That’s what the word evangelism means in Greek.
And yet, as I was explaining to our homeless neighbors at community missions on Wednesday, the good news preached by many evangelists has a big “but” in it.
“God loves you,” they say, “But…”
But you’re a sinner.
You’re covered from head to toe
In your filthy, stinking sins.
God loves you but…
He can’t accept you in that condition.
You have to accept Jesus,
You have to be washed in his blood,
Then, when your sins have been washed away,
When you are as white as snow,
Then God can accept you,
And when you die you will
Live with him in heaven forever.
“God loves you, but…” the evangelists say, and what they don’t say is that the good news they preach is conditional. God may love you, but he can’t accept you until you do something: until you accept his son Jesus as your personal Lord and savior.
Your acceptance requires your acceptance.
On Wednesday I asked my audience to imagine a baby boy crawling across the floor toward his grandmother, who is seated in a chair reaching out to him with open arms. “He’s crawling fast,” I said. “He’s got a big grin on his face. Drool is running down his chin. But suddenly he stops and sits up, gets a look of intense concentration on his face, and begins to…fill his diaper.”
They enjoyed this part.
“Does his grandmother turn away from him in disgust? No, she does not! She waits till he finishes and then scoops him up in her arms, takes him to the nursery, puts him on the changing table and begins talking to him in baby talk. ‘Did you poop your diaper? Did you make a big mess in there? Let’s take a look.’ And then she does, and it’s disgusting! The smell is nauseating! She’s fighting to keep her breakfast down while that baby boy looks up at her and grins again. He knows she loves him, dirty diaper and all.
“And she does.
“She smiles back at him. She can’t help herself. She wipes his bottom clean, sprinkles on a little baby powder, puts on a fresh diaper, and scoops him up again, talking baby talk the whole time, telling him what a stinky mess he made and how she loves him anyway. The only thing that has changed, really,
“Is his diaper.”
I want to challenge the notion that God can’t accept us until our sins are washed away, and I want to do it on the basis of John 3:16, everybody’s favorite Bible verse. “God so loved the world,” it says (the stinky, sinful world), “that he gave his only son, so that anyone who believes in him might not perish, but have eternal life.” We often read that verse and imagine God gave his son as a sacrifice. But what if that verse is not about the Crucifixion, but about the Incarnation? What if God’s son didn’t come to shed his blood so that our sins could be washed away, but to reveal the heart of God, and to show us that it beats with love?
I told my audience at community missions, “Yes, you’re filthy with sin. We all are. That’s what it means to be human. But being human also means you are one of those made in God’s own image, and maybe that’s all God sees when you look up at him and grin, with drool running down your chin. He loves you and accepts you as you are. Sure, there’s that dirty diaper to deal with, but I think God can handle that, don’t you?”
Most of them nodded. One said a quiet “Amen.”
It was God’s son, after all, who once said to a paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven.” He didn’t offer up any sacrifices; he just did it. He had the power to forgive sins on earth and it was God who gave him that power (Mark 2:8-12). Jesus used to say to sinners like us, “Your faith has saved you,” “Your sins are forgiven,” “Neither do I condemn you.” He did it everywhere he went, and when he did he revealed the heart of God.
Suppose God gave his son not so much as a sacrifice whose blood would cover our sins, but as an older brother who would come looking for us wherever we are (even if we’re sleeping under a bridge) and tell us that it’s OK to come home, that the father is waiting,
With open arms.