He Likes Them!
There’s a song called “Likes Them” by the Swedish rock band Jerusalem (led by Ulf Christiansson) that talks about the youth of this generation who are searching for truth and meaning but have become distracted by sin. The song says that they have become suspicious of love… As a result they have been led to believe, by the world around them, that meaning in life is derived through everything and anything but Christ. The song remarks how these kids are “Sick and tired of pretending, Don’t even care if the world is ending…” It’s as though they are willing to abandon everything to find something to fill the hole in their heart (even if that leads them to destruction). The song continues, talking about this lonely and desperate generation who will only truly find what they are looking for in “the Man from Nazareth”… If they might only apply the same radical abandon to Christ, it would transform a generation! The singer shouts, “I like them! I like them!” and then, speaking of God’s view of them, he says, “He likes them! He likes them… He loves them!”
The song is simple, but what I love about it is this message that God LIKES people! He sees through all the crud, without distraction, and stands ready to answer the deepest cry of the heart… and the really cool thing is that HE WANTS TO. It’s not that He does it because of some kind of begrudging feeling of necessity to save His stumbling creation… It’s not because He’s a good guy, though He certainly is… It’s not even just because “He loves us”, because lots of people love people that they don’t necessarily like… right? God likes us! I love that!
While I know God has been merciful to me over the years and forgiven all my sins, still there are times when I’ve looked at different kinds of sin in other people’s lives that just repulse me and I wonder, how can God stand to look upon all the sin in this world (mine included) and not just kill us all? Sometimes it can be so hard to separate the sin from the sinner. Christians often say, “hate the sin, love the sinner,” but how about LIKE the sinner too? Not always so easy… and yet God does! How can He have so much patience and grace? Yes, I know, He’s God… but when I really try to absorb the whole idea, I just can’t. If I get sick looking at some of the most heinous acts of sin present in this world, how does He handle seeing every single bit of it, every second of every day, all over the world? That amazes me. It absolutely astounds and humbles me. And it’s not just the sin, but the fact that man goes on sinning (even when He has knowledge of God’s grace), and even when God says, “I am extending my love to you, I stand ready to forgive all your sin and heal your brokenness… I want you to be free, I want you to be whole, I want you to no longer be ruled by that crud and I want to give you joy unspeakable (and that’s without even getting into the notion of a heavenly home for eternity),” man spits in His face and utterly rejects Him, mocks Him, laughs at Him, slanders Him, on and on (and those who trust in Him)… Still, His grace persists and His love continues to pierce through the most unimaginable darkness! Again, see how I just rabbit trailed back off into God’s love? Don’t get me wrong, His love is so amazing and I cannot go on enough about it, but today (for some reason) it’s the thought of his LIKE that is blessing me! To know that, even on my darkest day, God is not merely grudging through this relationship with me because “He loves me”, but He actually likes hanging around me. He likes to intervene in my daily situation. He likes to be a part of this process to transform me into His likeness. I wish I knew a better way to say it, but this is just so cool to me!
I think of the Cross, how God so richly demonstrated His LOVE for us, and (for some reason) – I’m struggling to find the words to express what I’m thinking here (but I hope you’re getting it) – I suppose it’s easier to tend to look at this as some kind of rescue mission; that God HAD to do this to fix us so that He could stand to be around us… so that we could stand in His presence without being destroyed – and I’m thankful for that and I regard that as love beyond reason. I think of family or friends I have that sometimes do, say or think some stupid stuff and I think, “Yeah I love ’em… Yeah, I’ll help ’em out because, hey, they’re my family (I have to)… but I’m not too sure I like them so much.” 😉
Now, I know there’s truth there – because sin indeed has caused a breach that only the Cross can remedy, but I’m not sure it’s always as easy to think of God actually liking humanity. Seems weird to think that we generally have no problem with God loving us… but LIKING us??? That’s a different story! If any of you relate to this, please leave some comments.
Now, probably some might suppose that the issue of whether or not God likes people is a little bit superficial since LIKE is primarily based on emotion; that is the pleasure a person derives from being with another person (in this context, God with people).
Everyone knows that God is love and that God loves us, but does He also like us? I absolutely believe the answer is YES! Is He interested in more than just having us in His Family? Again, I believe the answer is YES! Does He also enjoy our company and see us as His friends? YES, YES, YES!!! Indeed there are often people in our lives that we care for on some level, but sometimes find that we just don’t exactly “click” with their personality (and something there are other significant obstacles in the way that make it difficult to like someone we love). We appreciate them, we have concern for them, we care for them, we love them because they are our family, we even do things for them because of that love we have for them, but we don’t always like them (or find them to be someone we want to hang around very often).
I recently read that the question of whether or not God likes us came up in a large church’s Sunday School class. The room was apparently split, 50/50. In other words, HALF of these church folks believed that God loves them, but doesn’t necessarily like them!
Churches often promote this same kind of concept of God as being the relative that loves you but doesn’t like this or that about you. Churches seem expert at throwing around the phrase, “God loves you,” but are even more expert at demonstrating that He doesn’t like you very much unless you (fill in the blank) – and then prescribing religion to fix the problem. God loves you, but if you want Him to like you, then you need to do this or that (again, fill in the blank).
The thing that really seems to worry church folks when you tell them that God likes them “just as they are” is that they think you are talking about some kind of New Age version of Christianity and saying that God doesn’t care about sin. Well, it’s not that He doesn’t care about it, rather it’s just that sin isn’t really a problem for Him. Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. That’s some pretty incredible news… and what do you suppose a person is likely to do with that news if it becomes a genuine revelation to their heart? It’s quite likely to change their lives! No, it may not happen overnight, but God is not intimidated by our flaws. In fact, He is quite willing to get right down in the dirt with us, to show us He cares… We Christians talk about the Gospel all the time and we rattle off the story of how God clothed Himself with humanity and all of that, but sometimes I think we’ve become so accustomed to the telling of that story that we neglect to fully drink in the magnitude of what we are saying. God, the perfect, holy and all-powerful Creator of the universe, BECAME ONE OF US! And not just one of us, but He was born in a smelly barn in total humility and poverty. After 33 years among us (that’s 33 years of being exposed to our messed up lives, our whining and complaining, and our sin), He still chose to give up His life for us. He still thought we were worth it. Wow!!! He saw into our hearts, knowing every corrupt thought, every impure motive, and saw how we treated one another, how distracted we were with things of the flesh, and yet He wanted to dine and drink with us. He went to the home of sinners and also the home of arrogant religious leaders. He shared the words of life with us. He demonstrated the goodness of God to us. He made it plain to us all that God likes us as much as He loves us. He could have just loved us from a distance, but He got into it with us… and still does today. To me that’s absolutely incredible! Absolutely incredible indeed!!!
But what if someone is gay or what if someone believes abortion is okay or what if they think it’s alright to have sex outside of marriage, or what if their entire world view is completely opposite ours or even offensive to it? Just fill in the blank and add whatever pet vice you can imagine… I’ve seen churches try to tackle this one from several ends of the issue and I personally believe they usually get the answer wrong. One side says, “We love the sinner but hate the sin… God loves you but hates that your gay or that you think abortion is okay or that you’re a fornicator and won’t really be able to be close to you until you stop involving yourself in these things because that sin is separating you from Him.” The other end says, “God doesn’t care if your gay or sleep around or have some other sinful vice. God loves everybody. Sin was over at the Cross and now God is magically blind to it… It doesn’t matter because you can live your life as you wish and be a Christian, no problem – after all, it’s all by God’s grace and sin doesn’t separate us from God anymore.” Both sides possess a little element of the truth (and plenty of error), but overstep the most important thing of all; this isn’t a religious issue. God doesn’t condition His relationship with humanity based upon religion, nor does He apply religion as a remedy to fix or manage our flaws. God doesn’t divide up people in “sin groups” and then play favorites with the less sinful among us. Sin is sin, whether it’s the sin of homosexuality or whether it’s the sin of pretending to be righteous and better than those who struggle with things like homosexuality. The answer isn’t more religion. The answer isn’t to just stop doing whatever it is you’re doing to try and appease a God who doesn’t like sinners. The answer is to come to JESUS! In case that sounds too cliché or too simple for some, let me break it down just a bit further for you.
Remember the woman in Scripture who was caught in the act of adultery? There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that she was guilty according to God’s Law. In fact, they were all prepared to put her to death (and this was actually the direct prescription for her sin according to God’s Law). But Jesus turned the whole subject upside down on all of them. He never said one thing about her sin. Nor did He dismiss the truth of the Law of God. Yet Jesus didn’t immediately pronounce judgment on the sinner, nor did He prescribe some religious program to overcome her sin. There was no lecture for her. He didn’t shame her in front of the masses. He also didn’t lead her in a sinner’s prayer and then tell her to start attending synagogue regularly. He never told her to do penance or attend a recovery class. He didn’t tell her to go and confess to a priest, pray the Rosary, say Hail Mary’s, or any such thing. He didn’t tell her to read Scriptures on purity for an hour each day. He didn’t tell her to go through Theophostic counselling, Sozo methodology, or to see a deliverance minister… Nor did He instruct her to submit to some local religious leader for “accountability”. Instead, He turned to the crowd accusing her and He said unto them, “He among you that is without sin in your own lives, you go ahead and be the first to strike this woman with your stone,” and then it says that Jesus knelt down and began writing in the dust with His finger.
John Wesley interpreted this verse saying: “He that is without sin – He that is not guilty: his own conscience being the judge either of the same sin, or of some nearly resembling it; let him – as a witness, cast the first stone at her.”
So it could very well be that these men were actually guilty of the same kind of sin as the woman and here Jesus is exposing it.
The Law of Moses also required that both the man and the woman who committed the act of adultery were to be executed… So why was only the woman hauled out for punishment? Jesus seems to be exposing their error in the Law itself as well!
I wonder what was going through the minds of these men who were about to kill this woman when Jesus said these words – exposing both their sins and their failure to observe the Law fully? If Jesus was, in fact, hinting that He could very well expose each of their own sins that were not so different from this woman’s, that would make sense all the more why they reacted as they did, for the Bible says that they all dropped their stones one by one and walked away!
I’ve also often wondered what was it that Jesus wrote in the sand after saying this? Was He writing their names? Was he writing their sins? Was He drawing cartoons or squishing ants? I don’t know. I know of one author that was compelled to believe Jesus may have been writing the same thing that God wrote on the wall in Daniel chapter 5, which terrified the King of Babylon and this was, essentially, to say, “You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.” The Jews would have known this story well. I don’t know if that’s what Jesus was writing or not, but it’s clear they realized that none of them were worthy to execute justice here – for they realized that they were ALL guilty of sin! I think it also angered them quite a bit to have the situation completely turned around on them.
The next words Jesus speaks to this woman was to say, “Where are your accusers?” She replied, “There are none!” He said, “Then neither do I condemn you.” Now, THINK ABOUT THAT STATEMENT RIGHT THERE! Jesus knew she had just been caught in the very act of adultery (AND there is nothing at this point to indicate that she had any intention to be a follower of Jesus)… and yet He said, “I do not condemn you!” And then He tells her simply to go and sin no more. I’ve heard plenty of sermons by pastors on the subject of repentance and, I’m sure you’ve heard the same thing as well; when they talk about two kinds of repentance… One is when a person is sorry for their sins only because they got caught in the act. The other is where they are truly grieved over their errors and they turn completely from that sin to go in the right direction. While that’s certainly obvious enough, I think some of the pastors who have preached on “the proper kind of repentance” might not have let this woman off the hook so easily if it were them up against an angry mob. They would have said, “Yes you’re sorry now because you got caught, but are you really sorry?” Jesus is so wise in how He deals with us. He unlocked the way for this woman to see that God wasn’t holding a club in the air waiting to bash her, and He was able to completely diffuse the situation and get through to the mob as well. Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit, following the direction of the Father, which is what we MUST do as well. This is yet another reason why “religious prescriptions” don’t work and aren’t necessary! What’s necessary is that we walk with Jesus and do what the Father says only!
- John 5:19 – So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself. He does only what He sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.”
I find it amazing that, while many religious people spend so much effort to rub the evidence of sin in people’s faces only to follow that by saying, “God loves you,” that message of love really isn’t coming through at all… People who are infected by religion, so often end up killing the lost person’s hope for redemption by effectively demonstrating by their actions that even if God does love them, He certainly doesn’t like them… unless maybe they clean up their act… and, again, the “cleaning up the act” part is what religion thinks it’s great at… but without the blessing and direction of the Holy Spirit it’s just religion; dead, stinky, useless, futile, garbage pile, dung heap religion.
But isn’t it remarkable to find through Scripture how God truly looks at us. He’s not ignorant of our hang ups (and EVERY patriarch of the faith throughout Scripture had them… in spades). We ALL have them. Sure, we often try to categorize our sins, making ours a little less severe than then next guy’s, but it’s the same smell to God (the same rotten stench of sin)… And, NO, I am not making excuses for sin. I am NOT suggesting that sin is okay. I am NOT saying that sin doesn’t matter… Yet I see how God turns to the voices that accuse us and says, “Lay off… You all are stained with this filth called sin. Not one of you deserve God’s grace. All of you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting! Let me do my work here! Stop adding your religious solutions to everything!” And then He instructs us simply to go and sin no more. And the person who is sincerely sorrowful with godly sorrow, will do just that! The Lord is near to a broken and contrite heart, so what good does it do to prescribe a religious solution to someone who does not truly have a broken and contrite heart and isn’t sorrowful and open to change? It does no good. Oh, on the surface, it might appear good for awhile and religion will happily pat itself on the back for managing the situation and controlling behavior, but it is absolutely powerless to effect any true change!
- 1 John 2:1-2 – My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the One who is truly righteous. He Himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.
It’s really not that important to linger on the issue of which sin is more heinous. All sin leads to death! It drags us down and robs us of true joy. It corrupts our hearts and minds. But, whereas so much of the organized church thinks they can remedy the sin problem by adding a little bit of religion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they are actually misleading the masses because Christ doesn’t need religion’s help to mortify the deeds of the flesh! I wish every pastor and leader of every religious organization on planet earth would hear me say this: Christ doesn’t need religion’s help to mortify the deeds of the flesh!
- Romans 8:11-15 – The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, HE (not some religious routine) will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when He adopted you as His own children. Now we call Him, “Abba, Father.”
We have an advocate with the Father and that sin doesn’t have power over us if we yield our lives to God and allow His Spirit to do His work through us. And sometimes we may even struggle in the yielding, but the question then is, are we spiritually minded? Does our heart truly desire to be washed clean from our old hang-ups and live to please the Father – even if we don’t always hit the mark?
Paul the apostle said (Romans 7:15), “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” Paul struggled greatly with his shortcomings. He said (Romans 7:21-23), “I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.”
Earlier I brought up the sin of homosexuality. Now I ask you to consider this in light of what Paul shared in Romans 7; Can you imagine a person who genuinely loves the Lord but has continued to struggle with overcoming a sin like homosexuality? The institutional church, routinely, either rejects this person outright, tries to fix them by applying religion, or avoids the issue entirely under the reasoning that “it’s all under the blood” so God isn’t concerned with the matter. I hope you can see how each religious approach to this issue is wrong. Just because a person struggles with sin, and even if they fall at times to that sin, doesn’t mean they are outcast.
Paul noted the agony of striving against sin and cried out (Romans 7:24), “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” But he didn’t stop with that statement. He continued by saying (vs. 25-8:2), “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to Him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” Paul is not saying that sin no longer matters (and it’s certainly apparent that he himself agonized over it – being fully aware of its ugly presence in his own life and he desired to be free of it).
Paul was trying to describe the peace we have in Christ because, like that woman who deserved to be punished for her sin, Jesus did not condemn her. Because of this joyous love that did not regard sin as an obstacle but merely as something that God gives the power to overcome, she was enlightened with a path to real freedom. This new way of life in Christ has NOTHING to do with our own strength, because we will fail in that! It has to do with HIS strength at work within us, changing us day by day and moment by moment. This is NOT what the institutional church system typically embraces… Even when some organizations seem to get on the right side of the issue, it’s very hard to leave religious prescriptions out of the mix for a system that is built upon that mindset. Sadly, some of the best intentions (even from folks who are experiencing a genuine motivation by the Spirit of God), get infected over time by the constant exposure to religious system mindsets. Only Jesus is Lord and, again, we have to learn to listen and hear what the Father is speaking to us… Nothing else will suffice!
In the rest of Romans 8, Paul goes on to describe what it means to be “spiritually minded” and it becomes quite clear that this does not mean you become sinless. But sin loses its power over you because there is no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. A spiritually minded person truly does not wish to sin. They want to flee it. They want to overcome it. Though they may stumble at times in their flesh, they get up again and keep running to the Father. Paul declares what a contrast this is from the person who is NOT spiritually minded, because those people do not even worry about these things. They have no concern for pleasing God because they do not yet know Him.
What liberation this is to know that God is pulling for us! He is on our side! He knows we’re going to stumble as long we wear these rags of corrupted human flesh, but He has given us a way to be free. He has cleansed our heart and made us new; imputing His righteousness to us. That old sin nature is not who we really are anymore, so we need not be bullied by it. We have the full backing of the grace and love of Jesus Christ… and we can rest assured that God likes us as much as He loves us.
So then, we ought to be encouraging people to open up to God, rather than getting too anxious about their sin and what kind of religion needs to be applied to stop it. The fear among many religious folks is that if we don’t single the sin out, then we’re basically endorsing it. But Jesus didn’t single out the woman caught in the act of adultery. He gave no lecture. He prescribed no manner of legalism whatsoever… and do we suppose that by neglecting to highlight the severity of her sin that He was therefore endorsing it? How ridiculous!
This way religion has taught us to view people is so contrary to Christ it’s disgusting. Though it often bears the verbiage of love, it seems to utterly lack it in substance. Christians often can’t seem to get past their own offense (and their self-righteous attitude), to see through with the eyes of Christ. They certainly don’t think it possible to actually like these sinners… Love, maybe (because as Christians they have to)… but like? No way! Why? Because to like them means to have genuine affection for them as people. I confess, this is hard at times (and in case anyone think I am suggesting that I have this down-pat, then I assure you, you are mistaken)… but the more we learn to yield to the Father and allow Him to transform us, the more we will take on His nature and behave as Christ desires of us – and it will be from a place of genuineness, not a falsely manufactured religious veneer of plastic Christianity.
As a result of this errant mindset that so many have succumbed to because of the entanglement with religion, it is no wonder that so many religious endeavors to “win souls” fail miserably. Even most of those that appear to have some success on first glance, usually must admit later that the conversions didn’t stick… and that’s without getting into the subject of whether those conversions were actually conversions to Christ or simply to church and a religious method. Even Billy Graham has stated in his later years that despite all his massive crusades and the thousands of people that made public professions for Christ, most (yes most) of those conversions did not hold! Whether you are a Billy Graham fan or not, doesn’t matter. This statement he made is most telling because it tells us that religion’s idea of evangelism is not likely God’s idea.
In church world, evangelism has been interpreted as a strategy to win converts and it has been made an official title, but this is a distortion of the word. An evangel, of its most basic definition, is one who brings Good News… but it’s more than that. The word “evangelist” in the Greek (as I understand it) is a bit different than “apostle” in that an apostle is someone who is specifically SENT with a message (i.e. given a commission by God to go an do something), but an evangelist is someone who brings glad tidings, regardless of a specific commission. It’s also not a “position” of some kind of religious ministry hierarchy; rather it is a compulsion of joy in Christ and, really, a gift of God. It doesn’t mean that an evangelist cannot also be an apostle or that an apostle cannot also be an evangelist, but the emphasis is laid upon the news that is being carried and presented, which is not just any news, but it is GREAT news! I believe that what is being demonstrated through the use of this word in Scripture is a person who, essentially, cannot contain their joy for the Gospel. They are compelled to share it (as much as they are gifted by God with the means to communicate it), not merely as some kind of duty or conviction, but because they cannot contain their own joy and their desire to share it with others. Such individuals also bear the mind of God towards sinners, in that THEY ACTUALLY LIKE THEM! They want to be around them because they have experienced a revelation of God’s love toward them and want to share it. For the true evangelist, sharing the Gospel of Jesus is not something they think they have to do because they are a Christian (nor is it some kind of religious strategy employed to manipulate people to “get saved” or attend church), but it is something they can’t help but declare because they are in love with the Lord and have a genuine heart for every person they are compelled to share of God’s goodness.
The last few years especially, God has been teaching me to see with different eyes and I’m starting to understand, experimentally, that when Christ hung around “sinners” in the New Testament period it wasn’t just because it was His “mission” or because He wanted to get them “saved”… He really liked them. Clearly, He loved them. And his genuineness with them seemed to pull them in as well. In other words, they did NOT feel they were being manipulated with some agenda… They KNEW they were being loved by God!
Unsaved people aren’t dummies; they know when they’re being played or manipulated and it’s why so many people in the world are completely turned off by Christians. They know (and they can feel it) when their Christian neighbors invite them to church or a music show or even to dinner and there is that “plastic” attitude that conveys the notion that “we are tolerating you… for Jesus…. We want you to become one of us… umm… so that we can like you and not have to feel filthy and uncomfortable around you.”
It’s clear that Jesus did not compromise and yet those who were lost and estranged from God desired His company. I actually like reading that Jesus ate and drank with them (even made wine for imbibing at their celebration). It shows me that God doesn’t get hung up on trivial externals, but goes straight to the heart of things. I love what music artist Sam Phillips once said: “Love doesn’t pay attention to the metal teeth of ugly rules.” That makes me think of the Pharisees who always had a problem with the “non-religious” activities of Jesus and His disciples; doing “unauthorized” things on holy days, hanging out with sinners, showing God’s love to hookers, thieves, and even those perceived to be enemies of Israel or at least despised by them (i.e. the Romans, the Samaritans, etc.). The religious leaders took plenty of offense at the Lord’s apparent lack of concern for their mountains of religious legalisms (i.e. “these metal teeth of ugly rules”)…
I remember, back in my church-going days, a youth pastor friend gave me a lecture one time because he heard about me dropping off a co-worker at a local bar. At the time, I was the junior high school youth leader at the church and he felt this came across as an appearance of evil (just because I told him I dropped this guy from work off at the bar). He asked me, “Dave, what if one of our young people saw you go in there? What would they think?” I said, “Well, I would hope they would draw on what they already know about me and not presume any ill of my character. Jesus went into some pretty dark places too and even His disciples gave Him guff about it perhaps not unlike you are to me. I refer to Jesus’ words, that it is not the well who need a doctor but the sick.” That was just what came to mind, but at the time I wasn’t even viewing the situation as me trying to be some physician to a sick person, as though I had some missional objective in taking a co-worker to his requested designation. I was just being a nice guy. The reality was (which I explained to this youth pastor), that I had become friends with this guy over the past month and he went from being completely uninterested in God to considering me his friend and asking me about my faith. At that particular job I was surrounded by Godless people and I never mentioned my faith unless asked, yet they all knew something was different (and some of them told me so). I never treated them differently and they never felt judged by me. On the contrary though, it was my church friends who were my judges. But I was actually able to share Jesus with people whom otherwise wouldn’t care at all about “religion” just by being myself and being real – not trying to force some kind of religiously evangelistic agenda into my daily routine. This was just another experience that led to my eventual coming out of the church system.
I have to say that, in general, I’m not sure I believe that church people generally LIKE the lost (and I feel I can say this with some confidence as a former church person myself). They sometimes forget from whence they came and the grace that God showed to them. They see the lost as an objective, a duty, a “necessary evil” to deal with as part their Christian requirement. The lost becomes a primarily religious consideration, not a love motivation. They don’t often think in terms of connecting with the lost because they LIKE them, but because they are employing strategies to convert them. Because of this mindset, the notion of “loving the lost” has become a religious cliché more than a statement of truth. Any activities employed to win them, is just to win them, not because they actually want to engage in activities with them… not because they LIKE them (and not even because they believe God likes them). Granted, not every church person is like this, so if you’re a church-going person reading this and do not identify with the stereotypical example I have just described, please do not be offended. That having been said, I hope even those of you who may attend churches regularly can admit that the mindset I have described as being typical among the folks in most churches is a fair description of reality.
I suppose my question to those who think they are called to be “evangelists” is this; What is your understanding of what the Bible calls an evangelist? Is your mindset influenced more by what the organized church system has taught you, or has Christ Himself influenced you? Do you LIKE the lost (just as Christ did)? Do you love the lost? Would you give your life for them? Jesus uttered the words “Father forgive them,” before any of them asked to be forgiven! Or are you, like so many others (and like I was at one time in my life), caught up in a zealous whirlwind of religious ideology and sense of duty to the cause? Do you think of evangelism as a tactic, a strategy, a church mission, or a position purposed only to add another number to an evangelism success chart? And, I have to ask, do you regard it as a profession (i.e. do you take money for doing it, whether it be a salary, donations, etc.)? If any of these describe your perspective or action as an “evangelist”, I would seriously question whether you are a true evangelist at all. I don’t say that to offend you, but to challenge you with the truth. If God has stirred your heart with an evangelistic call, perhaps you need to allow Him to rekindle the flame in your heart with the flame that burns in HIS heart. If God truly has called you and gifted you in this way, then I pray you will realize His purpose and His heart in the matter fully and that it will utterly transform you! I pray that it will make you completely nauseated by any religious motivation or status and that you would be set entirely free by the love and power of God.
And I’m just curious (and throwing this in for fun): If you were able, would you actually turn the water at a party into wine (knowing that the purpose of the wine was to celebrate and become intoxicated)? Christ knew as much and still supplied their abundance! Yeah, I know what your religious bible college professor probably told you – that “new wine” is non-alcoholic and that Jesus really made effervescent grape juice. It should be obvious enough though, to anyone with a Bible (and that reads what’s in it for themselves) that Shasta Grape Soda wasn’t invented in the first century and the Jews loved their wine at times of celebration. If “wine” was just “sparkling grape juice” then it would seem awful silly to have warnings in Scripture about avoiding drunkenness. So far as I know, you can drink grape juice until you turn purple and you won’t become intoxicated. That’s what I mean about the stupidity of how religion attempts to compensate for things that it feels needs to be controlled and managed by it. I say, better to simply follow the Lord and not worry so much about what religion has to say about it.
- Mark 7:13-16 (ISV) – “You are destroying the word of God through your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many other things like that.” Then he called to the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand! Nothing that goes into a person from the outside can make him unclean. It is what comes out of a person that makes a person unclean. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen!”
Would you visit the home of someone (a sinner), to eat and drink with them, just because you were invited and were blessed to be in their company? Or would you only have dinner with them if you thought it would advance the prospect of them being converted? Do you suppose Jesus only went to the tax collector’s house because He was “engaged in evangelism”? Or do you suppose He went simply because He was invited and made welcome? How do you prefer to think God feels about you? Is it more meaningful for you to regard the thought that God loves you unconditionally, despite your errors, despite the hidden things you’ve thought or none that no one else knows, but God knows – and that He has lavished you with grace, choosing not to remember any of your unrighteous thoughts or deeds? Do you prefer to believe that it is truly His good pleasure to walk with you as a close friend, day by day, through every circumstance – and to stick by you even though your failures and even when you fail Him? Or do you think of God as one who merely tolerates you and doesn’t actually like you but is just fulfilling the terms of the Gospel contract He set forth? Do you think God only went through all He went through to draw you to Himself because of some divine obligation, or because He really loves you… and even because He genuinely likes you and wants you to be a part of His life? I think this is important to consider what is motivating our perceptions of these things, because if God LIKES us, then certainly we ought to have as genuine of an attitude towards others and not merely view them as potential converts to “the Christian religion”. If they hope to see any true manifestation of the goodness and grace of God, then we had better manifest it as genuinely as we have received it ourselves!
- Romans 12:9 – Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.
Perhaps I don’t even need to add this part but I’m going to for those who lost me back at the “turning the water to wine” statement… I’m not talking about the importance of guarding the company you keep. I know well that bad company corrupts good habits (as the Scripture says) and I’m not talking about casting off restraint so that people can indulge in the flesh and just party up with unsaved friends. I am asking, how firm is your foundation and does the light shine because it is real Light (or is it a cheap religious light bulb with weak batteries)? Can people tell there is something different about you without you having to open your mouth all the time and tell them? Can people discern that you genuinely care about them and like them because you do care about them and you do like them? If folks can’t see the light shining without you trying to work it up and if they can’t detect Christ without you presenting Him with some kind of religious agenda, do you think it does any good to busy yourself with what a church labels as “evangelism”? Christians can be some of the most uptight, anal-retentive, unforgiving, arrogant and opposite-of-Christ people on the planet. Of course, nothing about such behavior is really “Christian” (or Christ-like) at all. It’s just religious. Perhaps I should call it religious-retentive instead of anal-retentive. Dare I say, “same smell”?
Remember that an evangelist is someone who shares the Good News because they are compelled by joy, love and immense gratitude for how God saved them. It has nothing to do with religious duty! It has nothing to do with getting more butts in the pew. I do believe that God gives this gift to those who are genuinely eager to proclaim the Good News that has changed their own lives as well.
Would to God that we all grow in our understanding of God’s love (and also his “like”) toward us, that it may spill over onto all those around us. This is as much of a challenge to me as I hope it will be for others. My years wrapped up with religion utterly messed up my head and infected my heart. The process of transformation has been a daily work of the Holy Spirit in my heart and I have not arrived, so I speak from a place of humility on this subject. My hearts desire is to love others the way Jesus truly loved and loves still. THAT INCLUDES my friends and Christian family that are yet present inside the four walls of religious organizations. They deserve God’s love (in operation through you and I) just as much. Since my exodus from church world, I’ve sometimes found it can be harder to love (and especially like) those that are yet caught up in religion. But God truly is doing a work in my heart and I pray He is in yours also.
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