In a world of subjective truths, tolerance, and acceptance, Christianity has become nothing more than 'another' religion in the eyes of many. Western culture, in particular, is grievously enamored with the idea of self-reliance, self-dependence, and self-worth. Christianity is extremely counter-cultural because it teaches the actuality of human depravity, the necessity for a savior, and an eternal focus for our temporal lives. For unbelievers at-large, this can be something that can seem intolerant and outdated, a tradition steeped in rigid tradition, and a stumbling block to the progress of the society and the world. For Christians, however, depraved humanity in need of a savior is true reality. This is life for the human race. As we consider our calling to be “ministers of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18-20), we must understand the people we are living around, their view of the world, and the journey they are on. Likewise, we have to continually allow the Spirit to draw us to repentance in areas of life where we fail to “let the love of Christ control us” (2 Cor. 5:14). Though loving others is often difficult and even scary, the pressure is not on us to change hearts, for only God can save through the transforming power of the gospel (Acts 4:12). As a friend of mine says often, “We do the ministry, God does the miracles.” The ministry of reconciliation acknowledges two truths: humans are sinful and we need a savior. The message of reconciliation is God dealt with sin himself and saved humanity. This is the Christian's message.
How Can this Message be Rejected?
Perhaps a substantial reason for the negative view of Christianity is the attitude and actions of Christians themselves. As a world religion, the stigma of dependence on something outside ourselves is already a built-in excuse to reject believers. In addition, Christians have a tendency to mistake their salvation as license to be self-righteous and judgmental, wondering why unbelievers are not intelligent enough to “figure it out.” Like the Pharisee in Luke 18, we often look at the people around us exclaiming, “Thank you God that I’m not like these tax collectors!” As the story goes, the Pharisee has much to learn from the tax collector whose only justification is in the mercy of God and not in his righteous (or unrighteous) works. I have encountered many non-Christians and de-churched Christians who use Christian hypocrisy as the chief reason for their unbelief. Often times there is a deeper issue at hand, but just as often this objection is simply as real to them as Jesus is to us.
For Christians to be catalysts for change in the world, we must first wear his name with humility, dignity, and fervor. As Jesus so clearly states in Luke 19, even if we do not worship him, creation itself will cry out his name. He doesn’t need us to change the world but, nonetheless, he uses us as ministers of reconciliation. It is our duty and obligation to speak truth into the lives of others (Matt. 28:18-20), and there is no “out clause” for the Christian. We are to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16), loving God and others because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). There is a story going on all around us, a story that God has been writing since before the foundation of the world. Acts 17 tells us that God has appointed to every person the time and boundaries in which they live so that they will find him. So, for the Christian, this means that not only are you in the time and place that you are to find God, but those around you are in a similar position. Again, you cannot save anyone, but it is your burden as a Christian to treat everyone as though they will turn to Christ in that instance. As Charles Spurgeon once said (and I paraphrase), “I believe that God will save his elect and I also believe that if I do not preach the gospel, he will lay the blood of the lost at my doorstep.”
In the end, we do not know the answers to every question about how and why God saves anyone, but his Word is very clear that the proclamation of the gospel is a key component to transformation (Romans 10). People’s hearts cannot be ultimately changed for the better by new legislature, war, personal enlightenment, or secret philosophies; it can only be changed by the sin-stomping, life-altering life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through him and by him (John 6:44; 14:6).
This is our hope, and this is hope for those who are far from God. God is reconciling all things to himself and as reconciled people, Christians are to reflect Christ in a way that is not self-righteous and proud, but rather humble and sacrificial. Perhaps one of the most telling verses in the entire New Testament comes in Acts 2. After hearing the preaching of the Word, the early Christians went about their daily lives following the apostles’ teaching, sacrificing for one another, and spending genuine time in community. The result? They were loved by those around them and “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (2:47). People were being saved through the Spirit of God just by watching these Christians live their lives! This is the gospel at work, changing lives through lives that love God and love others. The Word being preached is extremely important, as seen earlier in Acts 2, but there is so much more to it. Christians can make an eternal impact by obeying and worshiping God the way these early believers did. The truth, and only the truth, sets hearts free (John 8:32).
Toward Being Ministers of Reconciliation
As someone who is in constant prayer and repentance about my own selfishness and propensity to avoid serving others, there are a few ways that I personally seek to love my neighbors as Christ calls me to:
- Pray, Pray, Pray – Nothing of this magnitude can be accomplished without the Spirit’s work (1 Cor. 2:12). When you share the gospel and when someone receives it, there is supernatural power weaved throughout the entire process. Knowing that I need – and have – God’s help encourages me to worry less about my own fear of man.
- Remember Christ – Though WWJD? bracelets have largely come and gone, this slogan is actually highly missional. When speaking with others, praying for others, and serving others, I have the perfect model in Jesus. When I don’t feel like being generous, I am reminded of how generous Christ is to me on a daily basis. When I don’t feel like serving, I am reminded that God himself stepped into human history and suffered the cross with joy (Hebrews 12:2).
- Go – Loving and reaching my neighbors is frequently a better idea than action. Upon relying on the Spirit and remembering how Christ lived, I am finally reminded of the Great Commission’s call to literally take this good news to the lost (Matt. 28:18-20). This may be the hardest part, but an understanding of who Christ is, what he’s done, and what he calls me to propels me into his mission. May we all trust him with this responsibility.
To read more about how sharing the message of reconciliation read Jonathan Dodson's book, Unbelievable Gospel.