Having been a Christian for almost 11 years now, I am super convinced that although people are generally repulsive to the gospel of Jesus, many others are actually simply repulsive to the ways that people who follow Jesus conduct themselves or have conducted themselves in times gone by.
When I became a Christian in December of 2007, I only knew one Christian dude. His name is Castro. I began to fellowship where he was fellowshipping because he was in fact the only embodiment of Christianity I could relate to. In 2008, when I went back to school for my A-Levels, I began doing ministry pretty much on my own on the school campus - preaching here and there. I did not immediately associate myself with the formal structure of the Scripture Union (SU) until one dude named Supreme Gumbo (who led that group that year, and has become not just a bosom buddy, but a brother for years since then) came and spoke to me about working with them. See, to put it bluntly, I did initially not not want to associate with the Christianity that people in my immediate context (mainly the classroom and some people I knew who were part of the SU) because of how badly it was misrepresented.
My "friends" who were Christians before I got saved were cheering me on when I was rapping profanities in class during the lunch break. They enjoyed it. My homeboys who were Christians were as profane as I was, with skewed expressions of whatever is there in teenage masculinity and sexuality. Their greatest influence in life was a Tupac, a Kanye, a Jay - just like me. And in a sense, they misrepresented what they claimed to believe. Now, I am not saying they ought to have been "perfect" (no one is) - but I am saying they could have functionally shown me better what it actually means to be a Christian, not through their profession alone, but also their lifestyles.
Isn't that the whole point of Paul's first letter to Timothy? "Watch your life and doctrine." Meaning, not only are we to profess the truth, but our lives ought to be equally consistent. On one end, Paul is saying, "My guy you doctrine should be on point, but also, watch yourself - how you live it out." And in the same verse in 1 Timothy 4:16, he tells him the reason: so that by watching both these things, he would save himself and others.
Wait a minute, is Paul saying if Timothy's profession of faith and belief in right teachings is watched and also his lifestyle matches it, he and others will be "saved"? What does that even mean?
I think Paul means this: A Christian's faithfulness to theological truths and the subsequent practical application of that truth in their day to day life will be used by God to save them and save those around them.
We can see that this is Paul's trail of thought even a couple of verse before we get to verse 16 where he famously says in verse 12, "Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity."
Be an example.
There is clearly a concern on Paul's mind in this letter for Timothy to continue steadfastly in the teachings of the apostles, but also to live a life that matches with its profession and for two of many reasons: so that there is a distinction between Timothy and the other false teachers in Ephesus at that time, but also so that in walking the talk, Timothy could validate that the gospel indeed is life-giving and life changing.
We live in a world where we are watched on a daily as believers. Everybody is looking to see what we will say, do and how we will respond to the various stimuli around us, and how we react has a lot of implications on whether we will be considered faithful ministers or not. Of course the weight is heavier on actual church officers, but its equally heavy on all believers in the Church of Jesus Christ.
The thing I personally fear the most is this: for my preferences, reckless words and thoughts, feelings and proclivities become a hinderance to the gospel. And we live in a world where we can easily have a "I do not care, I am not perfect" attitude or we can actually apply the gospel to our hearts and live it out daily to a watching world.
We all have an audience, unfortunately. It could be the girls at the saloon. It could be the dudes at the barbershop. It could be the people on your line at work. It could be your unsaved family members. It could be your own wife or husband who does not know Christ. It could be anyone. And they are watching your every move and word and especially wanting to see what "Christians", and in their mind, "Christ" himself, has to say about this or that.
This is a great responsibility my brothers and sisters, and all our words, actions and attitudes are communicating in a sense, either a misconstrued understanding of the gospel, or a consistent understanding of the gospel. In my own assertion, no one is looking for Christians that are perfect to learn from. In fact, I would argue that it is when we actually show them the Perfect One and what he thinks about A, B or C, and show how we are not perfect. We do not have it together, but we depend on Jesus for our life and sustenance, we communicate a truer idea of what our faith is really about. And somehow that is attractive to strugglers in the world out there. In counselling people I have made great strides for the gospel when my own weakness and imperfections are tabled. So, perfection is not a question here at all.
I recently have been having great conversations about the Christian response to homosexuality with dear friends. What we all agree on is that although we believe that practising homosexuality is a sin, we ought to have a similar response to all other kinds of sin that we see in the world - or else, in a sense, we are a huge hindrance to ministering the good news of Jesus to people that are stuck in this sin, or Christians struggling with same-sex attraction. When we make online or pulpit jokes about it, and make little of people caught up in this and in a sense, dehumanize them, there is no way we can ever see people actually seeing it the way God sees it, and eventually submitting and trusting Jesus for salvation. Forget it. No way! No one is coming to talk to a pastor/Christian friend about their sin struggle - whatever it is - who demeans, is dismissive, harsh and makes light of it.
But on the other hand, we can choose to be less childish and treat and talk about people in this lifestyle like we would about an adulterer, a liar or a murderer. Humanize them. Listen more to their stories. Converse. Teach them about sin. Show them the Saviour. We can choose to break down all our own personal and cultural stumbling blocks and address this issue with gospel centrality that shows truth, but shows it with much grace. Do you not think we can see more Jesus loving believers coming out of that lifestyle or struggling faithfully with it?
Or think about how we talk about people who teach or believe false doctrines. There definitely is a time and place for us to be firm and stern, but we also need to think about how best we can actually "help" those people - human beings - who are stuck in those churches or religions - following these men who are teaching them nothing but junk, and causing to lust after money, sex and power.
It is easy to talk or write to someone you do not know on the internet and almost caricature them as this or that. But how about the people in your life? That uncle whose family struggles financially every month because he takes all his money and gives it to the "man of God' with promises of greater wealth someday. (Yes there are major problems with that). How about that sister who has been caught up in a famous cult and you desperately want them to know Christ and be saved? Will it help to just be vile and offensive online about her "church"? Well, we might actually like your post and pump you up as a fiery defender of the faith, but you are the one with a sister who you want Jesus to save. Maybe shooting a text at them? Or calling them? Might be more helpful? I don't know. You know your people. And you know the gospel.
Let us stay faithful and steward this great treasure, to the glory of his name, and the salvation of his people.
My prayer for myself, and for you is this:
"Lord, help us to not hinder your gospel by our own selfish proclivities, actions and words. If people choose not to follow your Son Jesus, may it be their own sin leading them astray, and not us failing to show who you are faithfully through our sharing of our faith, and its consistency in our lives. Amen."