Thursday, January 27, 2011

Offending People, Jesus-Style

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This morning I read a blog post by Al Mohler called, "The Osteen Moment – Your Own Moment Will Come Soon Enough." It discusses a recent televised interview in which Joel Osteen squirmed under Piers Morgan's relentless gaze. Piers had asked him the worst question you can ask a "Prosperity gospel" kind of preacher who craves public approval but still feels any allegiance whatsoever to the Bible. Piers asked, "Is homosexuality a sin?"

Dr. Mohler's blog entry pointed out that every one of us who claims biblical Christianity will get hit by that question soon enough. And it left me wondering how I should answer.

There's no question that homosexual activity is sinful and prohibited. The Bible makes that absolutely clear. The question is, how do we present that reality when challenged by the Piers Morgans of our world (or our homosexual next door neighbors, family members, or co-workers)?

Most of the time, we see only a few possibilities. We can evade the question altogether, we can couch it in the most squirmingly cowardly language, or we can barrel on ahead without caring about the feelings of those around us.

Given a choice in our culture, most of us would prefer not to offend. And yet, if we're true to our Bibles, we know that Jesus often chose to be offensive (Mat 15:12-14 , John 6:48-64 , just to name a few). And we know that Jesus did all things well, so it must be okay to offend, right?

Yet we've all met plenty of Christians who not only aren't afraid of offending, but who actually love it. They're arrogant, in-your-face, obnoxious people who give Christ a black eye even as they name His name. In our guts we know that they offend with a different spirit than the one with which our Savior offended people.

How will I answer that question when it comes to me? Most of us go round and round in our minds and end up coming to one conclusion.

I hope nobody asks me that.

Not exactly helpful.

Folks, we're sometimes going to have to offend people. There's no getting around it. The question is, how did Jesus offend people? If we're going to do it, we want to do it His way, right?

When it comes right down to it, Jesus offended people with the Gospel. Sometimes they were offended with the part of the Gospel that revolved around His Lordship. Sometimes they couldn't stomach the way He refused to be chained to their legalistic rules.

But if you boil it all down, the part about the Gospel that offended them most was this:

You are a sinner who needs a Savior, and I am that Savior.

When someone asks us, "Is such-and-such a sin?" and they're waiting with sharpened claws to rip us up as soon as we answer, we become very un-Christlike. We follow the rabbit trail, when Jesus would have gone straight to the heart. The offense of the Gospel does not revolve around whether or not such-and-such is a sin. It revolves around whether or not you and I are sinners.

Right now, homosexuality is the untouchable sin, the rallying point for those who can't bear the doctrine of sin at all. The world says, "Don't you DARE call it sin." To do so is political suicide.

Our Lord never got into politics. He got into hearts and souls. And this is where we lose our edge. We want to let people move the battleground to the arena of action only. The Gospel insists that the arena exists in a much deeper place.

The message of the Gospel is much more offensive than the fact that homosexual acts are sinful. The Gospel tells me that my BEST acts are sinful. That's why, of all the people in Israel in Jesus' day, no one hated Him more than the Pharisees, the religious leaders who were so sure of their own righteousness.

No matter what the question, don't get defensive. Go on the offense with the best offense the Gospel can offer. Because the best offense of the Gospel is one that you can't present arrogantly.

Here's what I hope I would say to Piers Morgan and all those who ask if homosexuality is a sin.

"Piers, you know what? I have something more offensive to say than that. What true Biblical Christianity teaches me is that sin is not just what a person does, it's who he is. Sin is part of my DNA. It infects everything I do, and not just the things that look bad. If I reach out my hand to give $5 to a homeless person, it was a sinful hand that gave the money, and a sinful heart that decided to do even that good act. The news of the Gospel is offensive not because it labels certain things as sins, but because it labels all of us as hopeless sinners in need of a Savior. Did you know that the Bible says that all of our righteousnesses are like filthy rags? That's all of the best things that you can do, Piers, and the best things that I can do. Filthy rags. That's why, though the word 'Gospel' means 'Good News,' it's only good news to people who are humble enough to look at themselves and say, "I am sinful and I need a Savior." The Gospel is the worst possible news, the most offensive news, to the proud person who wants to worship himself. God resists the proud. He gives His grace, His mercy, His forgiveness to the humble. So behind every heart that angrily asks, with fists clenched, 'Is such-and-such a sin?' lies a heart that is yelling at God, 'Don't you dare call ME a sinner.' But for those whose fists are unclenched, for those who see their own sinfulness and hate it, the Gospel is the best news of all, because it says, 'There is a Savior, and He came to earth and lived a perfect life and died a horrible death and rose from the dead to pay the price for all of my sin…ALL of it, no matter what that might look like when it's acted out. He came to die because of the sin that's in our DNA, that infects our very best acts and leaves us desperately lost. That's the Gospel. So don't waste my time with asking me, 'Is ______ (such-and-such) a sin?' No matter what you fill in the blank, the answer is the same. It's either an outright sin, or it's a good act that is still tainted with sin. We need the Savior because we are sinful to the core. All of us. I need the Savior…heterosexual, non-drinking, non-smoking, non-cussing, non-you-name-it me…I need the Savior. And Jesus Christ is that Savior. Those who believe that they are sinners, who know that they cannot impress a holy God, and who put their trust in Jesus to save them and forgive them and cleanse them and make them new, they are saved and forgiven and cleansed and made new because of His mercy. That's the message of true Christianity. And it's much more offensive than what you hoped I would say. Do you believe that you need the Savior, Piers?"

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