Part 1 of this series on Church is available here.
I came out to my car a few weeks ago after having enjoyed a meal with some friends and I found a tract on my windshield. The title said, “We Care About Your Soul. Do You?” It included an article about the consequences of living a life of sin. After telling me what a wretch I am, it encouraged me to invite Jesus into my heart to forgive my sins and to start attending church at a local congregation.
That was it. That was everything this particular congregation felt I needed to know about being a Christian. It was supremely unsatisfying. And I don’t get the impression that their approach works for very many people. Because forgiveness of sins is great and all, but it’s not enough.
In Mark 2, Jesus is at his house in Capernaum preaching to the people when a group of guys bring their paralyzed friend, dig a hole in Jesus’ roof, and lower him into the room. When Jesus sees him, he says to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
If I’m being honest, I think that would be disappointing. I highly doubt that his friends carried him over to Jesus’ house and created a nice new skylight for Jesus just so that Jesus would say, “Hey, listen… I know you’re a cripple and unable to walk or take care of yourself at all, but… at least God’s not mad at you for your sins anymore!” The paralyzed guy wouldn’t have even known that Jesus was able to forgive sins. That was probably the last thing on his mind that day. He was there to be healed. Forgiveness is nice and all, but it’s not what he felt like he needed when he came in.
Fortunately, this isn’t the end of the story.
The Pharisees who are there get upset about Jesus statement. They think it’s blasphemy. Jesus confronts the them, asking, “Why are you upset? What do you think is easier for me to say to this man? That his sins are forgiven, or that he should get up and walk?”
The answer to that question is: “Your sins are forgiven,” because that’s something Jesus doesn’t have to prove. There’s no external sign that the man has been forgiven of his sins. There’s no proof that Jesus has the ability to forgive sins. But if he were to say “Get up and walk.” everyone would know just how much authority he had. Forgiving sins is actually the easy part. So Jesus steps it up a notch:
“I want you to know that the Son of Man has the authority to forgive sins. So get up, take your mat, and go home.”
And the guy gets up, healed. And the disappointment of the passage is replaced with amazement. The guy can walk again. Jesus clearly has the authority to forgive sin. The people are freaking out in amazement. Jesus addressed everyone’s needs, dealt with everyone’s disappointments, and showed that he has authority to bring life and healing. The guy’s life is forever changed for the better. Not just because he isn’t going to go to Hell, but because he can walk again. Jesus took care of his physical and spiritual needs.
And this should be the strategy of the Church in evangelism.
For too long, the Church has been satisfied to only spread the message that Jesus will forgive you of your sins. We have focused so exclusively on the forgiveness of Christ, that we often forget to finish the story. There’s more to the Gospel than just what happens to you after you die.
Let’s be real – most people that you are sharing the Gospel with don’t feel like they need forgiveness. Life is going just fine. A little pamphlet telling them that they’re going to Hell for their sins is probably not going to convict them. Offending a deity they don’t believe in is probably not at the top of their list of things that keeps them awake at night. So why is that how we present the Gospel?
The bulk of Jesus’ ministry was taking care of physical needs. He fed 5,000. He raised the dead. He healed the sick. He protected a woman from being killed for adultery. He gave wine to guests at a wedding. The story of Christ is not limited to what he did on the cross, and what the Church tells the world about Jesus shouldn’t be limited to what he’s able to do for their sins.
Because that’s the easy part. Anyone can claim forgiveness of sins. Anyone can put a tract on a windshield. Anyone can talk about what will happen after you’re dead. But the Gospel isn’t about what happens after you’re dead. It’s about the healing that Jesus provides now. And if the Church really has the authority of Jesus, she should be able to do tangible things in the here and now.
A Church that will proclaim forgiveness of sins in Christ, but won’t feed their hungry brother or care for their ailing sister is a Church that is disconnected from the ministry of Christ. It’s a Church that has fundamentally misunderstood what it means to follow Jesus. It’s a Church that is taking the easy way out.
The Church should be intensely evangelical. We should be eager to share the Good News of healing in Christ. But we can’t limit that healing to only what happens after you die. Evangelism isn’t a recruitment program. It’s not about how many people you get to come in the door and sign up to be Christians. It’s about helping people be made whole in Christ. That includes forgiveness of sins, but it also includes being able to pay rent on time, or having food on the table, or having a community of friends that serve as a support system as we go through life.
To separate these things from the message of salvation is to cheapen the message of salvation.
If the only thing the Church has to offer from Jesus is forgiveness of sins, the Church is going to be a disappointment in the world. But if the Church can enter into the ministry of Christ that cares for the whole person, physical and spiritual, then the world might just be amazed at what God is able to accomplish through us.
We need a Church that is eager to do real evangelism. We need a Church that is bursting out its doors in order to share the healing of Christ with everyone in the world. We need a Church whose message is not limited to forgiveness, but encompasses the total restoration of humanity.
May we be a Church that shares Christ’s forgiveness and Christ’s healing. May we be known for the ways we alleviate oppression and suffering in the world. May God be communicated through us in both forgiveness and provision for physical needs.
Part 7, The Church that Follows – the conclusion to our series on Church, is available here.