A few weeks ago, I drove by a church welcome sign in North Carolina that I thought was a smidge strange. As I am wont to do, I promptly turned it into a tweet and said the following on Twitter:
“If you’re 99% saved, then you’re 100% lost!” Church sign I just drove by. I guess they didn’t have the letters for “Visitors keep out.”
A number of people saw that tweet and replied back to me with thoughts like this:
“Isn’t that theologically accurate?”
“Don’t we need to be convicted?”
I think those were good questions, but I never doubted the accuracy of that idea. I was doubting whether or not a welcome sign is the best place to debate theological accuracy. Is a message of shame the best message for a church welcome sign?
And more than that, what does “100% saved” mean? Who is measuring that? The pastor of that church? The elders? Is there a chart? What is the 1% that makes all the difference? What do you do with the guy in Mark 9 who asks Jesus to heal his child “if you can?”
Jesus replies, “If you can? Everything is possible for one who believes.”
To which the father says, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Jesus, sensing that the father was only 78% saved says, “Can’t do it. Disciples, get my boat! It’s time to bounce.”
Or he heals him and moves on. One of those two things happened.
Ranking by percentage the authenticity of your faith is a difficult thing to do, but maybe we all already agree on that point. What about the need for us to be convicted?
I agree with that. I do, but I think that as humans we have an unbelievable ability to transform conviction into shame.
I think that’s part of the reason Jesus left us so little wiggle room in Matthew 22:37-40. When asked what the most important commandment in the law was, he replied:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Notice what it doesn’t say? It doesn’t say, “Judge your neighbor.” Or, “Convict your neighbor.” Or, “Shame your neighbor.”
The verb is love.
Now there should be two push backs to this:
The first is, “Didn’t Jesus essentially say what that church sign said to the rich young ruler who was unwilling to give up his worldly possessions to follow him?”
You could definitely make that argument, but the key difference is that they had a conversation. Jesus looked him in the face and talked with the rich young ruler. Though it was brief, they had an interaction that was far more intimate than a message on a sign. Jesus talked with him one on one, he didn’t carry a billboard around.
The second push back is, “Isn’t the most loving thing you can do is share the truth of Christ with someone?”
Agreed. But again, a word of caution about using “shame” as a tool of evangelism. Let’s not forget what we are told in Romans 2:1-4:
“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?”
What leads us toward repentance? Kindness.
But if you’d prefer to not look at it through that lens, as least answer this question:
Have you ever met someone who said, “I became a Christian when a friend of mine shamed me badly. They shamed me into the arms of Christ.”
I haven’t, but I have heard this story countless times:
“A neighbor loved me when I was so unlovable to them. Their love made no sense. Finally I had to ask them, ‘Why are you so different? Why are you so kind to me? That’s when they told me about this guy, Jesus Christ.’”
Do we need conviction? Without a doubt.
Do we need theological accuracy? Definitely.
Do we need shame? That’s a tough one. But I do know this, we don’t need it on our church welcome signs.