On Saturday, September 12, 2020, for the fifth consecutive week, members of my church family and I conducted evangelistic ministry outside our community’s Farmers’ Market. Our ministry consisted of open-air preaching, gospel tract distribution, one-to-one conversations, and sign evangelism. Eighteen members of my church family participated during the three-hour effort. Hundreds of people were exposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, in various ways.
Later in the day, my pastor received an email from someone who either attended the Farmers’ Market or was in a vehicle that traveled through the intersection where we concentrated our evangelism efforts. In the email, the person expressed her misgivings about one of the dozen signs we either had posted in the grass along the sidewalk or that was being held by a member of our team.
My pastor asked me to draft a response to the email, which he would send to the lady who emailed him.
What follows, without additional commentary, is the email my pastor received and my church’s written response.
I am sharing this with you, the reader, with the hope of both encouraging you and maybe providing you with useful ideas for responses when you are faced with similar objections.
I have changed the name of the person who emailed my pastor.
Mary’s Email about Our “Jagged Sign”
Here’s the email my pastor received:
I happened to see a sign of your church’s [sic] that says “You are not good. You need to follow Jesus” and that seems like a pretty jagged sign. Who are you to determine what is “Good.” Who are you to give such a bold statement? Wasn’t it Jesus who went down in the dirt, and helped people up? He was with the outcasts, the sinners, the adulterers- he never made them feel bad for what they did or who they were. He cleaned them up, and accepted them as his own.
The Jesus I know would be going into the streets, getting to know the fallen. The Jesus you are describing is a boxed up, legalistic image that falsifies what Jesus really looks like. And if you cannot look past how loving, and non-judgemental Jesus was & is, then you need to re-evaluate yourself.
Have a great weekend!
Our Church’s Response to Mary
And here’s our written response to Mary’s email:
Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thank you for taking the time to email me, share your concerns, and express your thoughts.
Since we do not know each other and since you profess to know Jesus, for the purpose of this correspondence I want to give you the benefit of the doubt and address you as a sister in Christ–a fellow believer.
As I’m sure you know, Mary, written correspondences are always challenging, especially between people who do not know each other. It can be difficult to rightly interpret the tone of voice and intent when you can’t hear a person’s voice or see his or her face. With that in mind, I want to assure you that if I write/say anything in this email that you perceive to be sarcastic or harsh, please know it is not at all intended to be so. I am not angry or frustrated with you. I have not taken offense to anything you wrote in the email you sent me. You have not written anything that would cause me to be defensive in my response. Again, I am grateful to you and to the Lord that you took the time to write. I welcome the dialogue.
It is important, for the sake of our discussion, that we both work from the same standard for truth. As Christians, our standard is God’s Word. The apostle Paul wrote:
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
And Jesus said as He prayed to God the Father, on the night before He went to the cross:
“Sanctify them in the truth; your Word is truth” (John 17:17).
While our feelings and opinions are real, they are at best subjective and arbitrary. Our opinions and feelings have no real authority beyond how they influence us as individuals. Our opinions and feelings are not binding on anyone else. Our opinions and feelings are not a standard of authority that anyone else is obligated to believe or submit to. With this in mind, and for the purpose of our conversation, it doesn’t matter what we believe; what matters is whether or not what we believe is true.
As Christians, how do we determine if what we believe regarding the subjects pertaining to our conversation are true? We must turn to the God who is true (Romans 3:4) and believe what He has written in His Word, the Bible. God’s Word is objectively true. In it, we have God’s standard for right and wrong, good and evil, true and false.
With that, I would like to address your concerns. While your email was short, you had much to say—-much that is worth considering and addressing. So, as you can already see, my response might be longer than you anticipated. Thank you for your patience, and thank you for taking the time to read all I have to say.
Mary, you began your email with: “I happened to see a sign of your church’s that says ‘You are not good. You need to follow Jesus’ and that seems like a pretty jagged sign.”
Here is a picture (see title image) of the sign to which you referred.
You Are Not Good sign.jpg
The sign reads:
You Are Not Good.
You Need Jesus.
Romans 3:10-18; Ephesians 2:9-10
You will notice that the sign includes two Scripture references. Here are the texts for both:
“As it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’ ‘Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.’ ‘The venom of asps is under their lips.’ ‘Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.’ ‘Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.’ ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes’ (Romans 3:10-18).
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
When referring to the sign, if by “jagged” you mean “sharp,” I agree. The Word of God is sharp.
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12, emphasis added).
Truth often is sharp, penetrating, even painful.
You then wrote: “Who are you to determine what is good?”
Mary, you are right. It is not for me, our church, or you to determine what is good. That’s why we were careful with the wording of the sign to include the Scripture reference to show readers that it is not Grace Fellowship Church that determines what or who is good, but rather the Word of God.
The Word of God is clear regarding people. None of us are good. To drive that point home, and to provide additional context, notice what the sign right next to it says.
God’s standard is moral perfection. Are you ready to die?
Matthew 5:47 (the sign should read 5:48); Romans 4:1-8
Matthew 5:48 says (Jesus speaking):
“You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”
God’s standard for goodness is moral perfection. If we want to be seen by God as good people, then all we have to do is live a perfect life, in thought, word, and deed, from cradle to grave. All we have to do is be perfect. But none of us are, Mary.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
So, while the sign is sharp, it is not in error. It is a true statement that no one reading the sign is good, and everyone reading the sign needs Jesus.
You then wrote: “Who are you to give such a bold statement?”
To be sure, Mary, if I or the people in my church family thought we were good (when we’re not), if we thought we were somehow better than folks like yourself who would read the sign, then we would have no business making such a bold statement. But we realize that when it comes to goodness we are in the same boat with you and everyone else. None of us are good, according to God’s standard.
So, why then make such a bold statement? The Bible tells Christians to be bold about the truth of God’s Word and His gospel.
“The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1).
And the apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Ephesus:
“To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians. 6:18b-20).
Then you wrote: “Wasn’t it Jesus who went down in the dirt, and helped people up? He was with the outcasts, the sinners, the adulterers…”
Yes, indeed! Jesus went to wherever lost people were and proclaimed the good news of the kingdom to them. And that’s why my church and I spend time at a place like the Farmers’ Market—-because we want to reach sinners, all kinds of sinners, with a message of love, a message of hope, and message of reconciliation: the gospel of Jesus Christ. You may not like the way we do it; you may not be comfortable with the way we do it, but what we are doing is in keeping with God’s command to proclaim the gospel to the whole world (See Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).
You then wrote: “…he never made them feel bad for what they did or who they were. He cleaned them up, and accepted them as his own.”
There is some truth to the above statement, but some of what you wrote isn’t true, according to God’s Word.
Mary, those who murdered Jesus on the cross didn’t do it because he hung out with sinners. They killed him for the things he said—namely that He was/is God in the flesh. He most certainly made people feel bad—not because He was mean, but rather because He exposed people’s sin and called them to repent. Here’s one example in which Jesus calls a woman to account for multiple cases of adultery.
“Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come here.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true’” (John 4:16-18).
And these words that Jesus said certainly upset people:
“You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:34-37).
As to the idea of Jesus “cleaning people up,” there is truth to this. But he does so much more than clean up people. He washes them clean on the inside. He causes them to be born again. He takes their hearts of stone and gives them hearts of flesh. He forgives their sins against Him. He removes their sin as far as the east is from the west and He remembers them no more.
Jesus doesn’t merely accept people the way they are and then leaves them that way. And Jesus doesn’t simply love people the way they are and leaves them that way. Mary, God loves people in spite of who they are, not just the way they are, and He changes them, from the inside out. The sin they once loved they now hate. And the desire of their new heart is to love God and to love others more than they love themselves.
Finally, you wrote: “The Jesus I know would be going into the streets, getting to know the fallen. The Jesus you are describing is a boxed up, legalistic image that falsifies what Jesus really looks like. And if you cannot look past how loving, and non-judgemental Jesus was & is, then you need to re-evaluate yourself.”
Mary, you saw the sign(s) on the street. When you saw the sign there were as many as 19 members of my church family engaged in preaching, holding signs, distributing gospel tracts, and engaging people in conversation. I agree with you that Christians should “be going into the streets, getting to know the fallen.” But we want to do more than simply get to know people. We want to love them enough to warn them against the wrath of God that awaits them if they are outside of Christ. And we want to share with them the most loving message they will ever hear—-the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jesus was not and is not, as you say, “non-judgmental.” Read carefully Jesus’ own words:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:25-29).
Jesus is Savior and Lord to all who, by faith, believe in Him. And He is the Righteous Judge to all who do not.
And Jesus instructs His followers to judge and to judge rightly. Jesus said:
“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24).
The sign(s) you saw do not judge anyone by appearances. The judgment made by the statement on the sign is the right judgment about every human being, myself included, according to the Word of God. None of us are good. That’s why, as the sign says, we all need Jesus.
Please be careful, Mary, not to fashion a Jesus in your mind to suit yourself.
A Jesus who does not exist outside of our imagination certain will not and cannot send anyone to hell.
But this is also true. A Jesus who does not exist outside of our imagination also cannot and will not save anyone from the just punishment for their sins against God. He cannot save because He does not exist.
In light of what you’ve written, I want to kindly and gently encourage you—-as my neighbor, and hopefully as my sister in Christ—-to do what the apostle Paul admonished the Church in Corinth to do. He wrote:
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—-unless indeed you fail to meet the test” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
Mary, again I want to thank you for taking the time to email me. I am grateful for the opportunity to address your concerns. I hope you find our conversation useful, as I do.
Please know I welcome your response to what I have written and any further dialogue you may like to have with me.
With the love of Christ Jesus,
Pray for Mary and People Like Her
Join me in praying for Mary. If she is a Christian, pray the letter will help her grow and mature in her faith. If she is not a Christian, pray the Lord uses the letter to bring her to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
Do you know someone like Mary?
If so, consider sending him or her the link to this post.