I think that so often well-meaning Christian people send a completely wrong message about Christianity to the wider world.
If you are currently a Christian reading this, try hard to put yourself in the shoes of the typical Aussie who cares little for religion. They have no idea about the Bible and what it teaches, and have had no contact personally with the church or with a genuine Christian. What message might they hear from the church?
If they read the newspapers and letters to the editor in particular, they might well hear that some aspect of their lifestyle is wrong according to God. Using verses not-so-subtly chosen from the middle of Leviticus or Deuteronomy, there is always someone who is keen to condemn something. It is easy to find material where Christians condemn homosexuality, de facto relationships, gambling, excessive drinking, or many things that might be dear to the heart of someone who doesn’t know Jesus. Now there is, of course, something right about being concerned about these things, for they do indeed go against God’s law and what God loves.
But let’s make sure we get the order right here. I am currently working through the book of Deuteronomy on Sunday mornings with my church, and I am constantly reminded and pleasantly surprised by the emphasis there. Moses goes to great lengths to remind people that they are no better than anyone else and are only God’s people by God’s grace. And the reasons Moses gives the people to obey the laws of God have nothing to do with being good enough for God or reaching some moral standard; they are responses to God, who He is and what He has done for them.
The order in the Biblical story might seem obvious, but it is so important. God rescued his people from Egypt first, then he led them to the wilderness and gave them the law. They were not given the law in Egypt, given a couple of years to try to reach an appropriate standard, then saved. No. They were saved first, purely by grace, and then called to live a certain way in response.
When we look at the unbelieving world around us, do we remember that order in our own lives? Those of us who have been saved by Jesus should resonate with the Deuteronomy order of things too. We are saved first by Jesus, by grace alone, then called to live appropriately in response. When Paul calls those in the Corinthian church to discipline one among them he makes the point that this is appropriate within the church but not outside; we should not be the moral policemen outside the church.
Let’s get back to the typical Aussie again. If all they hear is criticism of their lifestyle (even if it is inconsistent with God’s way of living) they will think that following Jesus is just about rules and reaching a certain standard. And that’s not all that attractive to them, and understandably so. But do Christians ever offer the grace that our God offers, treating those who live differently to us with respect and explaining the grace of God before calling them to live a certain way?
This will also flow into how we welcome people at church. Imagine someone visits your church for the first time, and they have never been to a church before. They might dress differently, they might be covered in tattoos, smell of cigarettes, and use language we are uncomfortable with. How do we mentally categorize them? As people who should be told off for being inappropriate, or people who need Jesus just as much as we do?
Let’s get the order right. Let’s not put the cart before the horse. We need to present grace first, and after this has been accepted, only then should we deal with the less significant issues. Separation from God is the real issue; the rest are only symptoms.
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