I find it easy to point the finger of blame at others. This is true when it comes to the challenges of sharing the message of Jesus in our current culture and location. Yet, what I have learned as a church planter is that the problem is not with the culture, but with me. I guess it’s like that saying- when you point the finger at someone else, there are four fingers that are pointing back at yourself.
I was struck that the Apostle Paul makes the same emphasis in his letter to the church in Rome. The church existed in one of the great metropolitan areas of the time, the city of Rome. And like most metropolitan areas the culture was filled with all kinds of vice. This seems to have been a challenge for the former Jew and possibly the maturing Christians. The tendency was to look down on those involved in these activities. Yet, what they failed to recognize is that this was a perfect content for the message of Jesus to thrive. The only barrier would have been the “self-righteousness” of these professing followers of Jesus. In my study of Romans chapters 2-3 it struck me that the hindrance to the message of Jesus was not the attitudes of the ungodly culture but the ungodly attitude of the followers of Jesus. The culture of Rome is just a mirror of any culture that has rejected God. This is why when we read the end of Romans 1 it seems descriptive of our world today.
What we need to grasp is that the barrier to the message of Jesus touching lives is not an impotent message but impotent messengers. Paul’s argument is that the hypocrisy of Jesus’ followers is the real barrier. The problem lies in a faulty view of our sin. The tendency is to see sins in degrees. We can identify the gross violations while we ignore what we view as the lesser violations in our own lives. Yes, they could point the finger at the ungodly culture’s rejection of God and the consequences that resulted. Paul then reminds them that they are guilty of the same offenses. Yes, we would say it is wrong to steal something from a store, yet we can often overlook when we steal the time of our employer by browsing Facebook, Pinterest or spending time on our Fantasy Team on company time. The problem is that we fall into the trap of grading sin. We have a tendency to believe that the person who steals something from the store is a worse sinner that they person that steals time from their employer. Yet, in God’s sight, both are a sin of stealing. What we often miss is that God does not show favoritism, the standard is the same for everyone. Just because you are religious does not mean that you get a pass while those that are not religious do not. James put it this way, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” (James 2:10) Did you notice the verse does not make a distinction of the degree of sin committed? It simply states that the Law is a unit and to sin once, no matter how small, makes us guilty of all of it.
What we need to grasp is that when we sin, not matter how small, we are like the “heathen” in Romans 1, rejecting God in our lives. One of the consequences is that those around us see through our self-righteousness and as a result we become a barrier to the message of Jesus. But when we grasp these powerful truths they impact our lives in several ways. First, it causes us to appreciate the privilege of God’s grace in our lives and the message of Jesus. We are not striving to impress God, but simply responding to the free gift of salvation. And second, we are challenged to live up to who we are in Christ, We must be exercising our power in Christ to say “No” to sin, even the small ones. This will prevent us from becoming a barrier to the Gospel and opens a door of ministry to those God has placed around us!
-Pastor Joe Parkinson