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Pursuing Not-Yet-Believers

It Sent Shock Waves Throughout the Campus

As you might imagine, seminaries are full of Jesus-y people, from suit-clad conservatives to library-dwelling linguists to edgy liberals who buck the system by (hold your breath) wearing flip flops to class. Our grad school was filled with religion majors, pastors and interns, and private school teachers. Everyone was religious; most were active in some form of church; many spent spring breaks and summers in overseas missions or student ministry camps. So imagine the bombshell when a student realized he’d never actually known Jesus. Students and professors alike were stunned, then celebratory. In this instance, the student was a son of a prominent pastor, a rising star in the student ministry world, and someone who knew—and could teach—the Bible better than most of his peers. Apparently it happens more than you might expect: God redeems people who are already in seminary. And praise Him that He does!

The shock is understandable: we can easily assume that because someone is part of a Christian school, group, and church, they must be redeemed. But as today’s verses point out, their religion may be misleading. Whether you attend a seminary or Christian school, are involved with a Christian organization, or are simply part of a local church family, you regularly find yourself in some of the most forgotten places everyday mission happens: within “Christian” circles. Today we consider two elements of mission inside the Church: seeing it as an everyday mission field and getting other Christians to join you in everyday mission.

Fruit and Foundation: Marks of Faith

Today is not a license to look under every rock for false prophets and fake Christians. Only God can know the condition of souls for sure, so we approach today with great humility and much prayer. But it should spark an awareness: how many in our own circles look and act redeemed, but are deceived, even intentionally? As we pursue everyday mission in Christian circles, today’s verses offer two concurrent marks of redemption: fruit in our lives, then the foundation of our hearts.

When rightly rooted, our lives flourish with good fruit. In Luke 3, John the Baptist rebukes many who come to be baptized for a poor view of salvation. To put it in a common term today, John calls those who view Jesus as mere “fire insurance”—whose so-called salvation makes no impact on daily life—“a brood of vipers.” His charge is that those who are truly redeemed will bear fruit. The following verses are examples of this fruit: those who were selfish become generous; those who stole become honest (and in Zacchaeus’ case in Luke 19, display the gospel by reconciling brokenness they caused); those who trusted their own ability turn to God for provision. Galatians 5 explains the difference between fruit of the flesh and fruit of the Spirit. Romans 5—7 give marks of the “old man” versus the “new man.” Seen throughout the Bible, redemption leads to fruit.

On the other end of the spectrum, good works—which look like spiritual fruit—can stem from misguided motives. An early song from musical duo Shane and Shane encapsulate well the mystery of not-yet-believers existing in Christian groups: “Your child is busy with the work of God and taking him for granted / Got a lot to do today; kingdom work’s the game I play / Lord my serving You replaced me knowing You.” Religious acts, having the right answers, doing the proper things, and even looking repentant or wise can give the impression that we must be children of God. Those Jesus speaks of in Matthew 7 preached, did great works, and even performed miracles “in your name.” Yet He still never knew them. Anything but Jesus is a failing foundation of faith. Winds of truth expose our misplaced footholds, and “great [is] the fall” of even our greatest attempts. Good fruit is only good if its roots are in the right foundation.

Pursuing Not-Yet-Believers in Our Churches

Due to theological misinformation or indignant misunderstanding of salvation, mission in our churches can be tricky. Claiming that someone might not be a Christian is a bold claim, and can cause ripples. But if people in our churches and Christian circles lack fruit, we have to lovingly pursue them: it’s our responsibility as brothers and sisters who love them more than their opinion of us. Even if they are believers, they need discipleship in areas where disbelief or idols pull them from obeying God. If they are not redeemed, they need loving relationships and intentional discipleship even more. Either way, the gospel needs to redeem at least some area of their life.

Do they exhibit patterns of sinful or unwise behavior? Do they put other authorities over the authority of God? Do they seem unrepentant or uncaring toward their sin? Do they lack the desire to grow in spiritual concepts and practices? Matthew outlines a process to address such questions35. While this passage is often misunderstood, “discipline” has the same root as “disciple”: the goal of loving confrontation, humble rebuke, and gentle questions is stated throughout this passage: that the brokenness in “your brother” would be restored, to God and community. And while the final step of this process is often interpreted, “cut them out of your life,” we see in Jesus’ a far different view of “Gentile[s] and tax collector[s]” (v. 17). He didn’t throw them away; He pursued them, loved them, demonstrated the gospel to them, and sought their redemption. In other words, He encourages us to act the same toward sinners in our churches, as sinners outside our churches. . . .

As much as we acknowledge her beautiful brokenness, we believe in local churches, and their biblical leadership, place in God’s mission, and unity amongst their members. Churches are full of sinners who need to be redeemed, and sinning saints who already have been. Just like you and us. We cannot plead this point enough: let us be wise, humble, and prayerful, both as we pursue God’s mission toward those in our churches, and as we pursue mission together alongside others in them.

Ben Connelly, his wife Jess, and their daughters Charlotte and Maggie live in Fort Worth, TX. He started and now co-pastors The City Church, part of the Acts29 network and Soma family of churches. Ben is also co-author of A Field Guide for Everyday Mission (Moody Publishers, 2014). With degrees from Baylor University and Dallas Theological Seminary, Ben teaches public speaking at TCU, writes for various publications, trains folks across the country, and blogs in spurts at benconnelly.net. Twitter: @connellyben.

(Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from A Field Guide for Everyday Mission by Ben Connelly & Bob Roberts Jr. available from Moody Publishers starting June 2014. It appears here with the permission of the author and publisher. For free resources and preorders, visit everydaymission.net.)