(Yeah, I couldn’t think of another title. Eye-catching, though, right? :) )
I read a very thought-provoking entry in my copy of Watchman Nee’s devotional A Table in the Wilderness earlier this week.
As many as touched him were made whole. Mark 6. 56.
Recall the incident of the Pharisee and the publican at prayer in the temple. The Pharisee understood all about tithes and offerings, yet from him there was no cry of the heart to God. It was the publican who cried, “Lord have mercy upon me!” Something went out to God from that man which met with an immediate response, and Jesus singles him out as the one whom God reckoned righteous. For what is it to be reckoned righteous? It is to touch God. The great weakness of so much present preaching of the Gospel is that we try to make people understand the plan of salvation, and all too often we see little or no result. Wherein have we failed? I am sure it is in this, that our hearers do not see Him. We have not adequately presented the Person. We point them only to their sin or God’s salvation, whereas their real need is to see the Saviour Himself, to meet Him and to make contact with Him.
“The great weakness of so much present preaching of the Gospel is that we try to make people understand the plan of salvation.” This statement especially resonated with me. I find that much of Christianity is overly focused on telling people about God and His plans and what He can do for people. It seems that most of what we call “witnessing” is telling people about what we’ve seen rather than showing them.
Say someone tells me about this awesome band that is groundbreaking in the genre of electro-emo-classical-industrial-metal-post-opera-rap-spazz-core. He tells me that it’s the single best band that has ever existed. This person can tell me all about the music, what his favorite songs are, how mind-blowing the technical skill of the players is, and even how the music has changed his life. I may even give mental assent to the fact that, yes, this may be the greatest band of all time, based solely on his description. However, until I’m actually presented with the music and hear it for myself, any admiration for the band will be feigned and derived from what someone else says about it rather than my personal experience. My friend will have to actually allow me to hear the music before I can fully agree with him, that yes, the band is flippin’ awesome.
In a similar way, many Christians will try to “win souls” for Christ by trying their damnedest to explain complicated theological concepts that most Christians barely even understand. As Watchman Nee says, “Wherein have we failed? I am sure it is in this, that our hearers do not see Him. We have not adequately presented the Person.” Instead of loving people as Jesus would, many Christians feign affection for people while in the back of their minds they think of them as projects that they are trying to complete for God. I’m not saying that they don’t care for these people, but many become so focused on “saving” them and become so desperate to do so that they forget to care for the person as a person.
Consider Matthew 9:9:
“And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.”
As I read this recently, I wondered to myself how I would have reacted to a call like that. If I was just sitting and doing my job when this strange-looking, relatively unattractive man (see Isaiah 53:2- “there is no beauty that we should desire him”) came along and told me to follow him, what would I do? There must have been something about Jesus that compelled Matthew to follow Him, but it wasn’t deep theology or complicated exegesis. Nor did Jesus say to Him, “Follow me so that you can be saved from your sins and an eternity in Hell, which salvation will become complete after I atone for your sins on the cross and then rise again three days later, after which I will return to Heaven and send you the Holy Spirit.” He simply saw Matthew sitting there and told him to follow Him. Consequently, Matthew simply saw Him and followed.
Shortly after this incident, Jesus is found in a house, eating and drinking with “publicans and sinners” (Matt. 5:10). Earlier today, my pastor did a Sunday school lesson on whether or not God has a sense of humor, and pointed to this passage. He found it hard to imagine that Jesus would sit there eating with a morose look on His face, remaining completely serious while the rest of the group enjoyed themselves and had a good time. No, as my pastor said, most likely He was enjoying the company of sinners and discussing things such as the weather and their occupations and being generally easy to be around.
All it takes for someone to want to follow Christ is to see Him for who He is. If we want people to know God, and “point them only to their sin or God’s salvation,” what good will it do? Will our words save them? Will their ability to comprehend the plan of salvation save them? Will their acknowledgment of their sin save them? NO. None of these things save a person, they only lead to dead mental assent and legalism. All that will bring a person to life is God revealing Himself to a person in His own time.
So, what is left for us to do? How can we present Jesus in such a way that people will “meet Him and … make contact with Him” without all our theological jargon? What is God that we can show Him to others? “God is love!” (1 John 4: 8,16). How do we show people God? — by showing them love! How do we show people love? — it starts by forming real relationships with people. As much as I tire of hearing the old cliché, “It’s relationship, not religion,” I find I must admit that this is the only real starting point when it comes to showing people real love, not throwing guilt or fear in people’s faces and expecting them to respond to “God’s call on their lives.” Of course, the natural next question is, “What is love?” To use another cliché, read 1 Corinthians 13 and you’ll find your answer.
It is not our job as Christians to convict people who don’t believe. Conviction can only happen once people have seen Jesus for who He is. Showing people love is the best way to show them Jesus. Let God take care of showing people their sin, and once it’s seen, God may use us to help people to understand the more complex matters. To start with fear and guilt, however, only leads down a dark road of legalism that forks into either excessive pride or insanity. Love is the most important gift God has given us, and it should be our primary concern to show that love to others in whatever ways we can.