“…everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”
In yesterday’s devotion, I talked about Jesus’ outrageous claim to be greater than Father Abraham, thus implying he was divine by applying, “I Am” to himself . For Jesus, this claim almost got him killed right away. He was pressing his listeners to go beyond mere admiration and to become true followers.
In today’s text from John, Jesus makes the outrageous claim that whoever doesn’t believe him is a slave to sin. How do we as leaders continue to hold onto these essential beliefs like sin without alienating the very people we are trying to reach, people who think of sin as an antiquated or even oppressive idea? In a pluralistic world that increasingly considers Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy a form of “extremism,” keeping right beliefs connected to right actions is a formidable challenge.
David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, in their book, Good Faith, describe the increasing divide between two groups in America, the Evangelicals and the Skeptics. Kinnaman highlights the challenge for Christians: “[The] findings illustrate that a wide range of actions, even beliefs, are now viewed as extremist by large chunks of the population.” For example, when asked about trying to convert someone to their faith an overwhelming 83% of Skeptics considered this a form of extremism compared to only 7% of Evangelicals. Certainly, the idea that one needs to repent from sin and to commit one’s life to a divine Jesus isn’t a welcome idea for our Skeptic friends! Considering that less than half of all Americans agree with the statement that “Jesus is God”, perhaps the label “extremist” for Christians isn’t surprising to you. But leaders who seek to follow Jesus are challenged to maintain a faithful orthodoxy (right belief) that results in an effective orthopraxy (right living).
Today, we have many options to improve our lives. We can turn to fitness to shape our bodies, therapists to heal our emotional wounds, and consultants to increase our leadership capacities. All of these can be good things but none of them is the thing we need most since we are slaves to sin without Jesus. We need the freedom that Jesus alone can give.
Perhaps, for fear that we will be labeled “extremists,” we are hesitant to move people beyond self-improvement. But as long as leaders point to Jesus as a model for self-improvement rather than the great I Am who takes away our sin and claims our lives for his purposes, we will have ultimately failed by robbing people of what they really need.
Leaders should improve the lives of all we come in contact with without openly calling those we lead “sinner.” But we cannot forget that ultimately every human being is in desperate need of the forgiveness of Jesus, not just the improvement of Jesus. Through our faithfulness as leaders, we can help skeptics move beyond the outright rejection of Jesus as well as guide his admirers to move beyond self-improvement and towards freedom from sin that only Jesus can provide.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
How do leaders follow Jesus faithfully in a society that categorizes many aspects of orthodox Christian belief as “extremism”? Do certain forms of extremism cause you to have an aversion to any of your own Christian beliefs?
Can Christian leaders really make an impact in the world without acknowledging the pervasiveness of sin and its effects? How do we do this in a secular context? How do we do this among Skeptics who consider much of what we believe and do as a form of “extremism”?
How do you make sure you don’t water-down Jesus’ claims as simply a message of self-improvement?
Father, in a world where so much evil has been done in the name of extremism, help me to not abandon my sole dependence on you. In all I say and do, help me communicate the message of Jesus, who came to do more than merely improve peoples’ lives. Use me as a positive influence in the people and systems you have called me to lead. Point people to the saving grace that is found in Jesus through me. Amen.