How can we expect to change the world if we’re “separated” from it? Much of Christianity has sought to separate itself from the world in an effort to maintain some form of holiness. While this may make a version of holy life simpler for those that pursue it, the Bible and Jesus demonstrate that it’s not the way things were meant to be.
I’ve spent my formative years and some of my post-formative years in an environment that upholds “holiness” at all costs and clings to 2 Corinthians 6:17 like a drowning man to a life jacket. It’s message is preached over the pulpit and reinforced in everything from casual conversation with fellow believers to Sunday School.
This stance has led the religious culture of my generation to fall more inline with the mentality demonstrated by the Pharisees and Sadducees than with the vision and mission of Jesus Christ. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in this message and fully agree with the scripture but I feel that at times the way I’ve seen this applied disregards many of the examples in God’s Word. I’ve witnessed sincere, God seeking families “throw the baby out with the bath water” and leave behind traditions they used to follow in order to run headlong down a path that they have been told by culture, media, and “professional Christians,” more closely resembles the lifestyle of Christ. (Frequently, those in this camp tend to get picky about the stances they take. They’ll take a hard stance for one moral, Biblical concept while completely disregarding others. Consumer Christianity…picking their stances like you pick through fruit at the market.) I have seen others simply walk away altogether. They recognize the hypocrisy and inconsistency in Christianity and decide they’d rather join the masses than deal with the frustration and small mindedness any longer. Leaving behind and forsaking truth is not the answer and people that do this seem to hold Christians to different standards than they do non-Christians when it comes to inconsistencies in character (but that’s a topic for another day). As for me…I have decided to remain where I am and work to change the mindsets or paradigms held by those around me while growing closer to Christ every day…The struggle is avoiding a lukewarm relationship with God.
I have observed people transition from “hot” to “lukewarm”and fill the pew on Sundays without any indication of a desire to do anything other than fill that seat without taking on any further responsibility for their own salvation. Revelation 3:16 comes to mind,
“But since you are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spit you out of my mouth,”
It scares me because that described me for a long time. It describes some of my friends and acquaintances…It describes much of a generation. It has to change!
One of the most pressing concerns that needs to be addressed is the church’s fear of entering the world and meeting people where they are. Let’s take a look at three passages from the Gospels before we start digging in. (To avoid confusion, Matthew and Levi are the same person. The names were different depending on whether the Hebrew or Roman name was used, i.e. Simon and Peter.)
Luke 5:27-32 – ”Later, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the place for paying taxes. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Levi left everything and went with Jesus. In his home Levi gave a big dinner for Jesus. Many tax collectors and other guests were also there. The Pharisees and some of their teachers of the Law of Moses grumbled to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with these tax collectors and other sinners?” Jesus answered, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn’t come to invite good people to turn to God. I came to invite sinners.”
Matthew 9:9-13 – “As Jesus was leaving, he saw a tax collector named Matthew sitting at the place for paying taxes. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Matthew got up and went with him. Later, Jesus and his disciples were having dinner at Matthew’s house. Many tax collectors and other sinners were also there. Some Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and other sinners?” Jesus heard them and answered, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. Go and learn what the Scriptures mean when they say, ‘Instead of offering sacrifices to me, I want you to be merciful to others.’ I didn’t come to invite good people to be my followers. I came to invite sinners.”
Mark 2:16-17 – “Once again, Jesus went to the shore of Lake Galilee. A large crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he walked along, he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus. Levi was sitting at the place for paying taxes, and Jesus said to him, “Follow me!” So he got up and went with Jesus.Later, Jesus and his disciples were having dinner at Levi’s house.Many tax collectors and other sinners had become followers of Jesus, and they were also guests at the dinner. Some of the teachers of the Law of Moses were Pharisees, and they saw Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors. So they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus heard them and answered, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn’t come to invite good people to be my followers. I came to invite sinners.”
It’s interesting to see this event made its way into the scriptures multiple times and the message that came through multiple storytellers is the same. Imagine the impact this singular interaction must have had on Matthew, Mark, and Luke! Of all the events they chose to record, they all zero in on this one…When confronted by the religious leaders of the day regarding his acceptance and love for those that others wouldn’t even waste their time on, Jesus’ answer is convicting to the core. He didn’t come to save the self-righteous or those that are so haughty as to think that they’ve risen to the height of spirituality where they’ve “arrived.” No! He came to befriend and save those that are messed up, broken, hurting, abused, and lonely.
As I read through these accounts and compare my own life and attitudes to what I see demonstrated, I end up convicted every single time. I think that I have it all together and think that I don’t have predetermined notions about the people I meet, but I do. It’s a struggle for me to get outside my comfort zone and reach out to those in need. It’s uncomfortable and requires intentional action on my part. I have to change the way I view the world around me and focus on connecting with everyone I come in contact with. That’s what Jesus did.
This is our modern day cross. Jesus’ cross resulted in him standing in the gap, denying himself in order to bring the entire world to salvation. My cross is standing in the gap and denying myself by building relationships with those I meet in submission to the Spirit in order to bring them to salvation and a relationship with our Creator. The fact is, when it comes down to it, it’s infinitely easier said than done…
The only thing I know to do is take that step and make the effort to reach out even when I don’t feel like while praying for the love of God to overtake every thought that runs through my mind. There are times when the last thing I want to do is reach out or spend time with people but I recognize my own hypocrisy and fight it with everything within me. I will love others the way God loves me. I will get better at this. I will grow…with the help of God.