As I mentioned earlier, two components have left us open to opposition, locked us out of public life and rendered us powerless to balance what is happening to our nation: (1) We have been captivated by the religious spirit that masquerades as righteousness while offering only condemnation. It's our shrill voice of judgment toward homosexuals, people who support abortion rights, liberal politicians and anyone else deemed a sinner. (2) We've been destroyed by our own hypocrisy as we have outwardly cried for righteousness while we have been inwardly compromised and publicly exposed.
What discredits Christian faith today in the eyes of the world is that we judge the sinner and build a wall of separation out of bricks of condemnation while we display rampant immorality in our own behavior. We've become the Pharisees—outwardly clean but inwardly compromised.
The religious spirit that tries to force righteousness through shrill cries of condemnation is really a failure of faith. We think it's God because it condemns sin and exalts righteous behavior, but it's really unbelief that the Holy Spirit will actually do what He says He'll do and that grace really works.
Romans 2:4 reads, "Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?" Goodness (and kindness, as some versions read) lead to repentance; condemnation never can.
Jesus said, "Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment" (John 16:7-8). Notice that Jesus said the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin. Not me. Not you.
If we believe that the Holy Spirit will convict, then our whole demeanor must change, along with our words, our approach and our attitudes. We must embrace sinners with grace and love. We must model love, joy, peace, patience and kindness. We must make righteousness appealing, compared with the destruction that sin brings.
Persecution and discrimination toward Christians have risen in this country not because we're followers of Jesus, not because people hate Jesus, and not because the government is evil, but because the world believes that we propagate hatred and therefore considers us dangerous. We've earned that reputation because we so often fail to understand or even believe what our own Lord and Savior teaches us.
The religious spirit poses as God, but it's really a twisted form of unbelief that leads us to isolate ourselves from those we call sinners or those we perceive as a threat. But look at what Jesus declares that people said about Him: "The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by all her children" (Luke 7:34-35).
Jesus' last sentence in the passage above implies that we recognize wisdom by the fruit it produces. Pharisees condemned sinners and expected their treatment of them to produce repentance. It didn't. It only created a divide that could not be crossed.
Jesus befriended sinners and as a result they came in droves to repent. When we in the church learn what this means and live it out, we'll begin to recover our lost influence in this world.
Final word: Don't go to the Old Testament prophets to find a model for addressing the culture today. That was another time, another people and another covenant. That was a covenant of law.
We live under a new covenant of grace. Study Jesus. Learn His heart. Walk in His Spirit. And the world will rise to call us blessed.
About the author: R. Loren Sandford is the founder and senior pastor of New Song Fellowship in Denver, Colorado (newsongfellowship.org). He is also the author of several books, including Understanding Prophetic People and The Prophetic Church (both published by Chosen).
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