Four Barriers We Create That Keep People From Jesus
According to Scripture, the work of Jesus is complete. Because of his life, death, burial, and resurrection, the good work of securing us as his beloved, forgiven, delighted-in daughters and sons is “finished,” just as he said. His sinless life secured for us a new and irrevocable status—holy and blameless in God’s sight. His sacrificial and saving death fulfilled the requirements of God’s justice toward our sins. His death-defying resurrection has secured our future, and the sure promise that we will experience the same.
We are summoned by Scripture to make much of Jesus for these and more than a billion other reasons.
It is stunning that Jesus makes much of us, too.
Jesus lived the life we should have lived, and he died the death we should have died. Because of this, we are free. What a wonderful and humbling reality—God does not treat us as our sins deserve, because Jesus was already treated as our sins deserve in his life, death, and burial.
And because of his resurrection which followed, there is also much work that Jesus intends to get done…through us.
Luke the Evangelist writes in Acts 1:1, “In the first book (the Gospel of Luke), O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.”
Began to do and teach? How could there be more for Jesus to do than what he has already done?
That’s where we as Christ’s “ambassadors” come into the picture. According to Scripture, we are now his chosen ones, sent into the world on his behalf, filled with his Spirit to represent him in the places where we live, work and play.
Indeed, the work of Jesus continues in the world through Christians.
Our calling is to labor, in every possible way, to mirror his ministry and message in our own. We are to live as those who are “full of grace and truth” until our churches and ministries attract the types of people who were attracted to Jesus, and, by unfortunate necessity, draw criticism from the types of people who criticized him.
Gandhi is quoted as saying, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Gandhi admired Jesus Christ, but found it difficult to reconcile how the Christians he encountered seemed to represent Jesus so poorly. In his mind, this is what kept him from becoming a follower of Jesus.
As Jesus’ ambassadors, we need to listen very carefully to statements like this one. We must carefully and lovingly examine the common barriers that stand between the real Jesus and people’s false impressions of him—impressions which, unfortunately, have been projected to a watching world by sincere yet misguided Christians. Let’s consider some of these barriers, shall we?
The Barrier of CONDEMNATION
The Christian writer, Philip Yancey, often asks people he meets what they think about Christians. Sadly, the answer he hears most often from people is that Christians are judgmental, intolerant, and holier-than-thou.
A Christian friend of mine invited a gay friend to dinner with him and his wife. Their guest soon realized (from the Bible on the coffee table, as well as several books on their bookshelf) that they were Christians. He then said to my friend, “You are a Christian, and you actually like me?” This kind of story causes my heart to sink. Does it yours?
Are we serious about being Christ’s ambassadors in the world? Then we must humbly wrestle with, and fight with love to reverse, the idea that Christians are against people who don’t believe like we do.
Whether this impression is true or merely perceived, it is still our starting point in the minds of many non-Christian people. If we are not guilty ourselves, then we are at least guilty by association with believers who have misrepresented the biblical Jesus with harsh, abrasive, condemning or withdrawn attitudes. We must take personal responsibility, as far as it depends on us, to replace pictures of a false Jesus with pictures of the real Jesus—the Jesus who came full of grace and truth, and who even welcomed “sinners” and ate with them (Luke 15:1-2).
The Barrier of SEPARATION
I believe that Christians who want to separate themselves and their children from secular people, secular things, and secular ideas make a big mistake. Christ’s ambassadors must resist this “us against them” and often fear-based mindset. We must do everything in our power to become friends with as many non-Christians as we can—no conditions attached. This must be a central, core value of our lives and our Christian communities.
Consider Jesus. It was only the religious proud who withdrew from Jesus, criticized him, took offense at him, and wished to rid the world of him. But what about the prostitutes, crooks, drunks, gluttons and sinners? These all wanted to be near to Jesus, and they wanted to hear what he had to say. And Jesus obliged gladly—so much so that he became guilty by association, and was accused of being a glutton and a drunk and a “friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34).
We know that these accusations of drunkenness and gluttony were false—Jesus was tempted in every way but without sin. But Jesus was unapologetically a friend to the least and the lost—to all who felt ostracized and belittled by the religious communities of his day.
Jesus was willing to offend strict religious people if that’s what it took to convince broken sinners that he loved them and had hope for them.
Jesus was considered repulsive by religious insiders and a breath of fresh air to religious outsiders.
The Barrier of SMUGNESS
There is a price to pay if we get serious about cultivating lives, homes, and communities that are full of grace. The more we prioritize befriending the kinds of people that Jesus did, the more we will experience resistance and even rejection from the so-called “faithful.” They may even be our fellow church members.
It’s a simple fact. When we do the kinds of things that Jesus did, and love in the kinds of ways that Jesus did, some people will take offense at us. And they will convince themselves that they are rightly offended based on their love for God. But anytime someone is offended by kindness that resembles Jesus, our Lord says that this person is acting not out of love for God but possibly as a child of the devil (John 8:39-47). It is Satan, not God, who is the hater of kindness. It is Satan, not God, who is the accuser of the people whom Jesus loves.
Consider Luke 7, where a woman described as “sinful” enters the home of Simon the religious Pharisee. In the name of love, and in the spirit of radical grace, Jesus receives with delight her very un-orthodox display of affection toward him. Jesus breaks with religious customs, allowing this ceremonially and morally unclean prostitute to touch his feet. He breaks with social customs also, receiving her as his disciple—putting a woman on equal footing with men in a very paternalistic, misogynistic society where women were seen as second class.
Most scandalous, however, is the way that Jesus breaks with moral customs to demonstrate to this woman how dear she is to him. She lets down her hair in public, which was considered scandalous in those days, and something that women could only do in the presence of immediate family members.
She also touches Jesus with the tools of her prostitute’s trade. He lets her anoint him with a prostitute’s perfume, kiss him with a prostitute’s lips, and wipe his feet with a prostitute’s hair!
Some will remember the rest of the story. Jesus is treated as scandalous by the religious hosts. To these smug Pharisees, showing positive attention to this woman—whom they judged as a sinner not a child of God, as a thing not a person—was proof of moral compromise.
This story has serious ramifications for those who wish to represent Jesus well in a modern context. For if Jesus were a 21st century American, he would not associate godliness with membership in a political party. He would not tell a sexually promiscuous woman that she was “in sin” without also offering her a personal, no-strings-attached friendship. He would not talk about how smoking destroys God’s temple while simultaneously devouring his third piece of fried chicken or fourth cookie (or both!) at a church potluck. Jesus would not condemn adultery as being any worse than studying the Bible for the wrong reasons.
The Barrier of PRIDE
Becoming a friend of sinners begins with the understanding that we are much more like the “chief of sinners” than we are like Jesus Christ. Our approach with all people, no matter who they are or what their history might be, must assume the posture of “fellow beggars humbly telling others where to find the bread” (I got this magnificent quote from Steve Brown).
If we really want people to be impacted by the gospel and to enjoy the riches of God’s grace, they must first see in us the humility of those who have been, and continue to be, genuinely impacted by grace ourselves. Our humility must be authentic and not just an act. If we have never been brought low by God, we will approach other people from a high horse. And that is never any good for anybody.
Consider the Apostle Paul. He was not above humbling himself. In Romans 7 he gives us a window into his personal struggle with the sin of coveting—a sin nobody would see unless he told them—and the way that the gospel gave him hope in the face of his coveting. In 1 Timothy Paul identifies himself as the chief of all sinners. If we intend to reflect Jesus in our ministries and our messages, we need to get over our love for reputation and image. As the late Jack Miller once said, “Grace runs downhill.” We can only be drenched by grace from the bottom of the hill.
And yet, how easy it can be to build our identities on how good we look—on being “model Christians” that people are supposed to admire because of how put-together we appear to be. But we must not do this. It is a trap and it will rob us of gospel power and effectiveness. If people around us are going to be changed by the grace of Jesus, they must witness the gospel working effectively in our lives—healing us of our sins and deepest wounds and fears.
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