“He goes to church but he’s not a Christian,” someone recently shared with me.
“Why do you say that?” I asked, curious to hear this person’s perspective.
The answer included that this individual was only doing it for his children. He was cheating on his wife and he was a big drinker.
Afterwards, I regretted my failure to caution him when making such a judgment. After close to 13 years working with people rebuilding lives from addiction, homelessness and prison, I’ve learned that God can be present in the messiest life situations. Indeed, God is often most present in those very circumstances.
Jesus warns us about making decisions related to who is in and who is out, leaving that call instead for God. We too easily become little Pharisee’s convinced of our own right-standing with God and angry that Jesus would choose to dine with “the tax collectors and sinners.” (Matthew 9:11, NIV)
And when it comes down to it, all of us have junk in our live--actions and choices that have hurt others. It’s been a part of being human ever since our earliest relatives decided that they knew how to run their lives better than God.
We live in a world where it is easy to see the reality of sin’s stain on life. But without sin, there would be no point for Jesus’ death and resurrection. In the end, we all only stand before God clothed in our faith in Jesus’ perfect life and His redeeming sacrifice.
I think a better perspective is watching for and calling attention to God’s presence in people’s lives. It’s not so much whether we can identify fruit in a person’s life but the direction that one’s life is headed. Is someone moving in the direction of Jesus or are the retreating in the opposite way? I’ve known people who call Jesus their Savior who have been living lives fleeing in the other direction. And I’ve seen men and women whose lives have put them on the far margins of society, who every day are moving closer and closer to the embracing love of Christ.
How better for us to walk alongside all people in love wherever they are, treating them with respect and dignity, sharing Christ love, and waiting for his resurrection to be birthed in their lives. For in the end, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13, NIV)