Craig Smith - Cancel Culture
Welcome to Mission Hills. So good to have you here. Let’s just get this out of the way. Broke my finger this week. To answer all your questions. I was working on a wood lathe. Got yanked into it. To answer your follow up questions, yes it hurt, no I don’t know how long I will be in this. I see a surgeon on Tuesday and yes, it is a good thing that it happened to my left hand, because I am right-handed. I think that is most of the questions. If you have more, please feel free to grab me in the lobby. But let’s get on to what we are really here for. So welcome to Mission Hills. So good to have you with us today.
We’re in the midst of a series called “Live Free,” where we’re kind of exploring the Book of Galatians for some instruction on how to narrow the gap between our experience of freedom and our expectation of it. Because the reality is that, there’s often a pretty big gap. We know that freedom is a big deal in the Christian faith. In fact, Jesus himself said, “If I set you free, you are free indeed, or you will be free indeed.” Later on, in the Book of Galatians, we’re looking through the Apostle Paul actually goes on and says, “It is for freedom that Christ sets you free.” So, clearly, there’s a big emphasis on freedom in Christianity. And yet, the reality is, there’s often a big gap between our expectation and our experience of freedom.
Last week, Pastor Jeff taught a message on one of the things that can widen the gap, which is the people pleasing syndrome, which I know is something I struggle with. Anybody else struggle with that one? Just the kind of way too much energy worrying about what other people think and whether or not they’re happy with you. Yeah, today, we’re gonna talk about kind of the opposite of the people-pleasing syndrome, which is what I call the, “I’m not pleased with people syndrome,” which is what we spend a lot of time and energy worrying about how I feel about other people rather than them, you know, worrying what they’re thinking about me. And that may not seem like it could cause a lot of a loss of freedom. But the reality is, syndrome is a very small thing, can have a big impact in freedom. I discovered that this week. The break here is really small, it’s a little fracture right there, but they, like, immobilize my arm all the way to here. And sometimes it’s like that. Sometimes a very small fracture ends up creating a huge impact on our experience of freedom. And it can certainly be that way with this tendency that we sometimes have to spend too much time and energy thinking about what other people are doing that we’re not happy about.
Now, here’s what I’ve come to understand. I really believe that too many Christians are spending too much time worrying about other Christians, and too little time living on mission. Does that make sense? It’s something I’ve definitely struggled with, maybe you have as well. But the reality is that too many Christians are spending too much time worrying about other Christians and too little time worrying about living on mission. And so what we’re going to see today actually is going to give us some insights into how to kind of get free from that particular monkey on our back.
Why don’t you go and grab a Bible, and start making your way to the Book of Galatians? We’re going to be in Galatians chapter 2 today, starting in verse 1. And by the way, as you’re getting there, here’s what you need to know. Paul has been telling us the story of how he became a follower of Jesus. He didn’t start out that way, he started out as a persecutor of the followers of Jesus. But then he met the risen Jesus on the road to a city called Damascus. And when he got to Damascus, he met with some Christians there and he ended up becoming a follower of Jesus because of that experience on the road. And he immediately began to preach around the world really telling this Gospel of freedom, he called it the message of freedom, which is basically this. He was telling people that belonging to God depends on believing in the Resurrection. The belonging to God depends on believing in the Resurrection. And that’s all that it takes.
And really where we pick up the story now is he’s gonna say, I didn’t really spend a lot of time at the center of Christianity in Jerusalem, I had a little brief moment there. But then he says this in chapter 2, verse 1, “And then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas, and I took Titus along also.” So, basically, he went back to headquarters for the second time, after fourteen years being out preaching the Gospel of freedom. And this time when he went he took a man named Barnabas and a man named Titus with him. Now, what’s interesting is that Barnabas was a Jewish follower of Jesus. So, he was a Jewish Christian. Titus, on the other hand, was not Jewish, he was what they called a Gentile or a non-Jewish follower of Jesus. And by taking these two different guys with him, he’s really setting the stage for why he’s going in the first place, which is he’s going to Jerusalem to get an answer to a question. And the question he needs an answer to is basically this, do Gentiles have to behave like Jews in order to belong? That was the question. It’s really the burning question of the day.
We don’t think much about it today because most of us who are followers of Jesus, they are not Jewish, and so we don’t act in Jewish ways. And so it never really, you know, occurred to us that maybe we would need to but in the first century, that was a huge issue, because, in the first century, some of you may be surprised to learn this. I hope not, but so let me burst your bubble. Jesus was Jewish. You know that right? He wasn’t a white dude. He was brown because he was Jewish. And all of Jesus’s original followers, his apostles, they were also Jewish, okay? And really, in the first decade or so, almost all of the followers of Jesus were Jewish, and because of that, they all behaved in Jewish ways. They all sort of, you know, kind of went along with Jewish social practices. They were circumcised. They follow the Jewish dietary restrictions, they eat kosher, they followed other Jewish social regulations because that was just who they were. They were Jewish, it was just part of their culture, they didn’t think much about it. So, it never really occurred to them that anybody would be a follower of Jesus and not behave in a Jewish way.
But then Paul came along, and he was preaching this Gospel of freedom to the Gentiles, the non-Jewish people. And they didn’t behave in Jewish ways. And that suddenly created this sort of place of tension. Up to this point, all the followers of Jesus had behaved in Jewish ways. But now suddenly, there were followers of Jesus who didn’t behave in Jewish ways. And so the question was, well, but do the Gentiles have to behave like Jews in order to belong? That was the big question that he was there to get an answer to. It’s interesting. He says, “I went in response to a revelation.” He says, “I went because God revealed some information to me. I went because God basically told me I needed to go.” And I think that’s fascinating because it means that, at this point, Paul had been preaching this Gospel for about 17 years, and he hadn’t felt the need to get this question answered.
This was clearly a back burner issue for Paul, which strongly suggests that Paul thought that this was really a matter of social differences. He saw the circumcision, he saw the Jewish dietary laws, he saw the Jewish other regulations primarily as social issues that didn’t apply to the Gentiles, okay? But apparently, God thought that this question needed to be wrestled with. God thought this question needed to be answered in a definitive way. And so even though it had been a backburner issue for Paul, God said, “No, it’s not a backburner issue, you need to go, you need to get an answer to this question.” Which really doesn’t surprise me if I think about it because the reality is this, when we turn social differences into spiritual differences, we end up with church divisions. You with me, church?
When we take social differences, and we turn them into spiritual differences, what we end up with is church divisions, divided churches. And we love to do this, by the way, we love to take social differences and turn them into spiritual things, because nobody likes to say, well, that’s just not the way I like it, or I prefer to do it this way. They’re like, “No, no, this is what God wants.” Like, it’s got to be a spiritual thing. I mean, I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s. And because of that, I got to see and even participate in the worship wars, which is where people were asking questions like, can you actually bring an acoustic guitar into church? Oh, yeah. How about an electric one? Could we do that? Well, what do you think about drums? And I had people tell me things like, “Hey, if it makes you want to dance, it’s from the devil.” And I was like, well, you know, in the Bible, David danced. So, yeah, but it was more swaying, there was no real beat involve. Come on. No, you just don’t like it. And that’s okay.
You don’t have to like it but don’t turn your preferences into spiritual principles. Don’t turn your social differences into spiritual, don’t spiritualize them, right? Because what happens when we do that is we end up with church divisions. And here’s the thing we need to understand. God hates church divisions. God hates church divisions. Jesus himself said this, this is so interesting to me in the Gospel of John, it’s recorded that he wrote, he said, “By this, everyone will know that you’re my disciples if you love one another.” Isn’t that interesting? Not, this is how they’re going to know you’re my followers if you have great doctrine. This is how they know you’re my followers if you have great theology. Not even…this is crazy. Not even, they’ll know you’re my followers by all your social practices, or even they’ll know you’re my followers by how holy you are. None of that. All those things are important. But that’s not what Jesus said was going to be the chief identifier of his people. He said, “The main way people are going to know that you’re my people, is the way that you love one another.” That’s a unity issue. That’s an issue that can’t be accomplished when we’re in the process of dividing.
The reality is, it’s hard for people to recognize that we are united in love when we’re divided over issues. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity has done the work and they’ve estimated that in the world, there are approximately 45,000 denominations of Christians, 45,000, that’s a church divided. And I wonder whether or not God looks at that and goes, “Oh I’m so pleased.” Or whether or not that gives God some heartburn. Jesus said, “They’ll know you’re my people by your love for one another.” And that’s what God hates church divisions. And it’s why he told Paul, you got to deal with this. You can’t keep this in the back burner. You’ve got to go to Jerusalem and you got to deal with this because the really what’s at risk is that the church itself might become divided. And we can’t have that. And so Paul went.
He went back to Jerusalem with Barnabas and with Titus, and he says, “And we went back and meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, with the apostles, I presented to them the Gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain.” That’s an interesting phrase this is I wanted to make sure that I hadn’t been running my race in vain. What he’s saying is, I wanted to make sure I hadn’t been wasting my time. I wanted to make sure that I hadn’t been just like blowing smoke and telling people things that weren’t true. Now, understand, he’s not talking about the Gospel message itself, okay? Paul got the Gospel message that he’s preaching from Jesus himself. He’s confident that that’s the truth. He’s confident that the message is preaching there is the truth.
So, what’s he talking about? What is he worried might have been a waste of time? What you need to understand is that Paul wasn’t just saying, believing in the Resurrection frees you from your sin. That was part of it. But he said, “Beyond that, when you believe in the Resurrection, you begin to belong to the family of God, you belong to a community.” And that’s what he’s concerned might have been a waste of time because he’s concerned that if the Gentiles don’t behave like Jews, the Jews aren’t going to allow them to really belong to the family. So, really, I mean, in modern terms, think about this way, Paul was worried the Gentiles were going to get canceled, right? And we’re talking a lot about canceling these days, we got cancel culture, people getting canceled.
If you don’t know what cancel culture is, I’ll give you a little primer. Canceling is excluding someone from belonging because their behavior doesn’t meet an arbitrary standard. It’s excluding someone from belonging to a group because their behavior doesn’t meet an arbitrary standard. And I say an arbitrary standard because, in my opinion, there’s a difference between canceling and sanctioning. Sanctioning is when you apply a certain amount of pressure to get somebody to behave in a way that’s actually central to what the group is all about. So, for instance, if a guy insists on coming to basketball practice wearing football pads and tackling people, you’re going to sanction that guy, you’ll be like, dude, you can’t keep doing this, okay? That’s not how the sport is played. You’re going to try to get his behavior into line with the way the sport is actually played. Okay, that’s sanctioning. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Canceling, however, is when you say someone can’t belong because of some arbitrary standard. So, if you say, oh, well, you’re wearing Air Jordans, everybody else is wearing Nikes, so you can’t be part of the team. Well, that’s arbitrary, okay? Doesn’t work that way. There was a big actress, it was in the news a couple weeks ago. She’s an actress for Disney. She’s in “The Mandalorian.” And she said, and I don’t know that she should have said this, but she said, “Being a Republican in the United States in 2021 is like being a Jew in Nazi Germany.” We all have our opinions about whether or not that was a good thing to say or not. But the interesting is she got fired from Disney. And the thing is like, that doesn’t have anything to do with being an actress for…It’s not like she’s preaching, right? It’s not like she’s a commentator, they give her a script, they tell her what to say. They’re like, you can’t do that anymore for us because of this thing that you believe and this thing that you said over here, right?
That’s canceling. It’s an arbitrary standard. If you don’t meet it, people say, well, you don’t get to belong to the group. And that’s really what Paul’s concerned about. He’s concerned that the Gentiles aren’t gonna be allowed to belong to the community of God’s people because they don’t behave in particular ways. Because again, Paul’s message was that belonging to God and to God’s people depends on believing in the Resurrection. Belonging to God and to God’s people came from believing in the Resurrection. That’s what he’d been preaching. And that’s what he’s concerned about. That’s what he’s gone there to go, but are you gonna let them belong or not? Here was the answer he got. He said, “Yeah, not even Titus, the Gentile who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek.”
Now, I don’t know if Titus was charismatic or not, but I promise you when he got that verdict, he threw up a hallelujah. Probably did a little dance, right? It’s like this is really good news. And basically what was happening was the Jewish Christian leaders said the Gentile Christians belong with us because they believe with us. They said that we’re on the same team. They’re part of the same family because they believe with us, they belong with us. That’s all that it really takes. And so yeah, they said, Paul, your message is exactly right. The Gentiles do belong with us because and only because they believe with us. Paul says this matter arose, this thing came up because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom that we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.
He said this is the reason that they came up is because some false believers had come in and they were trying to make us slaves. And it’s an interesting way that he describes them, and he calls them false believers. We know that they weren’t just Jewish people, we know that they were at least claiming to be Christians because he calls them believers, or literally in the Greek, it’s false brothers. So, they claim to be part of the family, but we also know that Paul had some serious questions about whether or not that was true because he calls them false brothers, false believers.
And this is so interesting, think about this. What these people were doing were saying to the Gentiles, I’m not sure you belong with us because of the way you’re behaving. And Paul said, let me flip the script on that one. I’m not sure you belong with us because of the way you’re behaving, only what was the behaving that he’s interested in, he was interested in the way that they were behaving by trying to make other people behave according to arbitrary standards. He said that actually raises questions in my mind about whether or not you’re part of the family, you might, in fact, be a false brother. And that’s so interesting if you think about it. What we’re being told here is that when we turn social differences into spiritual divisions, we raise questions about our place in the family.
When we say to other people, I’m not sure you’re part of the family because you don’t do this, or you do this or you think that way, you don’t think that way, and I’m not really sure you’re part of the family. We’re actually raising questions not about their place in the family, but our place in the family. When we turn social differences into spiritual divisions, we raised questions about our place in the family. That’s kind of a convicting thing to recognize, isn’t it? It is for me because I’ve done that. I’ve had questions about other people who claim to be followers of Jesus because of their doctrine, or their social practices, or different kinds of things and have the tables turned like that, it’s sobering. It is for me, maybe it is for you.
How do Paul deal with those people? He says this verse 5, he says, “We did not give in to them for a moment so that the truth of the Gospel might be preserved for you.” He’s writing to Gentile Christians, or in Galatians, he says, “We didn’t give in to those people for a moment. We didn’t give in to them for a second so that we could preserve freedom for you.” And I think this is really interesting too. Paul’s passionate about freedom, but he’s more passionate about other people’s freedom than he is his own. In other points in his ministry, we know that Paul followed the Jewish regulations even though there were social regulations. He even had some people circumcised because, in that context, it made more sense, and it allowed the Gospel to go forward. And so sometimes, he actually was willing to set aside freedom if it allowed the Gospel to go forward. But it was his freedom he was willing to set aside. He’s not willing to set aside the freedom of the people that he’s trying to reach.
And this is just really interesting to me because here’s the thing, I get really passionate when somebody gets after my freedom. Anybody else? Like, you tell me what I have to do, you tell me what I can’t do, man, you’re gonna get some passion. But if you do it to them, it’s a bummer, right? And Paul forces me to ask this question is what I’ve been asking this week, what if we’re as passionate about the freedom of others as we are about our own? What if we’re as passionate about the freedom of others as we are about our own? Paul’s very passionate about the freedom of these people that he’s shared this Gospel of freedom with.
He says, “As for those who are held in high esteem,” meaning the leaders in Jerusalem, “whatever they were, makes no difference to me. God does not show favoritism, but they added nothing to my message.” And there’s two things important there. Number one, the most important thing is he says they added nothing to my message that they said, hey, the message you’re preaching is right. You don’t have to say anything else as you’re sharing this Gospel The reality is the Jewish Christian leaders said, believing is enough for belonging. That’s all it takes. Believing in the Resurrection of Jesus is enough for belonging. The Gentiles belong with us because they believe with us. So, they said, we’re going to not add anything to your message.
But it’s also interesting to me the way he describes the leaders there, he says, “Those were held in high esteem, whatever they were, makes no difference to me. God does not show favoritism.” That’s an interesting thing to say. Why say that about them? Two major views. One group says, oh, he’s saying, you know, a lot of people think of the apostle as really highly. A lot of people are, like, oh the apostles are a big deal.” I don’t think so. That feels a little antagonistic, and at certain times and inappropriate ways. Paul’s very respectful, even deferential to the apostles that Jesus installed. So, I don’t think that’s what’s going on. I think it’s more likely that he’s talking about what the apostles used to be before they knew Jesus. That’s what he meant when he says what they were, makes no difference to me.
And here’s the interesting thing. See, Paul is an educated man. Paul is a man from a wealthy family. Paul is a man who was respected within Judaism, he had all the advantages, and the apostles had none of them. And the apostles were not guys that Jesus really should have picked to be his apostles. I mean, they were all blue-collar workers without an education behind them. They didn’t have family backing. They were mostly fishermen. One was a notorious sinner. I mean, he was a traitor to his own country, he collected taxes and cheated people out of taxes. And then, you know, gave Rome whatever they needed, but he pocketed the difference for himself. I mean, like, these are the people that Jesus said, “Hey, why don’t you come follow me?” And he ultimately made the apostles. So, Paul should have had respect, but the apostle shouldn’t have had and yet Jesus said, “Hey, what you were in the past doesn’t make any difference to me, it’s not going to keep you from belonging with me.”
And so Paul’s going “Hey, I’m not concerned about their past either, what they were doesn’t make me less respectful and it didn’t make me look at them and go, “We don’t get to belong together.” And I think what’s going on is he is saying, hey, the same kind of thing is happening where people look at the Gentiles going because where they’re coming from, maybe they don’t belong. He’s saying, if that’s the case, it should have been that way with the apostles and it wasn’t so why should it be with the Gentiles? And bottom line, what he’s saying is this he’s saying, hey, listen, your past is no obstacle on belonging. Your past is no obstacle to belonging.
And I know that there are some people that are watching this message. There are people here today that that’s the reason you’re here because you needed to hear that. Your past is no obstacle to belonging. I know there are people that are here today, and maybe God’s been working in your heart and you’ve been thinking about becoming a follower of Jesus, but there’s a part of you, there’s a voice in you saying, he doesn’t want you because of your past, because of what you’ve done, because of what you haven’t done, because of who you’ve been, or not been, Jesus doesn’t want you. And you need to hear your past is no obstacle to belonging. Some of you have said yes, following Jesus, but you’re just hanging out by the front door. So, you said a few weeks ago, you don’t think you really have a place at the kitchen table, you can just sit down and be part of the family because of your past and you need to hear your past is no obstacle to belonging. Nothing you’ve ever done, nothing you’re doing right now has to be an obstacle to belonging, Jesus died to pay the price of all of it to set you free from it, not only so that you could be free from sin but so that you could be free for belonging to God and to his people.
So, please hear this. Your past is no obstacle to belonging. That’s what Paul’s getting at there. He says they didn’t add anything to my message. On the contrary, he says, they recognize that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the Gospel to the uncircumcised, that would be to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the circumcised, to the Jews. For God who was at work, and Peter, as an apostle to the circumcised was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. And this was really important to understand. What he says there, it’s pivotal, it’s world-changing if we understand it. Because the reality is, we need some standard by which we decide whether or not somebody is part of the family, right? So, the question is, what is it? And what we often do is we end up leaning into behaving we go, well, if you really believe in Jesus, then you’ll do this, and you won’t do that, and you’ll act in this way. And so we kind of lean into behaving.
But what happens is, at that point, we’re saying, hey, believing plus behaving leads to belonging. We’ll let you belong as long as you’re believing and behaving, but that’s legalism, as we talked about a few weeks ago. It’s the very definition. But if it’s not behaving, what standard can we use to see if somebody really is part of the family? Well, what standard did the apostles use? The answer is, they looked to see whether or not God was at work, right? They said, we realized God was at work and Peter, in doing what Peter’s doing. And we looked at Paul, he goes, well, God’s at work in that. And what they basically said was this, this is so powerful, they said, “If God’s at work in you, that’s good enough for me.”
Isn’t be powerful? Can you imagine if we actually dealt with other Christians that way? I don’t agree with your theology. I think about this a little bit differently. I wish you would do this. I feel like it’s important, but I’m not sure, you know, what’s going on. But hey, hey, hey, if God’s at work in you, that’s good enough for me. We’re part of the same family. Wouldn’t that be incredible? Because the reality is, it’s not what we do, right? I don’t know that Christians invented canceled culture, but we perfected it, 45,000 denominations, we’re really good at it.
And we do it all the time. We cancel each other all the time. Oh, you put your faith in the Resurrection of Jesus, but you don’t read the King James Bible only? I’m not really sure you’re part of the family. That’s a real thing, by the way. Oh, you put your faith in the Resurrection of Jesus, but you listened to Hillsong? I’m not really sure you’re part of the family. Oh, you put your faith in the Resurrection of Jesus, but you didn’t homeschool your kids? I’m not really sure you’re part of the family. Oh, you put your faith in the Resurrection of Jesus, but you’re not a Republican? I’m not sure you’re part of the family. Oh, you put your faith in the Resurrection of Jesus, but you are a Republican? Yeah. I don’t know whether we’re part of the same family, right? Oh, you put your faith in the Resurrection of Jesus, but you put a Black Lives Matter sign in your yard? I’m not sure we’re part of the same family. Oh, you put your faith in the Resurrection of Jesus, but you’re not woke? I’m not sure we’re part of the same family.
You put your faith in the Resurrection of Jesus but you got one of those churches where they raised their hands and say hallelujah and dance around when the music’s going? I don’t know that you’re part of my family. Oh, you say you put your faith in Resurrection Jesus, but you go to those churches where you don’t raise your hand, you don’t say hallelujah and you sit there like a knot on a log when the worship team is killing it? I’m not sure we’re part of the same family.
So, we do it all the time. And what if we adopted the apostle’s attitude and said, “Hey, but if God’s at work in you, that’s good enough for me.” That’d be powerful. He says, “James, Cephas, another name for Peter and John, those esteemed as pillars, those esteemed as leaders in Jerusalem. They gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognize the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles and they unto the circumcised.” They gave them the right hand of fellowship, which is a formal way of saying, we’re on the same team, we’re part of the same family. It was a formal recognition of unity. But beyond that, they did something so important. And that is this, instead of seeing their differences as an obstacle to unity, they saw their differences as an opportunity for mission, didn’t they? They said, well, you know, God’s at work, and because he’s obeying the social regulations of the Jewish people, it’s easier for him to speak to and reach out to and to share the Gospel with the Jewish people. That’s awesome.
But because you think it’s a social regulation, you’re not overly concerned about it, you’re actually able to reach out to the Gentiles and they’re responding and saying yes to Jesus, and the churches growing, the influence of God is spreading. Hey, that’s awesome. I’m actually glad that you do that. I’m glad that we do this because if we didn’t both do those different things, different ways, we wouldn’t actually be able to reach as many people reaching. So, instead of seeing their differences as an obstacle to belonging, they saw their differences as an opportunity for mission. That’s powerful.
You know, I got friends in Dallas, which is kind of like the buckle of the Bible Belt. And they would never dream of going to church and preaching in anything less than a three-piece suit. I would not dream of preaching with a three-piece suit, you’d all be like, who died? What’s going on? You have a funeral today? But Denver is one of the most unreached people or unreached cities in America. And I dressed the way I do partly because I want to communicate. The Gospel is not something we just do in church is part of everyday life. It’s intentional. When I first came here, I had a guy…I get a little upset about. He sent me…Actually, he wrote a letter and he gave it to my daughter to give to me. Not a good move. He’s not here anymore. I drove him out. Not on purpose. I didn’t say a thing to him. I just didn’t give in. But the letter said, “Hey, you’re the pastor of Mission Hills now, I think you can afford some dress pants.” I was like, “Dude, you know what these jeans cost me? I get way more…Come on.” And I didn’t say anything to him. And he’s not here anymore. And that’s okay. There’s other good churches and my prayers that he’s engaged. But I’m not gonna give in to that, right?
We have differences. But rather than seeing them as an obstacle to belonging, what if we saw them as an opportunity for mission? That’s what’s going on here and it’s powerful. He says, “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing that we’d been eager to do all along.” But it didn’t add anything to my message. They said, hey, just keep taking care of the poor, which Paul had already been doing. And here’s why that’s probably a significant thing. James, who is one of these leaders in Jerusalem went on to write the Book of James in the Bible. And in that book, he says this, he says, “True religion is this to look after widows and orphans.”
In other words, we can know that God’s really at work in you because you have a heart for the people that God has a heart for. We see throughout the Bible, God’s deep heart for the poor. He says, “We know when you’re looking after widows and orphans that God’s at work in you. So, it’s really it’s back to that same idea again, right? If God’s at work in you, it’s good enough for me, we just want to see the evidence of God’s at work in you. Really what they’re saying is this, bottom line is the work of God in someone’s life should be all the convincing that we need to treat them as part of the family. Or in more simple terms, if God’s at work in you, that’s good enough for me.
But how different would the church be if we actually took a hold of that? If we actually looked at other followers of Jesus and said, man, we got some theological differences, we got some doctrinal issues, we do things a little bit different, but you know what, if God’s at work in you, that’s good enough for me, you’re family. For me, that’s challenging. And you might be going okay, but how do we know if God’s at work in someone? Well, here’s what the Bible teaches us, three things I think the Bible teaches, number one, how do we know if God’s at work on someone. Number one, faith in the life, the death, and the Resurrection of Jesus as the only means to salvation. We’re told that that only happens people only believe that because of the work of the Spirit in their lives. So, if somebody says, the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus is my only hope for salvation, that’s a pretty good indicator of the God’s work in them, and we’re part of the same family.
I’ll go a step further and I’ll say, the Bible also teaches us this, that the pursuit of Christian love and unity is an example of God at work in us. As we saw, we know that Jesus says they’re going to know you’re my followers, they’re going to know the Spirit’s working in you because of the way you love one another. So, yeah, people pursuing Christian love and unity as opposed to pursuing divisions and drawing lines and moving people out of their circle, the pursuit of Christian love and unity is a good sign that God’s at work in them.
And then third, we’re going to jump ahead a little bit because later on Paul is going to talk about this in the Book of Galatians. Third sign that God’s works in somebody is the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit, we’re told in Galatians 5:22, if we can jump ahead, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, or patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, against such things there is no law. That’s how we know the Spirit of God is at work in someone because of those things. And those are all relationship things. Again, they’re the ways that we treat each other. So, how do we know if God’s work in somebody’s? Faith in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus, the only means of salvation, the pursuit of Christian love and unity, and the fruit of the Spirit. And if we see that, we say, if God’s at work in you, that’s good enough for me. So, let me ask you a couple questions to wrestle with this week.
Number one, what types of Christians am I tempted to cancel? Types of Christians are you tempted to look at and go, I don’t know that we’re part of the family, part of the same family anyway, maybe your distant cousin, but I’m not sure we’re part of the same family? Because I think we all have that. I know I do. And this passage is really challenged me to wrestle with that attitude.
And the second one is this, when you think about those groups that maybe you’re tempted to cancel, is there evidence that God is at work in them that I haven’t given proper weight to? Like, is there a sign that God’s working in them and through them that I just haven’t really paid attention to because I was so interested in the differences, the places that we disagree, that I wasn’t paying attention to the sign that the same God at work in me is the same God at work in them?
I’ll give you a personal example. This is a humbling story for me to share. But I just want to be honest with you to tell you I’m wrestling with this, and I’m gonna encourage you to do the same thing. There’s a pastor in Dallas, he’s pastor of the one largest churches in America, and theologically, he and I are on really different sides of Christianity. And I’ve never publicly called him out. And I’ve never publicly made any kind of criticism about him. But I’ve been I’ll be honest with you, in private, I have. In private, I’ve named him and I’ve said some pretty negative things about him and his ministry.
And then two things, two stories came my way that really challenged me. One of them was a story from one of my mentors, there were two guys in the airport in Dallas. One was a pastor, and the other was just a Christian. And they were talking and the pastor actually brought up this guy, he brought up this pastor, this large church and he was talking smack, like, he was, like, really giving him the business. And the guy he was talking to didn’t really say much anything. And then in the midst of the conversation, they looked up, and here came the pastor in question walking down the concourse. And the friend waved him over, and said to his friend, the pastor, “Hey, can I introduce you to my pastor?” Oh, and this is this big, really well-known guy, he spent 20 minutes just asking this pastor about his ministry and his church and what was hard. And when it was all over, he didn’t say a word about himself. He just asked questions and encourage him and he was all over. He said, “Can I pray for you?” and he prayed for him, and he is gone. Not a word about himself.
I don’t know about you but in my book, that’s humility. Like, when you lead one of the biggest churches, not only in America but the world and you don’t have a thing to say about yourself, you’re just interested in somebody else, that’s humility. And that seems like a work of the Spirit to me. That’s challenging to me. And then my wife, Coletta she runs a ministry where they raise up coaches to coach pastors’ wives, and help pastors’ families, and one of her coaches, they had a granddaughter who got sick with cancer. And so they went down to Dallas, and she was in the hospital for a long time there. And they were trying to figure things out. Well, this pastor, that I’m talking to about, his church found out about it. And they came, also they got him a place to stay. They footed the bill for that. They came and saw him every day, they provided meals and encouragement. And when it’s all over, they threw a big party at the hospital for the girl. And I heard that and I was like, dag gone it. It feels an awful lot like God at work in somebody. And so I had to repent. I’m repenting publicly of those negative things that I’ve said.
Now, I still have some differences. So, don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying theology doesn’t matter. I’m not saying the doctrine, you know, it’s up for grabs, no, like, if I got a chance to sit down, we might talk with them, and we might debate them, but we debate them as brothers because God’s at work in him. And as much as we might disagree, if God’s at work in you, that’s got to be good enough for me to at least say we’re part of the same family. So, maybe there’s a group of people that you’re tempted to cancel but you’re not paying any attention to what God’s doing through them or maybe you’re not even asking that question. Maybe you have no idea what God might be doing through him because you can’t see past the differences.
The third question, for a slightly different group, but I believe there are people who need to wrestle with this question. Is there an issue from my past that has made me question my right to belong? Because again, I think there are people listening to this that they haven’t said yes to following Jesus because they have a hard time believing that God wants them because of what they’ve been or haven’t been in their past. Or maybe you’re a follower of Jesus, but you’re just in the front door, you don’t feel like you have the right to sit down at the kitchen table and be part of the family because of an issue in your past and you need to hear, in no uncertain terms, your past is no obstacle to belonging. Would you pray with me?
God, we thank you for this word. It’s challenging for me, I think it’s challenging for many of my brothers and sisters here. And we pray that through your Holy Spirit because that’s the only way it’s gonna happen, you would allow us to take hold of this truth that we’re showed by the apostles in Jerusalem, that if God’s at work in you, that’s good enough for me, that we’re part of the same family. And, Lord, help us to deal with our differences in a way that’s part of a family so that the world might know that we’re your followers by our love for one another. We thank you for this example and pray that you would enable us to the power of your Holy Spirit to take hold of this truth.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, would you just pray right now for the people that are listening to this, that are struggling with the feeling like they can’t belong because of something in their past, would you pray that God would break down that barrier? Because if that’s you, I need to speak to you. If you’re here today, and for whatever reason, you’re feeling like something in my past is keeping me from belonging to Jesus, or belonging to his family, you need to hear that that is a lie. You’re being lied to. Whatever voice is speaking, it is lying to you. God loves you so much that he sent his own Son to die for you. Jesus died on the cross to pay the price of your sin and remove the barrier to belonging. He rose from the dead to prove that he’d done it. And he offers you salvation and community, adoption to the family of God, and part in the people of God, simply by trusting what he did for you. And if you’ve never trusted in that, there’s no reason for you not to do it right here, right now. And if you’re ready, you’re just gonna have a conversation with God say something like this right now say:
God, I’ve done wrong. I’ve sinned. I’m sorry. Jesus, thank you for dying for me. I believe you rose from the dead, and I’m ready to say yes to trusting in you. Jesus, thank you for forgiving my sin and making me part of your family. I’ll follow you from now on forever. Amen.