Exodus 16:2-15, Philippians 1:21-30
September 18, 2005
“Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven” I’ve seen that message many times. I’m sure you have, too. Usually you find it on bumper stickers. Which is kind of ironic if you think about it. It’s often while driving that people are the most “imperfect” and need to be “forgiven!” (Actually, come to think of it, there are times I’m glad I don’t have that message on my bumper!)
Anyway, that message is true. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that message can be both good and bad. It’s a good thing for other people to see, because too many people want to use the imperfections they see in Christians as an excuse to avoid Christianity entirely. And in some cases, they’re right in their criticism!
I was listening to a Christian radio station the other day. You’ll find that I do that a lot! At the time, I was listening to a series of bands playing some Contemporary Christian music – which I also do a lot. And at one point, one of the musicians began to speak, and he said something very interesting. He said this. “The single biggest influence in this world toward people becoming atheists are Christians!” He then went on to describe the problem as the being “People who say one thing Sunday morning, and then don’t live it after they walk out the Church door.”
Think about that! How often does that happen? Some people say they don’t go to any Church because the Church is full of hypocrites. Well, I’m sure you’ve heard the response that’s often given to that. A clever person once answered, “Come on in, then. There’s always room for one more!” That’s actually a great line, if you think about it! “There’s always room for one more hypocrite!”
Is what the singer said true, though? Does the hypocrisy – the not living the life we talk about – does that influence people to become atheists? Do people think less of our faith when we “talk the talk” but don’t “walk the walk,” as the expression goes? I think it does. Sure, there are some people who are looking for any excuse to avoid Christianity. But there are others who are not, and who need to know that it’s not about perfection, it’s about about forgiveness. It’s not about righteousness, it’s about Grace. They need to know that Christians aren’t perfect. They are just forgiven. But that’s only about how we are saved, not about how we live! Let me say that again. Christians aren’t perfect. They are just forgiven. But that’s only about how we are saved, not about how we live!
You see, the problem with that message is that there are too many Christians who use that as their excuse! They think they’re forgiven, so they don’t have to bother about perfection! They think, since there’s Grace, they don’t have any need to be different. And of course, there are many who don’t actually want to have anything to do with being different anyway! So they don’t bother. And that of course feeds the “cycle” of people rejecting Christianity.
Friends, make no mistake about it. Christianity is a life-changing! “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation! The past is finished and done, behold, the new has come!” (II Corinthians 5:17) Jesus Christ has the power to change lives! I’ll never forget when I heard that stated clearly for the first time. It’s not about changing the things we believe. It’s about having those beliefs change the way we live. And those who miss that part of the message have to think seriously about whether they understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ at all.
To the Church in Philippi, Paul wrote these words. “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Why? To what end? It’s not just because it’s the good and right thing to do – which it is. It’s not just because it contributes to our spiritual well being – as well as our overall well being! We are also to live a life worth of the gospel because we are to be examples of the Christian faith. We are the light of the world. We are the city set on the hill. Jesus said that in the sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5.
Whether we like it or not, we are ambassadors of Jesus Christ to the world! If we don’t get that, we will appear as ridiculous as these sports figures who say, “I didn’t get into this sport to be a role model for kids.” Too bad! You are! And so are we “role models” to the world. They’re looking to us. And they’re searching for what we have. It’s a desperate world out there!
So, we are to let our manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And by the way, I’m not talking about Church membership here! (Did he really say that? Yes, he did!) This is about being the light of the world. This is about being the people God has called us to be. This is about not just “talking the talk” but “walking the walk.”
Now, will Church growth follow after that? The answer to that is, “Yes! But only if we are being Christ’s ambassadors, if we are showing God’s love and Grace to the world, if we let our light shine before others.” We do those things in order that “they will see our good works and (what?) give glory to our father in heaven. That’s the end of that passage in the Sermon on the Mount. “Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good works and give glory to your father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) They will come and worship with us.
That’s the way it works. That’s what Jesus told us. But we need to remember that it is the example we give to the world that comes first. Too many in the Church have that backwards. They think, “We need to fill pews.” “We need to fill budgets.” “Therefore, we have to get more members.” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that! But it doesn’t work that way! People won’t come into Churches to fill pews and balance budgets. Would you? Would you come to a Church if the underlying message was, “we need more people.” or worse, “We need your money.” What we really should be thinking first is, “We need to be living lives worthy of the gospel.” “We need to be examples of faith.” “We need to be the light of the world!”
That’s always at the heart of Church growth. We need to be showing people the glory and the joy of being God’s people! We need always to be ready “to give answer for the hope that lies within us.” (I Peter 3:15) We need to develop within us that passion for God and for his kingdom! We need to know that as the “body of Christ” we are Jesus’ eyes and ears and voice and hands and feet. Think about that. When the world sees the Church, do they see the embodiment of Jesus Christ? Sometimes I wonder.
I heard someone once say this. “For some people, you will be the only Church they’ll ever see. You will be the only Bible they’ll ever see. You may be the only Jesus they’ll ever see!” Think about that! To some people you will be the only Church, the only Bible, the only Jesus they will ever see! Is that a big responsibility or what? The answer to that is, yes! It is a big responsibility! It’s also a huge blessing! It’s also an incredible calling! It’s also an unbelievable joy! John would later write, “See what love the Father has shown us that we are called Children of God!” (I John 3:1)
So let the manner of our lives be worthy of the gospel of Christ – on both sides of those doors! As Paul goes on to say, let us “stand firm in one spirit, with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” One of the things that shows best the love of God to the world is our unity. Does that mean we all agree all of the time? Of course not! (Don’t be silly!) But we are still one in the Spirit. We are one in the Lord. And we pray that all unity will one day be restored. Do you remember that old song? That’s how it goes. “And they’ll…” What? “And they’ll know we are Christians – by our love.”
I’m going to change the middle hymn to that one. You know it. (Or you should know it!) And I want you to sing it again concentrating on the words. “We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand… and together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land.” We will work with each other, we will work side by side… and we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each ones pride. “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” My friends, that love – the love which comes from God – changes lives!
So, I invite you to think about your own life today. Has your faith been for you a life-changing experience? Are you living your life in a manner that is worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Together, are we “standing firm in one spirit, being of one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel?” We are the light of the world. We may be the only gospel others may see.
Eternal God, you have loved us with a life-changing love. Help us, by the power of your Spirit, to live lives worthy of your gospel. Teach us to be of one mind, striving side by side every day for our faith. And help us to be the light of the world for others. May we know of your love, and show that love to others. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.