The U.S. Army is one of the most unique employers in the world. It allows its employees to literally wear their accomplishments, or lack thereof, on their sleeve or chest for all to see. It’s kind of like the grown up version of Boy Scouts. The interesting thing about this policy is that, often times, those without certain badges or patches receive demeaning labels marking them as “flawed.” For instance, in the Army you wear your unit patch on your left sleeve; and on your right sleeve, you wear the American flag with a deployment patch underneath—if you’ve deployed that is. To not have deployed automatically marked one as “less than.” I remember returning from my Afghanistan deployment and donning the coveted deployment patch and Combat Infantry Badge. No longer was I a green piece of … work. Instead, I was a seasoned infantryman.
Take a second and imagine walking around constantly being judged, or evaluated, by others based off what you’ve done or what you haven’t done. Imagine constantly having your flaws pointed out by others. How would that make you feel? Probably a little insecure, maybe a little ashamed, definitely inferior. Despite the fact that we would never want that type of constant judgment or evaluation on ourselves, the modern American church is known to outsiders for its ability to make others feel flawed, less than. To be clear, if you are reading this and you are a Christian, you are part of the modern American Church. The good news is you can help change that stereotype, starting today.
This past weekend, Caleb Kaltenbach taught that love is the tension of grace and truth. Showing others the love of Christ is ultimately how we can change the often-negative view outsiders have of the Church. One of the ways that Caleb said we can live in the tension of grace and truth, to show love to others, is to stop trying to fix people and instead just point them to Jesus.
Living in the tension between grace and truth requires us to give up this sense that it is our job to point out the flaws in others and fix them. As a follower of Christ, it isn’t my job to fix someone or change his or her behavior. Obedience on my part is to share the Good News of Christ dying on the cross and rising from the dead. Just telling someone to change his or her ways will not bring about saving faith. Paul is clear in Romans 10:17 that, “faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.” Earlier, in the book of Romans, Paul shares what the Good News is all about.
6 When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. 7 Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. 8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
While we were still flawed, before we could fix ourselves, before we could even ask God to fix us, he came and died for us. How crazy is that? Those of us who are already following Christ should be humbled at the fact that we are Christians not because we changed our ways, or fixed our flaws, but because Christ died for us while we were still flawed!
Jesus himself, after extending salvation to the worst of the worst in that society, a tax collector named Zacchaeus, said, “‘For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.’” (Luke 19:10)
We were lost, broken, helpless; and Jesus found us and saved us. I love the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus in Luke 19 because Jesus doesn’t tell Zacchaeus to do anything. He just steps into Zacchaeus’ messy life and extends grace to him… Jesus just loves Zacchaeus! Then, not because Jesus tells him to, but because he encounters the living God, Zacchaeus, who had stolen money from countless people responds, “‘I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!’” (Luke 19:8) Does Zacchaeus change? Yes. But he doesn’t do it because he is shamed or guilted into submission, or because Jesus points out all his flaws. He changes because he encounters the love of Christ.
Most followers of Christ would admit that we are called to extend Jesus’ grace to others. So, why do we still feel like we need to help others see their own flaws? Why do we feel like we have to help God change someone? Ultimately, it boils down to one thing. Trust. We don’t trust that God can or will change someone. Of course, we would never say it out loud, but there is a piece of us that forgets Jesus’ promise to us, the promise that the Holy Spirit will transform hearts, souls, and lives.
In John 16, Jesus is talking to his disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit. “‘And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment.’” (John 16:8) The Holy Spirit is the “he” in this verse. So, Jesus is saying that it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, not ours. We are to love others, share with them the Good News that Christ died for them, and then trust that God will move in their life. This extending of love and pointing someone to Jesus is not once and done; it requires a patient relationship in which we continually point them to Jesus and trust that God will take care of the rest. It is as Eugene Peterson says, “a long obedience in the same direction.”
As you embark on this endeavor to love others by pointing them to Jesus, remember that the unchurched and non-Christian people that God has placed around you are there for a reason. They are there so you can extend to them the love, grace, and acceptance of Jesus. They are not a project for you to work on. People are not tasks to be accomplished; they are souls to be cared for.
Are you prone to point out someone’s flaws? Why or why not?
Do you wholeheartedly trust that God will work in and change someone?
Think of someone in your life whom you have viewed as a project, like you needed to fix something about them. How can you point them to Jesus this week?
Read Luke 19, and observe the ways that Jesus interacts with Zacchaeus.
If you have hurt someone in the past by trying to “fix” them, reach out and extend an apology.
If you are walking with someone who doesn’t know Jesus, invite them to church this week. If they already attend CedarCreek, encourage them to check out week one of GrowthTrack.
Dear Lord, you are capable of the impossible. You can do what I cannot. Forgive me for attempting to be the Holy Spirit in people’s lives. Help me to trust you as I show your love to others. Help me live in the tension of grace and truth with those around me. Soften my heart for those who don’t know you, and use me in ways that only you can. Amen.
This post was written by Alex Woody. Alex is the Director of Students at the West Toledo Campus of CedarCreek Church. He has an amazing wife and two joy-filled daughters who can regularly be found filling the West Toledo lobby with laughter and smiles.
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