Are They Wrong—or Are They Lost?
By Tim Harlow
A friend and I were talking recently about the moral decline in the United States and the distinctly different reactions Christians are having toward the post-Christian era in which we live. When I was growing up, especially in the Bible Belt, people knew what was right and what was wrong. They didn’t always do the right things, but they knew the 10 Commandments and the Bible were the standards by which all things should be measured.
This leads some Christians to grab a soapbox and tell everyone what’s right and what’s wrong. Others think we can legislate morality, and they call for more action in politics. Still others decide to keep to themselves and adopt a retreat mentality.
I’m not here to argue that we shouldn’t exercise our right to vote or work to keep our nation or our state in line with the values on which our country was founded. I thank God for those values and the opportunity we’ve had to live here for so long.
But “here” has changed. Can we just admit it? “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
So what do we do when our Christian voice is being drowned out by moral relativism?
Honestly, as you look at history, you will see Christianity has always been most effective when working from the “outside.” As a matter of fact, most historians will tell you the worst thing that ever happened to the Jesus movement was when Constantine became a Christian and Jesus became “in.”
Wayne Cordeiro said something at the North American Christian Convention (you are going next year—right?) that really struck me. “Jesus never said we were the majority of the earth; he said we were the salt of the earth.”
Salt can’t work unless it’s applied to something that needs it, but too much salt causes a worse reaction. Remember junior high school when that punk left the cap to the saltshaker unscrewed and waited in the distance to watch you dump it all over your chicken-fried mystery meat? There is no recovery. Too much salt in one place is, at best, useless and, at worst, disastrous.
I believe that is why the Holy Spirit allowed persecution to push the salty Jerusalem church out into the rest of the world—so Christians could be a little salt applied to a lot of meat.
And that brings me back to that conversation with my friend. He said the difference in the way Christians react to moral decline has to do with their perception of the people in the world. Do we see them as wrong? Or do we see them as lost?
How did Jesus see them?
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).
He wasn’t mad at them for being wrong. He had compassion on them because they were lost.
Jesus said he came to seek and save . . . THE LOST.
Jesus knew he lived as an “alien and stranger” in this world. That changes things. If it’s not my world, then these people are not wrong—they are lost. It’s a huge difference, isn’t it?
When my children were wrong, I needed to correct them. The Bible tells us if a brother or sister is wrong, we should gently try to restore them (Galatians 6:1). However, when my children were lost, I didn’t correct them, I searched for them. When I found them, we all rejoiced.
Read Luke 15 again. Does the shepherd scold the sheep? Nope, he rejoices. And don’t even get me started on the father of the prodigal son. Who wouldn’t want to come home to that guy? Thank God the older brother was still out in the field.
Jesus never saw sinners as wrong. He didn’t feel the need to tell the woman caught “in the act of adultery” that she was wrong. He treated her as lost not wrong. Even when Jesus mentioned to the Samaritan woman that he knew she was living outside of God’s marriage boundaries, he showed no condescension.
He also never expected Rome to enact legislation to change people’s behavior.
The Lord told Solomon, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
I’m his people. I hope you are “his people,” and it’s our job to humble ourselves, pray, seek, and turn as we live in the midst of those who aren’t “his people.” We just need to quit assuming that our neighbors, coworkers, or Supreme Court members are “his people.”
It’s called a mission field. If you don’t realize you live in one, you’re going to make a lousy missionary.
Ben Cachiaras, senior pastor at Mountain Christian Church, Joppa, Maryland, told me he feels that “in a time when we are needed more than ever, the church is pushing away the ones who need the gospel we are stewards of, because of our refusal to be more interested in advancing the kingdom of God than we are in preserving America’s moral foundation.”
Obviously I’m not suggesting we stop believing in God’s value system. God’s way is not just right, it’s the way a loving heavenly Father knew was the best way for all of us to live. I hate what sin does to all of us when we live outside of God’s ideal.
Trying to change God’s Word to make society happy is not the answer. The mainline denominations are doing a great job of being completely unsalty—they just keep changing their theology to match the world. That doesn’t work either. Salt does no good if it’s under applied, and if it’s not even salty—well, Jesus said throw it out (Matthew 5:13).
What I am saying is our nation needs salt more than ever, and we have an unprecedented opportunity in our culture to teach people about the love of God. But we can do it only by actually showing them what the love of God looks like.
The reason many people don’t understand that “God so loved the world” is because they’ve not seen that love from his people.
Do you know the best way to help correctly define marriage in the 21st century? Go have a good one.
Peter even tells us (“his people”), “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:11, 12).
“Pagans” don’t have the same value system as Christians. That’s the point! They aren’t going to glorify God, because we finally convince them they are wrong. They will glorify God when we start acting like Jesus and show them what right looks like.
Tim Harlow serves as senior pastor with Parkview Christian Church, Orland Park, Illinois, and as president of the 2014 North American Christian Convention.