[featured_image] Last night at our church, Dr. Jerry Sheveland, president of the Baptist General Conference, preached a message from Acts 10 entitled “The Power to Step Into the World of Others.” He did an excellent job of identifying the cross-cultural challenges that Peter faced in the first century as he walked into the home of an unclean, unholy pig-eating Gentile. And as a result, his life would never be the same.
In studying Acts 10, we learn that the good news isn’t just for the covenant people of Israel, but for everyone. The gospel does not include dietary rules and regulations. It isn’t about dos and don’ts; touch this, don’t touch that; go here, but don’t go there; taste this, but not that; drink this but don’t drink that.
These rules created a separation between the people of Israel and the Gentiles around them. In the church in America today, our idea of holiness separates us from those in the culture that we are sent to reach with the good news. Our attitudes are often similar to Peter’s—fear of contamination.
People everywhere need Jesus. Jesus changes lives. But rather than introducing others to Jesus, it’s easy to think that we need to protect ourselves from those who need Jesus. In America, unfortunately, there is a large number of Christians who have separated themselves from the world to such an extent that they have little to no spiritual impact at all. Bill Hybels describes it like this: Most modern-day Christ-followers have been told since they were little kids to separate themselves from the world. They’ve been warned about places they should never be caught dead in and the types of people to steer clear of—counsel that only serves to make Christians impotent, paranoid, and insular. (Just Walk Across the Room, p. 156)
How can we effectively engage the culture when we are so busy trying to stay away from the culture? From Home School groups, to Christian sports leagues, to an abundance of ministries on the church campus, Christians often seek to live their lives to avoid contact with the world out of fear that they become contaminated. The Bible teaches that we are to be in the world, but not of the world (Romans 12:1-2). Paul is not teaching that Christians should not associate with lost people. If that is what he is teaching, then Christians should live in convents and monasteries.
If you look at the pattern of Jesus’ life, He not only maintained relationships with sinners, He shared meals in their homes and went to their parties. In Luke 15, the Pharisees and the scribes complained because Jesus “receives sinners and eats with them.” When Matthew threw a party for Jesus and invited all his tax-gathering friends and sinners to come to the party in Luke 5, the Pharisees and scribes asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax-gatherers and sinners?
It appears that these Jewish religious leaders were separatists. Yet Jesus clearly was not. Separatism is a pietistic avoidance of sinners based on a fear of contamination and a “holier than thou” self-righteous attitude.
Jesus refers to Himself as a “friend of sinners” in Matthew 11:19. His answer to the question “why do you?” in Luke 5 is a clear explanation of why Christians should not be separatists. “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (v. 31-32)
Jerry Cook often says at the end of a Sunday Sermon, As you go back into our world tomorrow, don’t despise the world. Don’t forget that sitting here in this protected environment is not the real world. Sunday is a good break from the world, but it’s not the real world. We’re going back into the world that Jesus redeemed. We’re going back not only with the message of redemption, but as those who are in the process of redemption and through whom redemption can take place. (The Monday Morning Church, p.64)
We need to allow God to transform us and let go of any ideas of holiness that keep us from engaging with those in the world around us. Like Peter, we need to say, “God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.” We need to enter the homes of unbelievers and share meals together, and do life together, and be a light! We need to follow Jesus example of being friends to sinners and not forget that we too are sinners, saved by God’s grace
“I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 13:47
As missionaries to those in the culture around us, let’s engage and be friends with those who need the hope of the gospel!