Saturday, August 30, 2008

If you were discipling a someone who wasn't a Christian...

...and you saw something in their lives that was sinful, should you point it out?

Firstly, about time we Christians got on with making disciples of non-Christians. Otherwise known as evangelism. Great idea.

But, secondly, no. The problem a non-Christian has is that they're not a Christian. Their life is fundamentally opposed to God and any other sin in life is merely the fruit of that bigger sin. The heart needs to be changed before anything else can happen.

This is fairly widely understood - note the football pundit's disbelief as Joey Barton again claims to have turned over a new leaf, to have changed his ways. Maybe he can reform a bit, but he - like all of us - needs a new heart.

If we start targetting the apparent sins of people who aren't Christians the best we do is to replace 'sin' with the sin of self-righteousness. That's no progress at all. This was the tragic approach on Channel 4's Make me a Christian. More like, Make me a whitewashed tomb.

Show people Jesus, let him change their hearts and convict them of sin. And then help them along the way as the Holy Spirit transforms them gradually to be more human, more like Jesus.


  1. Hmmm, I think I agree with the main thrust of what you're saying, but I'm afraid it's missing out a vital dimension of gospel preaching we see in the NT.

    When the gospel calls us to repent and submit to Christ, is it not calling us to turn from our wicked ways (Acts 3:26)? I think we see these things played out simultaneously: God's word condemns our corrupt, sinful, autonomous way of life, and holds up Christ as Saviour and Lord.

    I would say that evangelism is as much a declaration of the exaltedness of Christ as Lord and Judge, as the offer of forgiveness in his name. If we understand evangelism in this way, it includes a call to repentance which is quite dramatic in nature.

    Now, I don't think that means every time we see sin in someone's life, we should point it out. But I think the call to repent - yes, of specific sins - should be part of our preaching of the gospel to unbelievers. Obviously this needs much wisdom and compassion and care. But I think it's part and parcel of the gospel of 'Christ as Lord'. After all, the Word of God is useful for rebuking and correcting.

    The danger of self-righteousness is of the same nature for the unbeliever as it is for the believer. That is, repentance in both cases needs to be repentance towards God, not simply contrition, worldy sorrow, and 'trying harder'. If it is repentance towards God, it will indeed lead to salvation.

  2. Agreed. Though there is a difference between telling someone to change their ways before becoming a Christian, and it being a necessary part of repentance to become a Christian...

  3. Re Joey Barton, I read a report a few months ago (in the Metro, I think!) to the effect that he believes there is a supreme being to whom he will one day give an account. We need to pray that he will grasp the rest of the gospel too!

  4. Yeh. If The Lord is gracious and compassionate enough for me then he has enough grace for Joey Barton.

  5. Thanks for your reply Dave, I think that clarifies things for me.

  6. So, it all depends on what 'point it out' in the original question means I guess.

    If it means: name the sin/ decribe what repentance is going to mean for person x/ point out the specific personal idols that Jesus is going to want to smash/ highlighting the slavery and addiction that only Jesus can cure, then the answer has to be 'yes' doesn't it?

    If it means do something like they (seemed to do?) did on that horrid TV programme you mentioned Dave, then the answer is 'no.' That was a lot more like asking the unjustified to behave sanctified even before you've told them about being justified, if you get what I mean. And it was wrong and pants.