“You pore over the Scriptures because you presume that by them you possess eternal life. These are the very words that testify about Me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” John 5:39,40.
The religious Jews who opposed Jesus had so prided themselves in their knowledge about God, that they thought that knowing about God was the only way for God to be known in this life. In other words, they saw the Law, (knowing as much as you could about right and wrong), as the culmination of knowing God. They saw doing good as knowing God. They saw knowing right from wrong as knowing God. The result was, with their focus so fixed on themselves, they effectively blinded themselves to God’s presence right with them; Christ. (Rom.10:1-3)
Even today, the more a Christian has been brought up under a Law-based, Old Covenant way of thinking of God, the more they will think that knowing ‘right from wrong’ is knowing God and the more they too (like the religious Jews of Jesus’ day) will start to despise people who do wrong, stand back from them and condemn them.
Here is the Gospel. You and I, as Christians, are only saved today because we have a God who did not stand back from us and condemn us when we were doing wrong, but rushed to meet us at our point of need! If all we can do is criticize, condemn and step back from people who do wrong, then we may know right from wrong, but we don’t know God as well as we would like people to think we do (Luke 9:54,55).
Only those who know the grace of God, should claim to know the God of grace!
Before we as Christians claim to speak for God, let us remember that the God of whom we speak, is the God who did not come into this world to condemn sinners but to save them (John 3:17). He knew that the root of all they did was sin; (separation from His presence) and so their salvation could only come by the ending of that separation, by union with God through Christ.
So yes, we could like Moses just give our neighbours the Law and tell them to get on with doing good and they will be blessed. But doing good will not cause them to know God! Knowing right from wrong is not enough to know God (John 5:39). There were two trees in the garden. Surely the Church can do better than merely point the world to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Do we not have the tree of life?
The apostle John declares this truth in John 1:17; “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” The Church is not called to sit in its ivory towers giving out the Law to their communities, but to be Christ to those communities. If Christ; the head of the body, loved sinners and knowing He was life to them, gave His presence to them, drew near to them, then how can we the body, draw back from them and still claim to be knowing God? How can the head and the body be going in two different directions at the same time?
What our community needs is the presence of God. We need to take down every barrier that may prevent the Church going out to the community or the community drawing near the Church. That’s why we need to preach the Gospel, the revelation of the generosity of God to Christians, so that we, the body of Christ, become so aware of God’s presence, His heart for the lost, that we are carried by His presence into the community; not out of guilt or fear, but because the love of God compels us (2Cor.5:14). Taking down barriers also involves transforming the physical appearance of our church buildings, so that we are better equipped to welcome people into a place where we can sit down and be with them, rather than merely talk at them. Why do we need to be with them? Because living in the presence of the person of God, is the power to be changed.
Here is a simple church strategy for evangelism. Keep preaching the undiluted, glorious, magnificent, gospel of Christ’s finished work so that believers live constantly aware of the presence of God (be thee being filled with the Spirit of God. (Eph 5:18). Then, by all means possible, bring the lost into the presence of people who are living in the presence of God, that they might taste and see that the Lord is good! This we do primarily by sending believers out into the midst of the community full of the Holy Spirit. Apostolic means ‘sent one’. So, we keep preaching ‘Christ in you’, that you may be persuaded that you are now Christ in the world! Only disciples convinced that God is with them, are ready to be sent out (Matt.28:19,20).
The presence of God is communicated in a powerful way through the proclamation of the gospel, the message of what God has done. The Gospel is good news precisely because it is not news of what God will do (if you…), but news of what God has done (when you were incapable of doing anything). It is the clear declaration that His presence, His eternal life, is available today (here and now) and not sometime in the future when you have cleaned yourself up enough, or died (then and there).
Can I encourage you that if you carry the name of Christ, then you are called to grow in intimacy with God, not just hunker down till the Lord comes back! The way God has chosen for us to know Him and grow in Him, is by living as part of a body, by participating in this one life together (Heb.10:25). That’s why the work of the Spirit is always to bring the body together and the work of the enemy is always to tear the body apart. You will receive the deepest wounds in the house of your friends. Nodding acquaintances can’t hurt you like your family or church family can. Of course your postman or your milkman appears to be nicer to you than some Christians! That’s because you have placed no expectations on him/her at all, whereas you demand Christians to come up to a certain standard, which is a sure recipe for taking offence. God has given each believer a way to overcome hurt, rejection and unforgiveness in our lives, the things that cause us to want to draw back from the body. This truth, that sets us free from offence, is so important that we put it up on the powerpoint every Sunday. Christian, you cannot take offence because ….”You died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Col.3:3)
No amount of rejection in your life can hold a candle to the acceptance you have in Christ. So live in God’s acceptance, not the world’s rejection. Live in Christ, not in the hurt of what they did to you. Live in the light, not in the dark. Live in the reality of the presence of God. Live in the light of what Christ has done. Live in the light that your life is hidden with Christ in God and as we do that together as a local church, we will be that light on a hill and others will see that light and it will draw them out of darkness.