For much of the modern history of the church, there has been a tension between believers and unbelievers, particularly as relates to the practice of evangelism. For a long time, evangelism was done with fire and brimstone, with the preaching of Hell and a clear theology of sin. We, as the church, seem to have always thought that we could never "win" souls unless we showed them their emptiness, showed them their need.
How else could the world come to God except to know how desperately they need Him?
But this requires us to be able to do something we were never meant to do, something we have not been given the power to do - convict. It's required us to step in and speak truth and pass judgment and hand down verdicts. It's required us to tell unbelievers exactly where they are wrong, not just in some general sense, but in a way that they would understand their own error and desire to turn from it. We have thought that it was our job to bring unbelievers to their "aha" moment so that we could then bring them to God.
As history painfully shows, we've never been good at this.
What we've done instead is to further alienate the world. For every soul that may have been convicted by our Bible-thumping doctrine of damnation, there are a thousand souls who felt only condemned. They heard the judgment in our voices, but not the promise. They heard the arrogance in our voices, but not the humility. They heard the "truth," but not a lot of grace. So what they heard was condemnation, not conviction, and the world has rightfully called back to us, "Who are you to judge?"
Who are we, indeed.
We are, each one of us, products of the grace that we have refused to extend to those we have not yet called brothers and sisters. We are, each one of us, the very sinners we have so easily condemned. We are, each one of us, standing in the broken places where we can feel the fire, but see the holy rain clouds gathering.
Why is it so hard? Why is it so difficult for us to bring others to this place? Why is is that what we seem to know so well, what we live first-hand, the very pages of our own stories that we see written on the hearts of others, is so difficult to convey in a way that is meaningful? Why is it that when we speak the hard, unpopular, unwavering truth, do unbelievers come to condemnation rather than contrition?
Simply this: no man has ever been convicted but by the Holy Spirit.
We're trying to do something we weren't created to do. We're trying to do something we weren't called to do. We're trying to do something that's simply not in our power to do. We have never been able to convict a man because that's the Holy Spirit's job. Of course it sounds like condemnation when it comes from our lips! We speak only to men's egos, to their own sense of self; only the Spirit speaks to men's hearts.
I think that's why Jesus said to love our enemies and to pray for them. It's all we really can do. We pray for them, that the Holy Spirit might come and work in their hearts. We pray for them, that they might come not only to recognize truth but to be embraced by it. We pray for them, that the Spirit may open their eyes where our words would only close their ears. We pray for them because we can do no more.
All we could do is condemn them, and condemnation has never redeemed a man.
We pray for them, not that they may be convinced of the horrors of Hell that we so passionately preach, but that they might be convicted by grace and truth, which we seem far less better at. We pray for them, not so that we have done our work, but so that the Spirit may begin His work, which He alone is suited to do.
And we pray so that they might see what our preaching never shows them....what we wanted them to see in the first place...that there is a way for man and God in this world. More on that tomorrow.