I have had good conversations with a range of people lately about how Christians should relate to our society. By this I mean, how should Christians think about the gay community, or the homeless community, or the migrant community?

If you read the letters to the editor in the newspaper, you will see people writing under the banner of Christianity condemning all kinds of people for all kinds of behaviour. If this was your only experience of Christianity you could be excused for thinking that all Christians are bigoted and judgemental. It doesn’t exactly encourage people to come to church or to find out more about Jesus, if Jesus is only interested in condemning my lifestyle.

In contrast to this, we see Jesus eating with prostitutes and tax collectors and having no issue associating with sinners. He doesn’t turn people away because they are caught in sin, nor does he label them as evil. He takes the time to care for them, listen to them, and explain why he is God’s plan for the world. If they come to believe, then they are urged to sin no more.

This week I have been working on Acts 19 for a future sermon, and there are some verses in there about those who have come to believe from a background in magic. As a response to the gospel, these people burn incredibly expensive magic books as they no longer need them and they represent the previous life they are no longer interested in or value. Again, they come to Jesus first, then we see a lifestyle response.

I think this order is vitally important in how we think about the world we live in. Our job as Christians is not to condemn people for their current lifestyle; what reason do people have for living in line with God’s laws if they don’t trust in God? Our job is to point people to Jesus. If they come to believe, that will have an impact on their lifestyle. At that point we might talk about lifestyle issues, but not before.

What will this look like? It will mean that we choose not to be offended by things we are uncomfortable with as Christians. We will be willing to associate with ‘sinners’ like prostitutes, money-driven businessmen, those who follow other gods, and those with different sexual behaviours. It will be messy. But we are to be light to the world, and I fear that what so many non-Christian people hear is not the love of God but condemnation. We need to explain the gospel that calls people back to God through Jesus.

What impression do you give to those who don’t know Jesus?