FIVE RESULTS WHEN CHURCHES GET HONEST
If someone challenged you to choose three words to describe Jesus, which would you pick?
All those would be good choices, but here’s another description that doesn’t usually make it to the top of our list.
Jesus was honest. He told a woman caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more.” He called the Pharisees and Sadducees “a brood of vipers.” To their face.
Jesus didn’t mince words. He said, “I am the bread of life. . . . Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. . . . the one who feeds on me will live because of me. . . . Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.”
His teaching was so new, so fresh, so honest, that some who followed him walked away (John 6:35-60).
That happens today, too, when we tell people the truth about Jesus. Some turn and leave because they can’t handle the demands Jesus makes on our lives. But many more, hungry for the truth, can’t resist Jesus when we’re honest about him. And that’s only one of five results I’ve seen when churches decide to be honest.
1. Lost people hear truth and receive grace.
Anything less than honesty will emphasize one of these but not the other. And so some churches hammer on truth and slide into judgmental stares that drive lost people away. Other churches trumpet grace without acknowledging the challenging demands God makes of those who follow him. Such churches offer community but not salvation.
Love and grace, like opposite ends of a rubber band stretched between two fingers, will always create tension—and require full honesty about what Jesus expects. That tension leads to other items on this list.
2. Religious people get uncomfortable.
I’m not talking about Christians here. There’s a difference between Christianity and religiosity. Religion makes Christianity look pretty so we don’t have to deal with reality. Christianity is honest.
I know about a young man, a student at a Christian college, who was involved in gospel work in his city’s urban core. In time he became aware of the prostitutes working several nearby street corners, and he felt burdened because he knew they needed to know Jesus. So he decided to invite one of them to a dance at the school. He told his mentor, “I want to show this woman what it’s like to be treated the way Jesus wants a man to treat a lady.” So he took her to a nice restaurant. He opened doors for her and listened to her and showed her respect at every turn. He took her to the dance and returned her home safely.
Soon word got out about what he had done, and more than one church member was outraged. “How can you tolerate one of your students fraternizing with someone like that?” Several supporters threatened to stop giving to the school.
Centuries earlier a sinful woman poured oil on the feet of Jesus, and religious people reacted with an identical complaint (Luke 7:36-50). Maybe this tendency will never change. Honestly offering fellowship and relationship with sinners who need it most will always make religious people uncomfortable.
3. Satan attacks.
Satan is about lies, not the truth. So when you start honestly telling people what Jesus offers and what he expects, Satan works overtime. He twists how some believers hear the truth. He inspires some to misrepresent intentions and statements, to look at themselves and their preferences instead of the big picture of a lost world.
And when he’s most successful, he gets Christians fighting with each other instead of watching out for him and seeking to protect others from his attacks.
Lately several have linked to a video showing two gazelles with locked horns in a desperate battle against each other. In the distance a lion runs toward them at full speed, but they’re too involved with their own conflict to see him coming. While they’re fighting, he pounces on one of them and drags it off for the kill.
It’s an apt picture of the devil’s strategy for ruining the life of Christians more concentrated on their own flock than the life-and-death issues outside and all around them.
4. People leave.
One of Satan’s strategies is to convince people that God can’t work where they are, but he certainly will over on the next street or in the next township. This is not to say that every decision to leave one church for another is inspired by the devil. Those moves are not for us to judge. But it’s a fact that people leave when a church concentrates more on communicating with the lost than satisfying the saved.
But that’s not the only fact. And the last item on this list is the one most important.
5. People get saved.
While concentrating on the truth, and the truth alone, will prompt some people to leave, it will draw far more people to Jesus. Matt Chandler preaches at The Village Church in Dallas, a congregation that grew from 150 to 15,000 in the 10 years I lived there. He did it by telling the truth of the gospel.
“The more I told the truth, the more people would show up,” he said. “I just keep preaching the truth and I think it’s going to run people off, and then we grow by 10 percent. People are hungry for the truth.”
Established churches honest about what Jesus says find growth in the long term but pain in the short term. This is a challenge for all of us. All of us get fixated on stuff Jesus didn’t die for: our preferences, our pleasure, our comfort with what we’ve known and experienced.
But the gospel isn’t comfortable or safe. It’s dangerous. It’s risky to “save others by snatching them from the fire” (Jude 23), because you may get burned in the process. But, to be honest with you, as Christians on a mission to share God’s truth, it’s really the only choice we have.