Robert Murray McCheyne famously once said, ‘The Christian is someone who ought to make it easier for the unbeliever to believe in God.’ We live in sad days where the vast majority of people are clueless when it comes to either knowing or understanding the gospel. It’s often said that we live in a broken society. The Bible reminds us that we are people whose relationship with God is broken as a result of our sin and rebellion. How distinctive are we as Christians? How do we impact a world so hopelessly lost?
A few years ago I was particularly challenged when I was asked, ‘If we were to stop doing what we were doing, would anyone notice?’ Honestly? Probably not. A couple of neighbours might notice that it would be easier to get in and out of their driveways. But it became apparent that our impact was at best minimal. Why was this?
Firstly, the church had become a place where activity took place, but the majority of people who were impacted for good were either mature believers or folk who had been immersed in a Christian atmosphere and were wholly comfortable with church activity.
Secondly, time, money and effort were invested in upgrading our facilities with the view that people would be more inclined to engage with us and attend our array of services and ministries. Sadly though, nice meetings and facilities don’t help us in reaching broken people with broken lives.
Being salt and light
On the occasion of my induction to the pastorate at Park Chapel in 2002, Rev Jim Webber reminded us that the church is the people and the chapel is the building. What our nation needs is for the church to be the church. A blood-bought people, belonging to God, who have been called out of darkness into his most marvellous light (1 Peter 2:9). A people who not only know the truth but a people who demonstrate this truth. What our nation needs more than anything, is for God’s people to live godly lives in the face of an ungodly generation.
Following his resurrection, the Lord Jesus appeared to his disciples on that first evening (John 20:19) and reminded them that they enjoyed peace with God through his death on the cross. Jesus showed them his wounds, reassuring them that he truly was raised from the dead. He breathed upon them and promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit, who would empower them in being his witnesses, starting in Jerusalem and spreading throughout Judea and Samaria to the far-flung towns and cities throughout the world. He gave them a message of hope and forgiveness.
In Matthew’s gospel, the Lord Jesus says we are to be like ‘salt and light’ (Matthew 5:13-14). Engagement with our local communities is essential if we are to live in obedience to our Saviour. For too long, we have shut ourselves away through fear and apathy. When I moved to Merthyr Tydfil, a local councillor, who wasn’t a believer, told me that what Merthyr needed was to have practical Christians. What he meant by that, was for Christians to engage with and take some responsibility for their community. If we truly believe that Jesus Christ is the only answer for man’s sin and brokenness, then we need to not only preach ‘Christ and him crucified’, but to live out that truth in our lives. The Lord’s solemn pledge made to his disciples on that resurrection evening (John 20:22), was fulfilled through the empowering work of the Holy Spirit, to transform us and make us more Christlike.
This needs to be demonstrated and exhibited before a world that watches, praying that people may see the beauty of the risen Lord in our lives. A forgiven people showing forgiveness. Recipients of God’s grace being gracious. Those who have been shown mercy, being merciful. Sadly some of the most unforgiving, ungracious, judgemental people I have met have been those who profess to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ.
Standing out as God’s people
We often ask, what should we do to reach and connect with a fallen world? But the answer lies not in what we do but in who we are. ‘We are not our own, we have been bought with a price’, children born of God, children of the King. In a world where integrity is rare, deception is the norm, and selfish ambition takes over, God’s people should stand out!
Have we lost our saltiness? Do we hide our light under a bowl? Scripture reminds us that light always overcomes the darkness (John 1:5). People should see in us the light of his life and men would then note our good works, resulting in glorifying God (Matthew 5:16).
I love the story of a Christian man who worked on the line at Hoover’s factory in Merthyr. For many years he graciously witnessed to the saving grace of God in his life, but no-one seemed bothered or interested. Nearing his retirement, he came across a wrench at home which he had borrowed some months earlier from work and had forgotten to take it back. This troubled him to such an extent that he returned it to his foreman one Saturday morning. To his amazement, the foreman thanked him for his honesty and said, ‘I’ve listened to you talk about Jesus on and off for several years, but it had no effect on me. But if your God can make you bring back a wrench, then I want to know this God for myself.’ Often our witness has no effect because people see the inconsistency in our lives. Often our testimony is mere words not backed up with godly living.
Do we use our time, gifts and abilities for his glory? Are our homes utilised for his honour? Are we genuinely troubled with the thought of friends and family going to a lost eternity? When was the last time we wept over our sin and wept over lost souls? When was the last time we earnestly pleaded with the Lord for him to come and intervene in the hearts of men, women, boys and girls?
A praying people
Not only do we need to rediscover what it means to live godly, sacrificial lives, but also we need to rediscover the beauty and power of prayer. Lord, teach us how to pray! (Luke 11:1) We can get so caught up with programs and evangelistic events, that we miss the wood for the trees! A broken world needs to witness at first hand that our God is able to do far more than we can ever dare think or imagine.
As Jesus himself often faced criticism for spending time with people whom society had written off (Matthew 9:11), we too must shrug off similar criticism as we seek to engage with those who are in danger of dying without knowing Christ. The Bible reminds us that people who die without Christ go to hell. But God, in his great mercy, offers an undeserving world His great salvation. This is a day of small things which we should not despise. I’m reminded every week when I look out at the assembled congregation in Park Chapel of the Lord’s continuing grace. People of all ages and backgrounds who have come to saving faith in the Lord Jesus in recent years. Men and women, boys and girls, rich and poor, the educated and the unschooled, the moral and immoral all who have come to know and understand the awfulness of their sin and have come into a personal living relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Friends, keep on keeping on! Jesus says, ‘you are my witnesses’, salt and light for my name’s sake. These are dark and desperate days, yet God’s arm hasn’t been shortened that he cannot save! He is still building his church, and may we who are his church, continue to pursue holiness and live godly sacrificial lives, engaging with our communities, for his own glory!