Jesus wants to set everyone free from the unescapable traps of sin and death. This is the Gospel: that Jesus died to pay the penalty for sins freeing us from both sin and death.
What Is It All About?
When we think about evangelism (sharing the Gospel with unbelievers), I think we are surprised by how many don't accept it or at least don't appear to take it seriously or even how hard it is for us to explain such a simple concept. But look at it for a moment with me from a different perspective.
What if everyone absolutely "gets it"? What if everyone completely understands that we are trapped in sin and death and that they need an outside source to gain freedom?
The deeply honest part of us has to admit that even with Jesus, we can't move into total freedom. We find that sin runs deeper than we think. This is what slows us down in sharing about Jesus and freedom. We are afraid to have our own lives analyzed and our traps will become apparent and public.
Recently a friend who is struggling with an addiction came to a horrifying conclusion. He couldn't break free by himself, and as of yet, even though he has asked, Jesus hasn't set him free either. All of a sudden, he saw the Gospel in a whole new light. It was only by the power of Jesus that he has any chance of being free for he is truly trapped. Never before had he really appreciated what Christ had done for him. I mean he understood, and he even believed, but in the reality of finding himself truly trapped, unable to stop sinning, his appreciation has grown, and so has his longing for freedom.
When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. -- 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (NIV)
We have no tips or tricks that can make you sinless. All we can know is Christ crucified. Anything else is sin management... not actual transformation, just trying to put a fence around our sinfulness.
Then it struck me... that is what people describe as "Organized Religion" -- sin management. When people talk about their dislike for organized religion, they are talking about their dislike for others trying to manage their sin. The Religious Right wants to pass a law to outlaw abortion (sin management). One denomination of churches demand people stop smoking and drinking before becoming members (sin management). Another denomination frowns so much on divorce, they won't allow remarriage without some major steps.
It isn't that those who dislike "Organized Religion" are fans of sin. They just want to experience the Gospel and move completely away from sin through the power of Christ... not through the power of human judgment or rule.
But the unfortunate truth is we must resort to sin management because we don't want to go around being our deeply selfish selves, ruining our lives and the lives of those around us. We have no choice. If we are to call ourselves Christian, we must become accountable and find ways to curb our own out of control, deep rooted sinfulness, even if that sinfulness is just a judgmental heart or talking back in our heads or eating too much, but I suspect our sin is typically much deeper than that.
Let's assume "church hoppers" aren't hopping out of shallowness, but out of a depth to find freedom. Let's assume those who regularly become irregular attenders have given up on church because they don't see much change in themselves or those around them. Then they come back because they really do want to see change. Maybe preachers preach so many sermons on such topics as "How to tame the tongue" and "Five ways to control your anger" because we recognize in ourselves the terrible inability to stop sinning, and if Jesus won't change us, we will change ourselves with Godly wisdom.
We might at least give ourselves credit for wanting to be like God created us to be, even if we have little to no chance of accomplishing it on our own.
In his book, Addiction and Grace, Gerald May concludes:
And that, I am afraid, is about it. You may have noticed that I did not include surrender as part of a consecrated struggle with addiction. This is because we cannot do our own surrenders. To try to turn it over to God prematurely would only be another mind trick, a way of trying to escape responsibility, testing rather than trusting. But indeed God is in it with us all along, and wherever our choices are enabled to remain simple and our intent remains solid, empowerment comes through grace. There is little else we can do except to keep on trying, and looking for God's invitations and seeking simplicity. -- p 178 Addiction and Grace.
What do we sound like to God? Ever hear a group 3 to 5 year olds in another room coming up with a plan to get their parents to buy ice cream? It sounds so funny. They think they are being so clever. Is that how we sound trying to make plans to overcome our own sin and the sin of those around us? God does plan on buying us ice cream, when the time is right.
What is the key to overcoming an adulterous heart? Trying to stop going to your lover's house? Or trying to fall more in love with your spouse? So also the key to overcoming sin is trying to fall more in love with Jesus and working on developing intimacy with Him? But at the same time, we have to find a way to stop going over to the other person's house.
Let's not forget that we must humble ourselves at the feet of Jesus, recognizing Him as our soveriegn King, and placing ourselves upon the mercy of His grace.