There is a story about G. K. Chesterton that around 1908 the London Times asked him, along with other notable authors, to write an article answering the question, “What is wrong with the world?” Chesterton’s response was to send them a brief letter that said, “Dear Sir, Regarding your article ‘What is wrong with the world?’ I am. Yours truly, G. K. Chesterton.”
While no one can verify that Chesterton actually wrote this (there is no documentary evidence of it), if you’re at all familiar with his work you won’t have any trouble believing it. It matches with both his style and his character.
Chesterton took to heart the words of Paul to Timothy, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). Chesterton was given the opportunity to point the finger of blame at anyone he could conceive of, to address any issue he felt was pressing on his society, to speak to the sin that plagued his culture… and he chose to humbly and directly address the plank in his own eye.
No doubt, there is a time and a place for pointing out sin. There are circumstances where we, as Christians, ought to take a stand and boldly proclaim the Law of God to a fallen world. It gives us the opportunity to follow it with the comfort of the Gospel.
But the problem comes when we spend far too much time on the first part, and no time on the latter. Think of it this way: The majority of non-Christians view the Church as a whole as being against homosexuality, against abortion, against premarital sex, against divorce, and against other religions. At the same time, they believe that the central message of Christianity is supposed to be how to love other people and follow the rules for being a good person.
How does the world arrive at such a backwards notion of what Christianity is all about? Certainly, to a certain extent it is to be expected. “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:14). The world will always get Christianity wrong.
But our role as Christians is to proclaim the truth and make disciples, and the question we have to ask is, Can we make disciples when we are known more for what we are against that who we are for? What I mean is, we want people to look at our lives and our message and see the grace of God in the person of Jesus Christ. Only through that can we make disciples. Only through the Gospel can hearts be changed.
We cannot change hearts by rallying in opposition of gay marriage.
We cannot change hearts by marching in defense of the unborn.
We cannot change hearts by pointing out the flaws in other religions.
I’m guilty here. There have been plenty of times I have focused on speaking out against things, but failing to make the next step to sharing God’s grace. I am often far too focused on what other people “need to hear” and I completely miss exactly what I most need to hear. I can speak very loudly about what people do wrong.
Is there no value, then, in speaking against sin and falsehood? Is there no value in fighting for a cause that is in line with God’s will? No, I’m not saying that. I think society benefits from upholding the value of God’s design for marriage. Society benefits from protecting the child in the womb. Pointing out the hopelessness and fruitlessness of man-made religion is a bridge to sharing the Gospel.
But that is the point – making a bridge to the Gospel. And that has to start with humbly admitting that you need that Gospel message too. When we point the finger only at those around us, point out only the sin in everyone else’s lives, we become the obstacle to the Gospel, because people only see our hypocrisy, and struggle to see Jesus.
So before we can speak out against gay marriage, we have to confess and seek forgiveness for all the times we’ve dishonored marriage.
Before we can make a case for chastity, we have to confess and seek forgiveness for all the ways we have sinned sexually.
Before we can decry the materialism of our consumer society, we have to confess and seek forgiveness for our own covetousness and desire for selfish gain.
Am I saying we must be perfect before we can speak out? No. Quite the opposite. None of us can be perfect. We never will be. That’s why we need Jesus, the only one who ever has been perfect. His perfect life stands in substitute for ours. His death covers over our sin. He saves us from our imperfection. We desperately need him because we are not perfect!
So let’s not pretend that we are. We must be ready to say, “I am the chief of sinners! But I have been forgiven. Let me show you how you have been as well.” Let’s be known for more than what we’re against. Let’s be known for people who humbly see themselves as part of the fallen world, who desperately cling to Jesus, and who show his love to others.