Growing up, I had a friend who wasn’t a Christian. She was a nice girl but she’d struggled with God because of how she’d been treated by people in the Church. As I grew and began to really understand the joy of God I wanted to share it with her. So, I invited her to church over and over again. Eventually, I wore her down. She agreed to come to our youth service. She was going to see what real Christians were like. She would fall in love with Jesus as I had and it would be amazing.
If only things actually happened the way we envision them in our heads. My friend was not a “church girl.” She didn’t know the standards placed on women in church by others for how they should dress. She came to church wearing a normal outfit. It wasn’t scandalous. It wasn’t inappropriate. It just didn’t meet our particular church’s standard of Amish-level modesty. Every girl there stared and glared at her the whole time. She left feeling judged and unwanted, just like every other time she’d been to a church.
Why? Because she didn’t meet their expectations for modest dress. How would she have known? It’s not like the church posted a dress code on its website. These girls simply felt she was out of line for dressing in a way that they didn’t consider consistent with principles of Biblical modesty. So they rejected her without even taking the time to get to know her. She didn’t meet their standards so they judged her.
The Gospel plays a vital role in our lives, but we often handle it in a way that was not intended.
We tend to wield the Gospel like scientists using it as a microscope to investigate the lives of others. That’s not our place. That’s not our role. That’s not what the Gospel is for. It’s not our job to judge who is appropriately living out the Gospel according to our interpretation.
Or sometimes, instead of a microscope to judge people, we use the Gospel like a window to look at others and compare ourselves to them. Do they stack up? Are they closer to God then we are? Do they have some sins that we don’t? We measure our self-worth by seeing who scores higher on the Gospel test of our lives. Like marathon runners, we use others to measure our own pace.
The problem with both of these perspectives is that they prevent the Gospel from doing what the Gospel was intended to do.
The Gospel is a mirror. It shows us things about ourselves we don’t want to see. It reveals our mess.
That’s not pleasant. If we can read the Bible without conviction, without feeling broken down, without seeing our flaws, then we don’t understand it. The Gospel tears down the illusion that we’ve got it together. It strips the walls of our own kingdoms down to make room for the Kingdom of God in us. The Gospel shows us things in our hearts that we’d rather not admit exist. The same tool that reveals our mess is the tool that Jesus uses to transform that mess. The Gospel is the mirror that reveals before it heals.
Think of the woman in Mark 5 who had a condition that caused her to have a “flow of blood” for 12 years. The woman’s condition made her a social pariah. She was in a perpetual state of ceremonial uncleanness. When she touched something, it became unclean because she touched it. She could have no physical contact with another person. No handshakes. No hugs. She was living in solitary confinement for 12 years. She was an outcast.
This woman spent all her money on doctors and medicine trying to cure her condition but it didn’t get better. It got worse. She tried everything. She was desperate. Jesus was her last hope, so she snuck up while He was walking, and touched the hem of His cloak and was healed. This woman didn’t want to draw attention to herself. She wasn’t even supposed to be there. She wanted to get in and get out.
But Jesus stopped and did the one thing she was trying to avoid: He called her out. She didn’t want to be seen. But Jesus ignored what she wanted to give her what she needed. He didn’t just heal her, He made sure everyone knew she’d been healed. He restored her to her place in society.
Too often we use the Gospel to look at others instead of ourselves. The more we focus on other peoples’ problems, the easier it is to ignore or downplay our own. It is not our job to force others to conform to God’s Word. We can teach it. We can encourage them. We can share Godly wisdom.
In Matthew 7:4-5, Jesus says: “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
I get it: Our job is to speak truth in love. But maybe before we go hurling truth bombs at every person who doesn’t look or live the way we think they should, we should make sure we’ve dealt with the log in our own eye. If we spent as much time letting the Gospel work on our own lives as we did worrying about what others were doing with it, then maybe the people of God would look a lot more like Jesus.
The Gospel is not a window. It’s not a microscope. It’s a mirror. The purpose of the Gospel is to open our hearts to God. It’s to show us our mess. It’s to reveal so we can heal. Through the Gospel the Spirit of God works on and transforms our lives.
Tyler Edwards is a pastor, author, and husband. He currently works as the Discipleship Pastor of Carolina Forest Community Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is passionate about introducing people to and helping them grow in the Gospel. He is the author of Zombie Church: breathing life back into the body of Christ. You can find more of his work on Facebook or you can follow him on Twitter @tedwardsccc.