We resonated with the struggle Paul shared in Romans 7, but we failed to understand the significance of his concluding statement: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord.” How could I focus on making disciples when I felt like such a failure? It’s no wonder many of the people I grew up with no longer attend church and many have distorted views of who God is.
By God’s mercy, he opened my eyes (and yours) to see the good news of his gift of grace. Scriptures I’d read many times showed me a different side of God and gave good news. Here are a few:
- John 3:16: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
- John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
- John 5:22-23: “The Father judges no one but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.”
- Romans 8:1-2: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”
- Romans 8:9: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
- Romans 8:38: “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
- 2 Corinthians 5:17-19: “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”
All of this sounds like good news to me, and it’s good news I want others to hear. There are many more verses telling of God’s love and mercy. Am I saying God is soft on sin? Absolutely not. That’s why he came and went through the suffering and death he endured. God hates sin—but not because it makes him angry, or frustrated with us. Allow me to suggest two reasons: One, because sin causes us pain. We live under the consequences of the fall, which separated us from God. And keep in mind, we turned our back on him, but he never turned his back on us. Two, because sin breaks relationships. Because of sin, we believe God is mad at us or doesn’t like us. Because of sin, we hurt those we love and they hurt us. Because of sin we don’t love others as Jesus tells us to. But the good news is God loves us so much that he took on the ultimate penalty for sin—death. We still suffer consequences, and some of those consequences are much more painful than others. But the good news is still good news. We are forgiven and redeemed and reconciled through Jesus.
Therefore, GCI pastors and fellowship group facilitators don’t spend a lot of time focusing on sin in our preaching and facilitating—we focus on Jesus. Rather than continually point out the different sins we are caught up in, we preach about the One who has never met a sin he has not redeemed. In other words, we preach the gospel.
So how do we deal with sinners? A few years ago I was in an argument with one of my elders who insisted our job was to point out people’s sins and confront them. I asked him how many people needed that done; don’t most people know what their sins are? His response was that some didn’t realize what sin was and we needed to point it out. I asked if he was referring to some sins, or all sins. He said all sins. I asked if he was referring to new believers or all believers. He said all believers. So I said, “OK, may I start with you?” As you can imagine, he did not like that question and what I was inferring.
Let’s be honest. None of us are sin free. And most of us know what our sins are, and if we don’t, we trust the Holy Spirit to reveal things to us. That’s part of growing in grace and knowledge. But God does not identify us by our sins. He calls us children—his children.
Yes, but what about the obvious sins that are pervading our society? When someone comes to our church in an obvious sinful lifestyle, isn’t it our job to “help” them by pointing out the error of their ways? There are a couple problems here. First, we can be in danger of elevating some sins over others—and that’s not our job. Second, we are in danger of identifying a person by their sin rather than by who they are in Christ. Third, this leads to confirming that we are more concerned with what we are against than what we are for.
So how do we help sinners? Let’s start with the truth of Christ’s gift of grace and let our starting point be good news. Start sharing these truths…
- God loves you…period.
- He loves you just the way you are.
- He sent his Son to take away all your sins and die for you because of his intense love for you.
- Because Christ died for your sins, he wants you to live in the gift of his righteousness.
- The only thing to “do” at this point is to believe God is for you.
- God loves you so much, he will constantly encourage you to live more and more in his image.
- This might mean some changes in life – just like he made many changes in my life.
- It’s not up to me to determine what those changes will be, it’s up to him. He created you, he knows you, he knows what will truly make you happier and filled with his peace.
- At some point in your journey, you will have to answer the same question I answered, “Am I willing to follow Christ and do what he asks me to do?”
- Regardless, I will always love you, respect you, and do my best to support you.
- Having a relationship with Jesus is the best thing you could ever seek, because he is good news.
Let’s be congregations and fellowship groups that are known for what we are for. We are for helping others build relationships with Father, Son and
Spirit and with others.
Striving to always share his love and life with others,