“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20
There’s a problem with our evangelism in the West. It’s stunted. It’s half-baked. It’s unfinished. What I mean is, it only goes half-way to explaining the gospel.
It goes something like this (paraphrased for brevity):
Christian: You need a saviour
Non-Christian: I don’t feel like I do. My life is good. I have everything I need.
Christian: The Bible says you do because you’re a sinner.
Non-Christian: (Offended) I’m a good person, better than my neighbour!
How would you respond to this? We don’t usually have an answer.
One thing that strikes me when I read the gospels is the amount of time and effort that Jesus made in correcting people’s understanding of what is good.
I don’t think I truly became a Christian until I fully understood the gospel and my offensive sin of self-righteousness. When I made my commitment, I genuinely felt deep down that I wanted God and needed him. Sure, I was aware that I had done some bad things in the past, but if the truth be told I never really thought I was a sinner. In fact, I was quite proud of my decision to become a Christian!
It took a few years for me to come to realise that I was a disgraceful sinner in the eyes of God. I had no idea that all these years of calling myself a Christian, I was really in fact a raging Pharisee.
The more we perpetuate the stereotypical sinner – addict, abuser, drunkard – the harder it becomes for us to talk in terms of good and bad. For God, a sinner can also be anyone who believes that they’re sufficient without Him. He’s jealous for us to realise that when all is said and done, there is no sufficiency outside of Christ.
We all know that Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” When we read this we tend to only focus on the compassionate, loving nature of Jesus, which is right, but I think we miss the fact that this doesn’t mean that the Pharisee is healthy and therefore in no need of a doctor.
This is the kind of message that a Western audience needs to hear again and again and again.
Why is it that we have no response to the non-believer who isn’t sensitive to their desperate need of help, in the same way that we would with the poor, the addict or the abuser?
Those of us witnessing in middle class contexts need to spend much more time helping people to see the fragility of life.
The scary thing is that there are some regular church-goers who have never thought of sin in these categories. Perhaps it’s us who need to hear this message the most.
“We’re all, left to ourselves, hiding in the bushes, cringing before the voice of God. Our consciences accuse us, and we find all sorts of things to cover our nakedness. For some it’s atheism, for some hedonism, for some violence, for some sexual anarchy. And for some of us it’s Bible Belt Christianity that’s just short of the new birth.
But it doesn’t matter if we’re hiding behind an anti-gospel or an almost gospel—it’s hell.” Russell Moore
Image by Kristin Huntley