Recently I received some heart-breaking news: someone I was getting to know had walked away from Christianity. Questions swirled through my mind. How did it happen? As I began to hear bits and pieces of the news, this person had become disillusioned by the Church because of the injustices they had experienced.
Many people object to Christianity because of pain or disappointment with Christians and churches. Yet Thom Rainer points out in his book The Unchurched Next Door that regardless of whether someone is a Christian, seeker, skeptic, or scoffer, 60% of people have experienced some pain from a Christian or Church.
We like to think that we all are rational beings and that we make decisions based upon facts and data. However, we are not just brains. Human beings are also emotive creatures. Our decisions are not just rational decisions.
If you meet someone who is generous, kind, and sacrificial, you are likely to find his or her arguments more compelling than someone who is self-righteous, arrogant, and harsh. Jesus taught his disciples that by our love for one another the world would know that we are his disciples (Jn 13:35).
So how do we address the imperfections of other Christians when we encounter someone hurt by Christians and Christianity?
First, the Bible is very honest about our shortcomings, failures, and sins. We are not Christians because we are good people; we are Christians because we have confessed that we had a bad heart and that the only way we can relate to God and one another is by grace. We need his mercy and forgiveness. While we are instantly declared righteous (justification), the change in character and behaviour takes a lifetime (sanctification). We do not clean up our lives to become Christians but learn to live by grace and are changed by it. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that the church will be filled with immature, wounded, broken people who have a long way to go. The church is where God takes sinners and transforms them by grace. The church, therefore, will be a messy place!
Second, because God’s transforming grace is gentle, patient, and slow, we should not be surprised that it takes years for people to change. Many people come from broken homes, dysfunctional environments, and unstable families. Good character does not generally flourish in those environments. When someone from a broken past comes to faith in Christ, they are not instantly sanctified in behaviour and thought. But over time, the trajectory of their life will be transformed by sitting at the feet of Jesus and being strengthened by grace as they walk in his love, security, and faithfulness. Unless we know where people have come from and their life journey, it would be easy to make a judgment about someone’s spirituality. We don’t compare the health of someone in the hospital to the person on the street because we expect that the person who is sick has recognized their need for help. In the same way, the Church will be filled with people needing grace!
Thankful for God’s patience with me – and you too!
Missional Action Plan: Think of how Christ has changed your life over years. Remind yourself of how you have changed and grown. Be prepared to share with someone how God has been patient with you and how important it is to know where someone has come from and where they are now in their journey of growth.
Missional Action Prayer: Lord, thank you for your gentle, patient love towards me. Help me to grow in gentleness and patience with others so I might help unbelievers hear the good news of how you welcome and receive sinners like me and change us from one degree of glory to the next. In Christ’s name, Amen.