Ready, Fire, Aim…
On Your Mark, Go, Get Set…
Stop, Roll, Drop…
Sometimes, we really do get the cart before the horse.
You maybe don’t think much about it but there are natural sequences all around us. We learn to do things in a certain order…because that’s how it works best. No point in firing a gun you haven’t aimed first. Get the order wrong, and the outcome can be disastrous.
How does someone come to faith in Christ? What’s the order, or the natural progression? Of course the answer depends on who you ask, but I think most people in the church tend to put it in the wrong order.
While it might sound ludicrous for me to describe in this manner, here’s the order I’ve observed many people in the church to be most comfortable with: We begin by expecting someone first to Become the person God wants them to be (to get their behavior right). Once they do that, the odds go way up they will come to Believe the right things. When they believe and do the right things we will allow them to Belong to our fellowship, and after all this happens, we will take the risk to Befriend them. At this point we’re pretty confident they are safe. Note the order carefully: Become, Believe, Belong, Befriend. In other words, clean it up first, start believing the right things, then we allow you into our club (the church), and then, and only then, can we become friends. This keeps everything neat and tidy, and safe.
Can I suggest a different order, one I think the Bible articulates? Get ready to have your assumptions challenged. I think it all starts with Befriending. When we meet someone and are genuinely interested in them, they tend to take notice. When we’ve made friends with someone, and our friend discovers that we attend church, it doesn’t seem unusual or weird that we would invite them to attend church with us. If, when we brought our friends with us to church, they were genuinely made to feel welcome, they would actually feel like they Belonged and were truly welcome there. When that happened, they would probably lower their guard since they realized they were among friends. Once they did that, once they genuinely felt comfortable with us and realized we were safe, they would probably be a little more likely to listen to the Word of God with a real interest in knowing what God has to say. The church would be a safe place. Since faith comes from hearing, and they were now regularly hearing the Word proclaimed, they might very well begin to Believe the Bible like we and so many others before us have done. When they did that, they would probably come under the conviction of the Spirit of God and sense that they needed to surrender their lives to Christ and live under his Lordship. Once that happened, their lives would actually be transformed, and they would Become different people. Did you see the reversal? Befriend, Belong, Believe, Become.
So which is it? The first or the second order?
Sadly, one of the first things most of us were taught when we became new believers is that we were supposed to ditch all of our “old” friends who didn’t walk with Christ. This, we were told pleased God. This was the safe thing to do. This is also the reason so many of us have no non-believing friends left. Our biggest objection to the second order is that we struggle with the thought of having non-believing friends.
Take a moment and read the following passage and think about what it means.
“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’” 1 Corinthians 5:9-13
Who should we be befriending? When should we do this?
Who should we be leery of?
What are your thoughts on all of this, friend to friend?