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Proud Trees and Bruised Reeds

I’m rather excited because Chris and I had a bit of a kerfuffle in our most recent podcast episode. I’m not excited because I enjoy controversy, I’m just excited because I only rarely get to use the word “kerfuffle.” I’m going to try to use it at least once more in this blog post, so stay tuned. Before you read the rest of this, you might want to listen to the episode. I’ll try to summarize the issue, though, so that you don’t have to listen if you’ve got better things to do with your time.

Our disagreement centered around evangelism and specifically how to approach someone who is actively involved in the LGBTQ movement with the intent of sharing the Gospel. Chris’s approach was to speak well of the person’s actions and intents, but to then to explain how those actions are sinful and the Bible teaches us to do better. I disagreed with this approach, but before we move forward, I want to avoid a logical fallacy that often comes up here.

Chris is trying to start the conversation with the nonbeliever in a way that doesn’t begin with hellfire and brimstone. He also wants to contextualize the Gospel. I am emphatically against sounding like a Westboro Baptist and I am emphatically for contextualizing the Gospel. Chris and I have no disagreement here. I simply think it should be done differently from how he’s doing it. The logical fallacy that would lump me in with the Westboro Baptists is called the excluded middle—it’s when you say, “you can either take my position or be a jerk,” when in fact there are many options besides those two.

With that bit of bona fide thus stated, we can move on. Chris’s rationale, or at least part of it, is explained in a recent blog post he wrote on the subject. While I find parts of it to be helpful, I have to object to some things. The article brought to surface the real cause for our kerfuffle, so here are some of the quotes with which I take issue:

Here’s the thing about the concept of “sin,” Christian friends: non-Christians don’t really care what you and I call “sin.” Unless the Holy Spirit is working in their hearts, pushing on their consciences, giving them that first tinge of “Something isn’t right here,” non-Christians really couldn’t care less if a particular sexual preference is an abomination to an ancient deity.

He writes further,

Those who don’t believe in our God aren’t going to care what our God does not like. […] People aren’t going to care if they’re sinning if they don’t even know the One they’re sinning against

I should affirm the validity of those last two sentences. People who don’t believe in God and don’t know Him probably wouldn’t care if about their sin. These people, however, can only exist fictitiously. Paul teaches us that all people believe in God and know Him (Romans 1:21). He goes on to tell us that all people know that their sins are so bad they deserve death. Everyone knows the severity of their sin, yet they not only sin but give hearty approval and parades to those who practice sin (Romans 1:32).

You see, everyone cares about God’s Law and their violation of it. People whom the Holy Spirit has not yet begun His work care about God’s Law—but only in the sense that they despise it. They are at enmity against God and incapable of being subject to His Law (Romans 8:7). They see God’s commands as opportunities for fun, a list of rules to break (Romans 7:4–8). Even those who claim not to believe in God have a love-hate relationship with Him—they love to hate Him and His Law (Proverbs 1:7, Romans 1:30). In their pride, they lift themselves up like mighty cedars and oaks, stretching rebelliously into the heavens.

Twisted Depravity

One of the remnants of the image of God still left in man, however, is the desire to not be seen as evil. Very few people have wandered so far down depravity lane that they enjoy being called sinners, wicked, or evil. Something in us cringes when our sin is brought to the surface; even the unregenerate don’t like being compared to Hitler. If this sounds like it flies in the face of everything I’ve said thus far, then keep reading because I promise to make sense of it.

Unregenerate hearts love to do evil. They make sure to weave some form of evil it into everything they do, even something as mundane as driving a tractor (Proverbs 21:4). Call this to their attention, however, and they will do anything to save face. Unregenerate hearts love their sin, but they’d rather you call it something else, thank you. Maybe a behavioral disorder—or better yet let’s call it something that sounds nice, like pro-choice.

Unbelievers are fine with being thought of as moral, honorable, and even righteous, just so long as the true God isn’t defining the terms. Show them God’s Law in its fulness and they’ll have a spiritual reaction that resembles Gollum’s reaction to Lembas bread or a hipster’s reaction when he finds out he’s eaten gluten: Disgust and contempt. Jesus expects what? Who died and made that Guy King?

They don’t want Jesus as King, they want to be king instead. So they do what any king does and make their own law. This law suits them fairly well and they can manage to (mostly) obey it. God says homosexuality is a sin? Let’s write a command against saying that. God says murder is wrong? Let’s write up some commands about how abortion is a women’s rights issue. They run headlong toward bloodshed (Romans 3:15), but that’s between a woman and her doctor—you self-righteous misogynist.

The deeper a man plunges into depravity and rebellion, the louder his conscience screeches at him. He knows that what he’s doing in the bedroom with another man is wrong, so the law needs another amendment and perhaps a parade to celebrate our enlightened attitude and suppress God’s Law (Romans 1:18).

This, incidentally, is how we got to where we are today: men and women who want to drown out God’s Law in a flood of parades and civil rights campaigns. Someone might say, and even to some degree believe, that they are advocating gay rights because they want to help people. But what they really want is not to follow God’s law by loving their neighbor; they can’t (Romans 8:7). Instead, they want to shout (sometimes literally) about the acceptability of their sin, because they’ve made God and His Law their enemy.

Unbelievers are consumed with care for their righteousness and God’s Law. They must increase their righteousness by decreasing God’s Law.

Talkin’ ’Bout Regeneration

I think that many Christians would affirm the truths stated above, but our actions need to line up with our beliefs. How are we to evangelize?

The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can be (Romans 8:7). If this is the case, how can anyone be saved? With man, this is impossible—but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). God works through His Spirit to replace hard hearts with soft ones.

His first work is to reprove the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:9). Frankly, our world needs conviction of sin. The Spirit works this in part through the church’s proclamation of Law and Gospel. We are called bigots as a tactic to get us to shut up (cf. Amos 2:12), but we need to follow God’s commands and not man’s. The LGBTQ community wants desperately for us to admit that they’re alright, but that’s something we must not do because this will only help them silence their conscience and suppress truth.

For the Gospel be believed, a man must come to the place where he calls Jesus Lord and recognizes that His Law is good. He has to cry “uncle!” People might be won into the church through niceness and word-mincing, but this is a different thing from repentance. They won’t consider God’s Law because you made a cake to celebrate their rebellious wedding ceremony, just the opposite actually. They’ll take it as a sign that they’re winning.

The Holy Spirit works when God’s truth is proclaimed faithfully. People can’t hear without a preacher (Romans 10:14) and that preacher must bring both Law and Gospel. A man must be convicted of sin and then shown God’s remedy.

What About the Woman Accused of Adultery?

The point is not to be a jerk, but it is to be faithful and call sin “sin.” Your next conversation with the local gay thrift store owner doesn’t need to begin with, “You’re going to hell.” You are bringing God’s Law, not your law. It condemns you to the same hell that it condemns your neighbor, but for grace. Be careful not to use words like “repent” without defining them, and make sure that you proclaim grace even more loudly than you brought law.

When Jesus dealt with the woman caught in adultery, He actually did start by pointing out sin. He pointed it out in everyone present and watched them walk away (talk about effective evangelism, by the way). The woman knew what she had done and knew it was sin; the Holy Spirit had started His work. She was a bruised reed and Christ had no intention of breaking her (Isaiah 42:3). Jesus could tell that she was already convicted and bruised by the Law. He asked her if any men had condemned her and she responded by calling Him Lord. She had been broken and the Holy Spirit was working.

Jesus was hard with the hard hearted but soft toward the soft-hearted. He did not break a bruised reed. But the mighty and proud trees? Let’s just say the axe is laid at their root. In our evangelism, we need to figure out which we’re dealing with and then respond appropriately.

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This article was posted on 04/14/2015 . It relates to these topics:
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