After travelling across the country (thank God we have arrived!) and seeing sign after sign directing me where to turn, where to merge, where to exit, and even what speed to drive, I was reminded of this little episode that played out in my life last year.
Signs are supposed to instruct, to help, to inform, to guide. Signs are a good thing, but…
While I was driving to work one day I saw man on the way, he was standing out on the corner of a fairly major intersection. He was holding a sign. It was one of those signs that teaches biblical truth. At least I assumed that was the sentiment.
It was one of those signs that had two truths, one on the front and one on the back, both from first John. The first side I saw said “a child of God does not go on sinning” at first I was like, OK, an apt truth. But then he spun the sign to reveal the other side. It said “anyone who sins is of the devil”.
The first by itself may have been an exhortation to brothers to step-up their faith, to stir up the good works inside of them, to continue on the narrow path, to even check to see whether or not we are in the faith as the apostles remind us. A little bit of exhortation from a fellow believer? I like that, however, that wasn’t the truth at all, when the two messages are coupled together it rang like a scathing contrast: Christian are good and everyone everyone else is bad. With the messages together it was no longer an encouragement, it was people retreating to their respective camps with knives out. It was us versus them and clearly we have the upper hand. We have the leg up and not only that but you are horrible people. It was not an invitation to life change or a welcoming to the gospel.
Signs that condemn do nothing but anger and create walls, or make us swerve off the road.
Now these verses in this vacuum of context are not true. They are half truths. It does not contain the next crucial verses, it doesn’t contain the context in which it says, but when we sin God is faithful and just to forgive us of all unrighteousness. Without these thoughts, this message is pretty hopeless. The Bible can say a lot of things when we print individual verses on signs, boards, and cards. The Bible can be made to say many things it is not intending when it is not allowed to speak for itself.
So this sign did not speak truth. Christians do not sin. So wait, what if at some point I did and sometimes do, am i now not one? Oh dear…
He who sins are sons of the devil? So what there is no hope for me, then why say anything? What is that supposed to do except make me angry? Oh dear…
No! The Bible in untrained hands or presented thoughtlessly as this only kills. As Paul says the letter kills but the spirit brings life. The Spirit illuminates the scriptures, but his job is made difficult if we only choose bits and pieces and ignore the rest. People, do not talk about sin without a remedy! Do not talk the judgement without the invitation to repentance and the welcoming arms of God!
Our sin does separate but this is not the complete story. He loves us so he sent his Son to die! This is like when the news quotes presidential candidates out of context to undermine their platform but much much worse.
If we aren’t communicating hope then we don’t understand the gospel. We have to understand the hope is in the message not the hearing. If people don’t hear the hope then that is on them but we have to present it! Otherwise we just continue the pendulous nature of us against them, sinners versus saints. Guns drawn armor on.
The word gospel means good news. It is not good to simply know that God is angry with me. People have to also know what to do with that information. The good part comes in that God has done a work to repair that wounded relationship. Not only has he done the work but he offers to us the results of that work himself.
This is like those people who say “I am not mean I am just being honest”. They parade it like a virtue, when everybody else is silently noting how much of a jerk they are. See if we only tell people the truth of their situation without any remedy we will simply close doors. This is why we are taught to speak the truth in love. It had to be complete to be true and the delivery is also important.
I remember thinking that if I saw that guy the next day that I would have to stop and talk with him. I can only assume he meant well but it would be more helpful if his sign had said “The End is Nigh”. That would at least elicit a response of some kind, but the one he had, stated the way it was, simply laid down a barricade between who is in and who is out. This differences between who is in and who is out is not a helpful conversation apart from the Gospel. That kind of truth is only revealed after people have an encounter with Jesus through the gospel. We understand this truth afterward and it prompts us to go and tell it on the mountain. We understand both sides of the truth and it fills us with awe and love and it is supposed to fill us with compassion for those who need it as well.
Telling half truths may as well be lying. God offers forgiveness to all, if we would only come. This is similar to the Calvinist and Arminian debate. If we only are interested in God’s part, and God’s part has nothing to do with us then why bother talking about it? If we are only interested in our part and our responsibility then why bother bringing God into it at all? This is what happens when we press a particular point without its context within the fuller picture of revelation.
We are not operating in vacuums here.
God did not without context tell us we are sinners, nor does he tells us without context we are loved. There is background information that these truths communicate upon. Doctor’s offer help within the context of sickness. Mechanics repair within the context of malfunction. Gardener’s sow and tend within the context of wild overgrowth. Trainers train within the context of misbehaving puppies.
Finally the Savior saves within the context of the people of the earth being eternally lost. He offers life where there was only death. So start telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help us God.
That way the sign will lead people to God rather than away.