I burden my post with a somewhat long title, but it could be longer. The question is where do I put my focus when I respond to what is going on today. Now many readers are going to make assumptions as to what my beliefs are on the issues I use as examples, but I’m not talking about what our particular position on the issue is, but rather what is our first response.
Dave Black wrote about this on his blog, and with his (blanket) permission, I’ve extracted this to The Jesus Paradigm site supporting his book by the same name, because Dave’s blog doesn’t allow linking to particular posts.
Early on, he says (quoting an e-mail he wrote):
I wonder why we in the church focus so much of our attention on gay marriage when it is so easy to overlook the sins that so easily beset us, such as gluttony and divorce….
My observation is that often in the church when we decide to “call sin by its right name,” we really mean that we will call other people’s sins by their right names. I tell people there are clean sins and dirty sins. (What? Where did I get that in Scripture?) No, it’s not in Scripture, it’s in our practice. “Clean sins” are the ones I commit. “Dirty sins” are the ones you commit. Dave brings up gluttony. I’m overweight. That’s pretty good evidence that I have sinned. But it’s easier for me to go on a crusade about some other problem than to address that one, because as I address the sin of gluttony, I address myself, and that isn’t so comfortable. Now I’ve lost some weight, and I need to lose more, and contrary to all the various diet plans, what I really need to do in order to accomplish that is quit committing that particular sin.
Now I said it’s easier for me to crusade against other sins. That’s true. Easier for me. But it’s not more effective. When people see you committing seven (or more) sins of your own regularly and then going after someone else’s problem, one with which you do not struggle, they are rarely impressed. It’s more effective to say, “Here’s what I need to overcome. Come along with me and let’s be overcomers together.”
These days when we talk about “issues” people automatically assume the issue is same-sex marriage. I’ve had people assume I was saying things about that topic when I absolutely wasn’t thinking about it at all. So let’s use gluttony as an example. What should the church’s primary response be to the sin of gluttony? I think we can all agree that excess weight is not good for our health. It would be good if we maintained more healthy bodies.
Should we make laws? Perhaps we should join the crusade by the former mayor of New York City to reduce the maximum size of soft drink that people can purchase. Perhaps we should change food packaging laws or make regulations about the fat and calorie content of various foods. No, I’m not talking here about the value of such laws. I’m not concerned with whether those moves would be good or bad for the country and for us. I’m asking what should our first response be as Christians.
And that, I would suggest, must always be the gospel. “Just look at the sort of love that God has given us, letting us be called children of God. And we are” (1 John 3:1)! What is it that God will do for His children? What possible reason can we have, as Christians, for offering something else first? It’s so human to go straight for cleaning someone else up, thinking somehow that his sins are dirtier than ours, before we offer the gospel.
But you say that there are so many people in our churches who have these problems. Well, I have a simple answer to that too. Offer them the gospel. No, not a theological lesson (though it is theology at its best), but membership in the family with the invitation to grow right there with it, to grow in a group of people who love you and realize they are also in the process of growing.
I’m not saying not to think of political solutions. I believe in being involved. I’m at the polls for every vote for which I’m eligible. But as Christians, our solution to everything from drug addiction to an attitude of judgment toward others should be the good news about Jesus, not forced on others because we need to fix them, but offered to others so we can grow together.
As Dave concludes:
I believe it’s time to stop seeking God in the misguided and erroneous teachings of do-goodism, whether the source is liberalism or conservatism. Jesus Christ is the only answer to the malaise plaguing our families, our churches, and our society.