Matt 13:1-23 : Luke 15:11-31
As I embark on my new ministry reaching out to the non-believers and unchurched Christians, it sets me to ponder how as a Christian, can I be an effective witness for the Gospel reaching out to the lost and to fellow brethren who are hurting and disorientated in their faith journey.
This pondering leads me to a more poignant and fundamental question, that is : “To begin with, am I even relevant to the Gospel – the Good News of reconciliation with God and eternal salvation?” For that matter, this is not a personal question of authenticity of faith, but, it concerns all professing Christians.
We live in a fast changing world that is propelled by technological advances and globalization of economies. Being an integral part of modernity, we are swapped into the waves of change and rapid socio-economic transformation.
The flux of secularization exerts such formidable pressure and influence on us that often times, disorientates us, adulterates our worldview and displaces the foundation of our beliefs and godly traditions.
As professing believers and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, the need to relook and reexamine our Christian faith which undergirds our belief and values system seemed ever more urgent and necessary; lest we get sucked into the worldly system and instead of being a change-agent as salt and light for God in this world, we become irrelevant for the Gospel.
If we are not careful in the way we practice our Christian faith, the risk of losing our identity is high and the consequence of being irrelevant is grave. Very grave indeed.
Staying relevant for the Gospel is not as much a matter of compliance to God’s commandment as it is a matter of being true to our belief. It is fundamentally a question about how we remain true to our Christian identity. Walter Hendrichen, former director for the worldwide ministry of The Navigators, in his best-selling book : Disciples Are Make Not Born, wrote that : “Many are Christians but few are Disciples”. It is a regrettable reality. But, yet, if we understand the concept of being a Christian correctly, the differentiation is a false dichotomy. For, a Christian is only a Christian, if he is a disciple of Christ.
Our relevance to the Gospel hinges on how the Gospel is being incarnated in our lives. To this end, unless and until we come to grasp with the conviction of our belief in God and in who we are (Christian identity), we would not be able to live out a life worthy of God’s calling and celebrate a life of redemptive purpose, privilege and power.
One of the recurring themes that resonated throughout the Scripture, is to exhort us to take our faith seriously. Any outward sacramental acts of faith professions that we do, as important as they are, are not definitive of our faith and guarantee of our spiritual destiny. As Apostle asserts in Galatians 5:6, 15 :
Gal 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.
The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
Gal 6:15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything;
what counts is a new creation.
Faith is a matter of the heart. Sacramental rituals and acts of religious service are an outward expression of the inward reality of our hearts. If they do not stem from the conviction of our hearts, they are of no value.
In shepherding His chosen flock, YHWH who instituted the rite of circumcision, took issue with the genuineness of the people’s allegiance to Him, warned the Israelites that He would punish those who are circumcised only in the flesh.
Jer 9:25 “The days are coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh…”
In reaching out to the multitudes, the Lord Jesus speaks about the genuineness of faith in the Parable Of The Sower. In that parable, the Lord Jesus cited four types of soils representing different types of hearers of the Word of God (the seed). The first category are those who had the opportunity to hear the Word but didn’t understand it. The second category talks about those who hear the Word and believe. But, because they are not strong in their faith and quickly fall away. The third category refers to those who hear the Word and believe, but yet, got themselves entangled in the worries of this life and the deceitful of wealth, and become unfruitful. The fourth category portrays those who hear the Word, understand it and become very fruitful.
The first category of hearers is considered unbelievers and the second category are Christians who have back-slided. The third category are those who have kept their faith but have been disorientated and become unfruitful; or in another words, “irrelevant” insofar as the Gospel is concerned.
Given the four categories of hearers, which category of hearers do we think we belong ? Looking in perspective, and if we can be candid about the condition of our being as Christians, I suspect many of us would consider ourselves to belong to the third category of hearers in the parable.
If that is the case, then, we are in serious trouble. No wonder that the church is rapidly losing its members and fewer and fewer people are being converted. With the loss of influence in the world, Christianity is in crisis. In our day and age, it is no suspect that the church has been more secularized than the world being Christianized. Has the good old Gospel become irrelevant to the new modern world ? Of course not. The Good News is timeless. It is us, the ambassadors of the Gospel, who have lost it and become irrelevant.
What has happened to the clarion call the Lord Jesus issued to all believers to be His witnesses and make disciples of all nation teaching them to obey all His commandments (Matt 28:18-19) ? Sadly, it has been muffled by the clamorous biddings of the world and conveniently ignored by the believers.
In another epic parable that the Lord told His disciples – The Prodigal Son, we are awed by the amazing grace and unconditional love the father showered upon the returning prodigal son who has willfully gone astray. The parable beautifully depicts the father heart of God. In the parable, we are also told how the older brother became angry over the father’s lavish reception of the returning prodigal brother. The older brother has been loyal and faithful to the father staying by his side all these while.
Many of us would assume the role of the older brother in the parable. The difference is that unlike the older brother in the parable, we are not angry or upset at the returning prodigal brother. The reason is not because we are more forgiving or magnanimous than the older brother. It is because we simply could not be bothered if any of the back-slided Christian brethren returns home.
Of course, we would not deny it is a good thing that someone who has back-slided and has returned back. The point is that we would not take upon ourselves the duty and calling to seek out the lost sheep or those who have gone astray. We are just happy and contented that faithfully on every Sunday, imbibed in deep religious piety, with our hands raised high, we soak in to the tempo of contemporary worship and then sit tightly in the pew enthralled by the charismatic preaching of the Word.
The Consequence Of Becoming Irrelevant :
Becoming irrelevant for the Gospel has great ramifications. It is a pathetic state of our faith that bespeaks our estranged relationship with God. We have failed to grasp the significance and blessedness of salvation that grant us a new life of victory, freedom from bondages and condemnation and affords us to enjoy all of God’s fatherly goodness and riches.
Like the church of Laodicea mentioned in the Book of Revelation (Rev 3:14-22), many of us have become luke-warm – neither cold nor hot, towards God. We have lost our first love for God. This has seeded an insidious spiritual apathy in us that dulls our conscience and smolders our passion for God that would consequently incapacitates us to living a life worthy of God, immobilizes us to God’s calling and derails us from participating in His redemptive mission for the world.
Many Christians have indeed, unwittingly, allowed the worries and cares of this earthly life and the attractions of the world to turn our gaze away from the Kingdom of God and had our focus riveted on selfish pursuits of worldliness. The will of God has been relegated to the lowest rung in our list of priorities. This distraction is indisputably idolatry.
Our irrelevance is not only detrimental to our personal spirituality. It has repercussions on the community around us, both the world within and even the Body of Christ within. Not only do we not exert a positive and godly influence on the world, we become stumbling blocks to the Gospel.
The Pharisees have been a decried group of people in Biblical history. They were most disapproved by the Lord because they are a bunch of hypocrites and legalists. The Lord warns the believers to beware of them and not to take on the way of their dubious religious piety. As far as the Lord is concerned, they are irrelevant to promoting God’s righteousness. Though extremely religious, but, the Pharisees were hideous stumbling blocks in the way of God. We ought to heed the Lord’s warning to beware of the “Pharisees” amongst us. But, talking about hypocrisy, in our own state of duplicity, the truth presses the question on us : Do we see a “Pharisee” within our own self?
Finally, we must realize that the relevancy of our Christian walk to the Gospel has bearing on our eternal destiny. Though salvation is premised on the grace of God; but, it is mediated through our faith in Christ. And this faith is authenticated through an active obedience to God’s bidding and will. Our obedience is not only an authentication of our faith; but, at the same time, it is also an expression of our loving response to God. The Lord affirms this to His disciples that “…if anyone loves Me, he will obey My teaching…” (John 14:21;23 ; 1John 5:3).
There is no other way to sustain our relevance to the Gospel other than incarnating the Gospel in our lives that find expression in acts of love. Not forgetting that the Gospel, through which we have come into the embrace of God, is spawn from the love of God. The Apostle John aptly declares this truth in 1John 4:16-17 :
1Jn 4:16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.
1Jn 4:17 In this way, love is made complete among us
so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment,
because in this world we are like him.
Being relevant to the Gospel begins with us being real with our belief. Without a genuine and strong conviction rooting our faith, incarnating the Gospel would be a delusive aspiration. We must not kid ourselves. The Bible reminds us that God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows (Gal 6:7).
We are the blessed ones. The truth has been made known to us and we have been sanctified by the truth through our faith. We ought to take hold of the privilege and honor bestowed upon us to be the light and salt of the world as Christ’s witnesses exhibiting and demonstrating (incarnating) the life-giving message of the Gospel.
We must not make a mockery of the Gospel which we profess to believe and risk forfeiting ourselves of the salvation it guarantees to those who remain relevant and true to the Truth.