I recently stumbled upon a posting by one lady on a marriage forum. She had made reference to Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in the USA.
Michelle had rained accolades on her husband, walking the audience through the journey the First Couple had been on since courting and through marriage. The highs and lows of their relationship. I had briefly listened to a part of the speech and agree it was a powerful delivery, coated with humour to drive the point home.
The virtuous woman in a speech
Back to the lady’s posting though. She drew immense value from Michelle’s speech. Not for its delivery from a political perspective but rather the challenge it presented to her. Both as a christian and a wife. According to her, it had brought to life the virtuous woman and her role in a husband’s life.
What does this have to do with sinners being drawn to church?
The forum reacts
Some of the reactions on the forum made me think about “sinners” and church. In the context of why “sinners” find church unattractive and rebuffing.
There were some on the forum that questioned Michelle being cited as a role model. Others took issue with some of the questionable decisions Barack has made while serving as President of the US of A. The fact that interpretations were varied is healthy. However, the loss of value in the lesson that the lady had drawn from the speech was saddening.
There was a section of people that dwelled primarily on the perceived failings of the Obamas but neglected to decipher the opportunity to highlight the urgent need for virtuous women, wives supportive and proud of their spouses regardless of situations or the presence/absence of cameras.
From some sentiments on the forum, one would easily feel they were off track for picking a lesson from Michelle. Probably because she is a secular figure. I was impressed though that the lady held her own in re-stating the precise lesson the speech had offered.
A challenge to the christian
Therein lies the challenge that christianity and the gospel’s advancement face in wooing the “sinner”.
The way in which professed christians carry themselves has the potential to create a barrier between them and the lost. Make no mistake, this is not a call for compromise or not calling sin what it is. Rather it is the unconscious or adopted mentality that works to isolate the sinner.
Perfection, judgement and unworthiness
There is a seeming expectation of perfection that engulfs the sinner. It may appear that they are unworthy of church or anyone called christian. Thus they shy away rather than be made to feel like lepers, unwelcome and contaminating.
Coupled with this, there sometimes is a subtle tendency to be critical or judgemental of one that is not a member of the “club”. One that has been exposed to the depth of a secular life finds themselves feeling inadequate in the presence of christians believing their sinfulness is such filth among the “called”.
This creates a perception of self righteousness on the part of the sinner as they look at the christian. This works to scare away the very people that need church and the message of salvation.
With reference to the lady’s posting, comments went as far as stating that one needs to rest only on biblical truth and further questioned the motives of the Michelle speech.
For a feeble christian or a “lost soul”, this has the unfortunate potential of making them question themselves. Were they wrong to pick a lesson from a secular global figure? Did that moment corrupt them or tarnish their christianity? Did they err in seeing a biblical application for their lives off a speech delivered on a political platform?
Such moments can be catalysed by actions on either side. The expectation of the christian may portray them as perfect people and thus those that join their circle must be “clean” if there is such a thing.
On the other hand, it also can be triggered by the ignorance of the “sinner”, being in a position of not knowing that no one is righteous as far God is concerned. All have sinned. (Romans 3:10,23).
Handling a moment with the “sinner”
It becomes imperative then to establish how christians should handle those that have not come to faith. Each is a delicate opportunity to bring the “sinner” to the light. It also is a window that can be lost if there is the slightest hint of self-righteousness that pushes the sinner into an unworthy corner.
When the sinner feels judged and deemed unworthy, the result inevitably is withdrawal. This shuts the door on winning a soul. The Bible is clear on the position to be taken against sin. However, there must be a distinction between the manner in which a sinner is handled and that of a fellow christian steeped in or losing his/her way to sin.
Taking a leaf from the Master
I am reminded here of Jesus’ approach. I will cite four (4) cases that come to mind.
The first is Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. He knew where he stood and understood his condition. Yet Jesus singled him out and took him in. This obviously disarmed him while disconsenting observers that deemed him as a sinner. But the end result is clear. He was won over. No hint at all from Jesus of Zacchaeus not being worthy of Christ’s presence or time.
Let us look at the woman Jesus met at the well in John 4:7-9, 23,39-42 . It was culturally unacceptable for Jews to mingle with Samaritans. But this was not the foremost issue on Jesus’ mind. Instead He engaged her in a life transforming conversation after asking her for water. This too was a departure from the norm but as we get to the end of this passage, it is abundantly clear yet again what Jesus wanted to achieve.
Enter John 1:46-50 and we see Nathanael. He was not yet a disciple and made his thoughts explicit when told about Jesus. But Christ could evidently pick out a positive aspect about him to share with those around even before Nathanael’s acceptance!
Finally, I will use the example of the woman caught in adultery as recounted in John 8:3-11. Jesus’ focus as opportunity had presented itself was not to remind her of what she had been caught doing. He simply urged her to turn away from her sin having survived a lynching and condemnation.
These points I raise above serve to challenge every christian to emulate Jesus’ handling of the “sinner”. He embraced them and through His action, they opened themselves to receive the gospel without a feeling of unworthiness or a reminder of their filth, having found themselves among the pigs like the Prodigal Son.
An open cheque to accept sin?
Sin must not be condoned or its habitual head entertained. But the sinner must find an environment that welcomes him/her while working to encircle and convict him/her under the prayerful guidance of a mature christian.
The above points outline one area in need of improvement to fully exploit the moment created when a christian finds themselves in a sinner’s presence.
Same soul, different garments
The challenge goes further to the lifestyle of the professed christian. Unfortunately, many of us adorn this title like a garment. We want to be known as christians but our hearts and lives are nowhere near what we need to be. Either because we have never known where we need to be or our conversion has not occurred.
We therefore rely on our own understanding, abilities and orientation as we practice our so called christianity.
The moment there is no clear distinction between the saved and the lost, the sinner and the christian, it becomes a mountain to woo the sinner. After all, are the two sets of people not just the same?
This challenge transcends church or what we profess. It questions our ambitions, daily pursuits, conduct and even reaction to events in our lives or around us. If the perspective of the christian is driven by the same fuel, it is no wonder sinners will not be attracted to church or christianity.
The distinction must be there. But it is not one that is flashed in a sinner’s face for them to know they are lost. It is one that is spoken by the unspoken through attitude, lifestyle and one’s conduct.
The Christian mission
The ultimate call of every christian is to win souls for Christ. To make the world a better place based on following Jesus. If that is the intent and focus of the church, then an opportunity with a sinner will be considered delicate and precious without prejudice, judgement or isolation.
Instead, Jesus’ approach will take precedence with the sole intention of leading one to see the light.
Forget the theology, historical orientation or church position on such issues. Think Jesus, think salvation of one’s soul then move believing God will work His way. I tend to believe now that perhaps christianity and the gospel have been overly complicated. Corrupted by human interpretations, preferences or doctrinal inclinations.
This has resulted in the creation of classes even when unseen. A classification of “them and us”, making church and christianity a no-go area for those outside the “club”. As a result, the very lost that need to hear the good news shy away.
Was I won over?
As I thought about that lady’s lessons derived from Michelle’s speech, I strongly realised the urgent need of taking time to view every moment as an opportunity to offer someone a lifeline. I was simply reading the postings on the forum but noticed the automatic divide which made it easy to conclude that she had erred to cite Michelle’s speech as an inspiration to be a virtuous woman.
And I was simply in the sidelines and yet felt the divide or form of rebuke. I was happy though that the lady had seen a window to let scripture come to life through a secular example and speech.
I was also glad that I have a different journey, learning new things and undergoing spiritual rehabilitation.
Otherwise, I’d have been one to simply slip away silently into the lost world thinking “this is not for me. I’m too sinful and they cannot take me in”.
Who knows? Maybe someone could have slipped away just like that instead of being drawn to seek and know the Truth?