Looking for Hope in a Better Person

You’re a night security guard and the only Christian on duty. Another guard suddenly sticks his head into your office. Pointing his finger he almost accuses, “You’re one of those ‘Christians,’ right?” Nothing good ever follows that question. No one gives you a high five, says “good job,” and goes about their business. They want to debate, challenge, or stump you. You hesitantly respond, “Yeah . . .” He crosses his arms, looks you square in the eye and then comes the challenge: “I do drugs. What would Jesus say about that?” How would you respond—in a way that might actually resonate?

Three Insufficient Responses

I’ve posed this scenario, which actually happened to a guy I know named Nick, in trainings around the country. No matter where I am, I hear these responses,

“Um, I Don’t Know Exactly”

For some, our gut response would be to look down, stammer, and ashamedly admit we don’t know what Jesus would say. Maybe it’s the outlandish honesty or the shock of a challenge at 2 a.m. Perhaps we have a hard time putting Jesus’ response into words. Or our people-pleaser kicks in and we simply can’t tell him the core of what we believe. A common response to this question is a blank stare. Put yourself in the shoes of the asker: “I don’t know” looks like ignorance.

“He’d tell you to stop”

For others, the answer would stem from the moralistic, humanist culture we grew up in. Our answer is some form of Bob Newhart’s MADtv sketch: a counselee admits a number of struggles, while Newhart “counsels” each with a blunt, “Stop it!” Even if we intellectually know Jesus is our savior, we function as if He is a good guy with ethical advice. Maybe we advise a few “good works.” Perhaps we appeal to legality (“you’ll get arrested”), personal welfare (“it might kill you”), heartstrings (“if you get arrested, can you imagine how your family will feel?”), or moralism (“you know it’s wrong”). It could be that we even quote a verse: “He’d say ‘you shall have no other gods before me’; that’s the first commandment.” Put yourself in the asker’s shoes again: “‘Stop it’” fits a view of God many already assume: a rule-giving, demanding, and impersonal deity.

“He died for your sin so you can be with Him in heaven”

A final common response acknowledges their need for the gospel. Maybe you’ve been praying for this guard. You’re elated that God finally opened the door. So you gush the gospel many of us know well. “He’d tell you that God is perfect and heaven is perfect, but because of sin, you’re not perfect. God sent Jesus to die for your sin so you can be reconciled to God and live eternal life with Him. If you accept Jesus He’ll forgive your sin of drugs.” This is true—and praise God it is! But if he’s ignoring God, he doesn’t care about heaven. If he’s like much of the world, he doesn’t believe he’s too bad a person. If he’s a common American, it’s likely he doesn’t fully understand sin or his need for Jesus. Even the objective, big-picture gospel is not a sufficient answer.

“Like Children, Tossed To And Fro . . .”

These responses fail to get to the heart of our faith. The first is empty. the second is moralistic. The third sees the gospel as merely a past event that greatly benefits my future, but that has nothing to do with today. Many who question the gospel need to know how it applies to them in their current situation. Behind the challenging question is a heart in need of applicable truth.

Futile attempts like these are not unique to our culture. Writing to first-century Ephesus, Paul explains the goal of Christian life is maturity, then gives three ways we cannot attain that goal: “every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” First, exclusively pursuing doctrinal trends, teachers, or head-knowledge of the Bible isn’t enough. Second, we will always be let down by relying on our own power, to make new rules and fix each other. Third, false teachers deceive, spouting false hope and false ways to solve real issues.

But these are ways we often answer many questions, not just the 2 a.m. drug challenge. “How can God redeem my broken marriage?” “I’m so angry at my boss, what do I do?” “We just want a baby.” “How do these verses or commands apply to me?” “Where is God in this (recent tragedy)?” We answer, “I don’t know” (and if you’re really good, “. . . but I’ll pray for you.”) “Let me give you a great book on that.” “Let’s meet every week for accountability.” “Do these three things or steps.” “You just need to trust Jesus.” “One day, all this will be better.”

Applying An Objective Gospel To Subjective Situations

None of these, Paul would say, are sufficient for faith or maturity. He even calls answers like this childlike. Answers like these miss one of the great blessings of the gospel. It is a past event, both historically and personally for every Christian. It does give future hope, for personal reconciliation and the renewal of all things. But it also impacts every moment of our present lives. The gospel means something, to everyone, everyday, for every situation, whether they know it or not. Paul says that while those other ways fail, the one way to grow in Christ is to “speak the truth in love.”

This is why we listen well; why we learn stories. Within every complaint, struggle, and idol hides an opportunity to speak the objective truth of the gospel into someone’s subjective circumstance. Jeff Vanderstelt offers four areas to listen for, in every story, frustration, and situation, where we can intervene and point people toward Jesus:

  • Identity: Who or what shapes their understanding of themselves? Where do they find personal value and worth?
  • Brokenness: Where are things “different” than they’re supposed to be? What are areas of pain, hurt, and frustration? Who or what’s to blame?
  • Redemption: What or who do they look to, to fix the brokenness? What or who makes everything right? What or who’s their functional redeemer?
  • Hope: What does “right” look like? What would everything look like once everything is fixed? What or who is the center of that hope?

When we identify false identity or hope in someone’s life, see a misplaced view of brokenness, or hear the letdown of a false redeemer, we can point them toward a better story. We lead them to an identity and hope in God, not anything or anyone else. We define sin as the true brokenness, not any other problem. We point to Jesus as the only true Redeemer in the midst of the siren calls of false saviors. That loves them well, and speaks gospel truth in a way that addresses a direct need.

How Would You Respond?

“I do drugs. What would Jesus say about that?” Based on today’s content, how do we answer that question? What deeper need do the drugs really cover? What true struggle is he admitting? Put yourself in Nick’s shoes: how does the objective gospel apply to the guard’s subjective situation?

After thinking for a moment, Nick responded, “I think Jesus would tell you you’re looking for hope in a place that lets you down. And you know it lets you down because you have to take a hit three times a day. So I think Jesus would tell you He’s a better place to put your hope, because He promises He’ll never let you down.” Nick spoke the gospel truth into the basis of the guard’s personal hope. In thousands of years of history, sixty-six written books, and millions of lives across history, God has proven that Jesus is our greatest hope. The guard didn’t fall on his knees weeping that night. God didn’t redeem his soul in that office. But he uncrossed his arms, shook his head, and told Nick, “No one has ever told me that before. That actually makes a lot of sense.” That night, the guard walked having heard the gospel in a way that resonated with his present life and need.

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.)