I Want to Be a Compelling Christian
Dear Jesus, You have made me Your witness to the world. I know all too well what a weak and fragile servant I am, but how great and glorious is Your Gospel and the treasure of salvation! Make Your strength perfect in my weakness. Do not let my sins and weaknesses stand in the way of saving souls. Keep me from raising roadblocks in the spread of Your Word. Fill my heart with overflowing thanksgiving and in that way make me a compelling Christian and faithful witness. Amen.
The Psalmist urges us to “Sing to the Lord a new song!” Our song is not new in the sense of a re-tooled, restructured, retro-fitted message for today’s sinner. Sin hasn’t changed and neither have those who practice it. Our message is the eternal Word of God and the salvation He gives through Christ Jesus. However, it is a “new” song because the Lord’s mercies are new every morning, and we need the Lord’s salvation anew every day. Sing a new song and spread it among the nations!
Jesus saw the multitudes coming to Him with compassion and a Savior’s love, desiring to help them and save them. The multitudes in need of the Gospel still exist—the harvest is great. May the Savior’s love and compassion toward us move us to show love and compassion to others and share God’s Word with them.
Theme: I Want to Be a Compelling Christian
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who is our motivation, our strength, and the one who keeps us together, dear fellow redeemed:
Here we are again at another Mission Festival, the time of year that we focus on spreading the gospel at home and abroad. Just about every aspect of our service this morning has a mission-themed emphasis. Mission work, of course, is generally looked at as reaching people with God’s Word who’ve never heard it before, much like our brethren overseas are doing. However, that’s not the usual type of mission work that you and I are confronted with, or that most of our churches in the U.S. encounter. We have the blessing of living in a country where God’s Word is abundantly present, and has been for some time. Make no mistake, this is a great blessing. But that also means that when we bring God’s Word to people, and more specifically the gospel, it probably won’t be the first time they’ve heard it; it usually isn’t as fresh and exciting as it is for those overseas who have gone their entire lives without knowing who Jesus is.
Perhaps your mission work involves talking with an indifferent neighbor, who was brought up in church but just kind of wandered away. Or maybe your task is to speak with your somewhat self-centered co-worker, who actually knows so much about religion, including Christianity, that he doesn’t think there’s a difference between any of them. At others times it may be just the seemingly random meeting of a stranger who believes that Jesus just wants her to be a good person, and will accept her into heaven for that. In our lives we run across so many different opportunities and ways to witness to others that at times it’s confusing.
Regardless of what scenario we come across to do mission work, we know that the chief tool we use is the gospel, for in it is the power of God to salvation. What a comforting fact to know that God has taken care of the work of salvation; we simply have to tell others about it! But though this is the case, don’t you wish you had a little more to work with? If you’re like me, when you hear these inspired readings on Mission Festival Sunday, sing those powerful hymns, and contemplate on great missionaries past and present, it makes me wish that I was a bit more compelling. Isn’t that what we all want, to be compelling Christians? To be more charismatic with others, to have more knowledge to draw upon, to have the wisdom to make the right decisions and say the right thing, and to be more fun and engaging to listen to?
Don’t you think that if we were a bit more compelling as Christians, we could win more souls? God tells us that the angels in heaven rejoice over the repentance of one sinner. Who doesn’t want to have a role in making the angels happy? I know I do! And don’t you think, that if we could be more compelling, it would happen more? But reality makes things difficult, doesn’t it. Reality means that as good as I feel now, as inspired as I am on this Mission Festival day, real mission work goes on outside these walls. Reality reminds me that I’m often by myself when the Holy Spirit opens that door for me to tell someone about Jesus. And the harshest reality is sin. It’s ultimately sin that keeps me from being the Christian that I so often envision during hymns, readings, and prayers. It’s my sin that gets in the way of me being the compelling Christian that I want to be. But it’s also the reality of sin that can take something simple and make it appear difficult. That’s exactly the point where Paul found himself when he penned the words of our text from 2 Corinthians 5:14-15:
14 For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; 15 and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.
Paul’s probably the prototypical image of a compelling missionary that pops into your head. But even he struggled with the very same doubts and questions that you do. He, too, wanted more out of his life; he, too, wished he had certain skills and abilities that he didn’t. And as perplexing a thing as this can be at times, Paul reminds us to keep it simple; One died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. That’s the compelling message of mission work. That’s the love of Christ that compels you. And that’s what makes you a compelling Christian.
Sometimes when people want something so bad, they try a little too hard to get it. Like sand in your fist, the harder you squeeze, the more you lose. And you don’t even have to have the wrong intentions; sometimes your motivation is correct and your head is in the right place, you just end up trying too much. Even the most compelling person can be passionate about his cause or purpose, but end up showing misguided enthusiasm. When I think of misguided enthusiasm, one example immediately comes to my mind. My 2 year old son loves to play with his 5 month old sister, and she loves it. Usually he’s very compelling to her and they both laugh hysterically as they play. But sometimes he’s so enthusiastic that he tries a little too much or he takes it a bit too far. Sometimes he gets too loud and he scares her and she starts to cry. Other times he may get too close and bump her head. It’s not that he has bad intentions, or that he’s trying to harm her; and he certainly is compelling, he just has misguided enthusiasm at times.
We could apply the same truths to how we witness to others. Oftentimes we feel that so much of mission work is dependent upon us that we are too timid to act. We tend to convince ourselves that we need to be compelling and most of the time we aren’t, therefore we don’t speak. I’m sure our intentions are always good; we want others to hear about Jesus. We just often come with the wrong approach and we focus too much on ourselves instead of Christ. And if you’re too concerned about your own skills and abilities to be compelling to others, you’re going to focus on that more than the gospel.
Examples of our misguided enthusiasm can take other forms as well. Perhaps talking about Jesus isn’t the problem that you have, it’s how to know what to say and when you’ve said enough. How many of you have gotten into a passionate discussion about God’s Word with someone else and taken it a little too far? It’s difficult to know when to stop, to have the wisdom to know when you’ve said enough. It’s much easier to keep on talking and striving until you’ve beaten the person’s false idea into pulp. The intention of speaking God’s Word in truth is there, and argument and debate are compelling, but they don’t win souls. Misguided enthusiasm in mission work can come in so many ways and areas of life, how can we be on the guard against it? Well, remember, in the end, your task is simple: The love of Christ has compelled you, use the same for others.
The way that Christ compels people is not through worldly force or misguided zeal, but through love. And a very specific type of love, the love that comes from Christ as found in the gospel. Paul speaks of that in our text when he says that Jesus died for the sins of all. The end result of that act is that those who believe no longer need to live for themselves, they can live for God. Isn’t that what our mission work should be? Shouldn’t it be an act dedicated to God and not to ourselves? And if it is for God, then we should focus on God and not ourselves. We should rely upon what He has done and not what we feel we need to do. That’s what makes mission work simple, and the way we put it into practice comes by faith. John summarizes this relationship in his first letter:By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:2-5)
According to worldly standards, Christ really wasn’t that compelling either. Isaiah prophesied of Christ that He would have no form or beauty that others would desire Him. He was to be despised and rejected by men. Paul tells us in Galatians that Jesus was ‘born under the Law,’ just like all other people. There was no earthly quality that compelled people to believe in Jesus, rather it was His love, as our text says, His love that brings the power to create faith. Jesus didn’t focus on outward skills and abilities in His evangelism; He relied upon the word of God and the love of the gospel that comes from it. He knew and He taught that true love does not exist outside of the Word of God, the two inseparably linked. This is the model that each and every one of us should follow in our lives. Overcoming the misguided enthusiasm of your sinful flesh is only accomplished by faith in Jesus; faith in your Savior that assures you of forgiveness when you make mistakes, even when you have the best of intentions, and faith that points you to compel others by the work of Christ, not by your own qualities and abilities.
And so, the best thing you can do to be a more compelling Christian, is to stay connected to the love of God as found in His Word. If you aren’t compelled in your own faith by the love Christ showed on the cross, you won’t use it as the motivating factor in your mission work. The key to this all is found in the word “compels” in v. 14 of our text. The literal meaning of that word in the Greek is to “hold together.” So the Holy Spirit is telling us here that the love of Christ literally “holds us together,” and therefore it keeps us from turning any which way and compels us to the truth. Think about that as you spread God’s Word to others. The best way you can be compelling is to be held together by Christ’s love, whether as church, as a family, or as an individual. The defining quality of mission work is not that we would be tossed to and fro by how we perceive those outside the faith want us to act; but that we would be firmly anchored in the gospel of Christ.
So before you tell others about Jesus, first ask yourself: What compels you to believe, or to come to church each Sunday or to be a member at Immanuel? For whatever holds you together, is what you compel others with. Do you go to church because it’s the way your family brought you up? Is this the church that generation after generation of your ancestors has gone to and far be it from you to break the trend? That’s a pretty compelling reason to go to church, but that's not the reason. How’s that going to work for someone with no background in the CLC, or Lutheranism, or Christianity?
Do you come to church because you want to fit in and be accepted? That too is a pretty compelling reason! Church is a great place to meet other people and fit into a community. It feels good to know that others care about you and that you share something in common with a larger group of people. Church fulfills many of the communal desires that we have by nature. A compelling reason to come to church, yes, but it’s not the reason.
Do you come to church because you’re a terrified sinner who knows that God is going to judge sin, and you want to do something to please Him? Now that’s a very compelling reason. That feeling comes to all of us from time to time in various degrees, and it’s a powerful motivator. How to understand my relationship with my Creator because of sin is something that all people have struggled with, from the beginning of sin. And this question has had a hand in the development of the various forms of religion and Christianity that we see in the world today. It’s certainly a very compelling reason to come to church, and it’s close, but it’s not the reason.
The reason that you go to church, that you serve God, that you believe in Him, that you desire to spread His Word to others is that Jesus is the One who died for you and for all, and that because He has forgiven your sins and promised you free life, you can live for Him and not for yourself, whether that be coming to church on Sunday, serving others with kindness and generosity, or spreading the gospel at home and abroad.
I want to be a Compelling Christian. I hope you would want the same about your life. That’s a worthy and noble goal to have as a follower of your Savior. But to be more compelling does not mean more misguided enthusiasm. Don’t complicate your mission by losing your focus on the truth. Zero in on the work of your Savior, and He will take care of your doubts, your fears, your shortcomings, and your mistakes. As you contemplate how to be a better witness, the answer is right in front of you. Compel with Christ. Don’t live for yourself anymore, Jesus has freed you from that prison. Make Him the content of your motivation. Be held together by the pains He endured in your place, by the breath He gave up, and by the glorious victory that He earned. Focus on that, let that be your life, and you will be compelling. Amen.
The Peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.
Preached at Immanuel Lutheran, Mankato, MN; 10-20-13.
--Pastor Mark Tiefel
Bethel Lutheran Church, Morris, MN