Every day (well, nearly every day anyway) I read My Utmost for His Highest. This is an awesome daily devotional, and I highly recommend it for every Christian. As I read the devotional for January 31st, I had a thought go through my mind. I got to thinking about this theme:
"Our calling is not primarily to be holy men and women, but to be proclaimers of the Gospel of God... Paul had not a hypersensitive interest in his own character. As long as our eyes are upon our own personal whiteness we shall never get near the reality of Redemption."
As I thought about it, I had to admit that there are indeed those who are more concerned about their personal holiness than about the salvation of others. I myself have been subject to this temptation from time to time in my walk as a Christian. However, as I reflected further, this is far from the only (or perhaps even biggest) problem in the church today.
So much ink (and so many electrons) have been spilled in condemning those who, like Chambers's targets, are more concerned about their own self-righteousness than the salvation of their neighbors. We should certainly strive not to be like this. However, that made me think about two other kinds of Christians that we should strive not to be like, and the kind that we should.
The first kind we should strive not to be is the polar opposite (who we'll call the "emergents"), those who say they are concerned about the salvation of others at the expense of their own personal righteousness. These blind guides, which I have elsewhere called "Cursing Christians," are lauded by Dallas Willard and in books like "Blue Like Jazz." They seem to believe that only by forsaking personal righteousness, by (misapplying Paul) being like all the sinful things done by all people, they are somehow making the Gospel more acceptable to them. I have at least two problems with these emergents. First, the absolute best I can say about these people (as a fairly recently reformed sinner myself) is that this is totally naïve. If somebody had come up to me cursing up a blue streak and then attempted to tell me about the love of Jesus, I would have laughed in his face. I would have said "oh yeah, you talk a good game, but when it comes down to it you are just as bad as I am." It was men who didn't judge me but still showed me great personal holiness who made me consider Christianity and the love of God, not men who made me feel comfortable in my sin. And second, anybody who thinks that once God saves us from our sins He is totally content with leaving us wallowing in their presence (that He takes away the penalty but does not expect us to change our voluntary indulgence in them) has not read the Bible very carefully. When God saves us, it's for a purpose, and that purpose should include personal holiness.
The second kind of person we should try to avoid being are those who change the "Gospel of God" to make it supposedly more palatable to non-Christians (these we'll call "the seeker sensitives"). The SS's do (in my experience) exhibit personal holiness, but present only part of the true Gospel of God. I heard a church service awhile back where the speaker steadfastly refused to call a sin a sin; any bad things the hearer may have done were passed off as mistakes, as "dumb stuff." This kind of presentation of the Gospel does not convict anybody of sin, and if anything is abundantly clear in the Bible as regards soteriology, it should be that true repentance is needed to be saved.
Given a total of three types of Christians we should not be, what kind should we be? First, God wants us to be very concerned about the salvation of others. But let's not imagine that God is like us, that He can only do one thing at a time ("ok, he's witnessing to somebody now; I can't manage to make him holy too, so I guess that'll have to slide"). No, if God wants us to share the Gospel with people, He can figure out a way to do it while we're exhibiting personal holiness. And second, if God wants to save somebody (since all Christians should agree it's God who saves), He will do it through a full presentation of the Gospel; He doesn't need some watered-down, "user-friendly" Gospel-lite to do it for Him.
I think it's obvious. God wants us to follow what we know is right as regards holiness, and present the full Gospel to people at the same time. As long as we strive not to be personally condemning but to preach the truth, God will use that to save some. For others - for what Christian can doubt there are multitudes who will not be saved, though it pains us? - the proclamation of the full Gospel will merely add to their wrath.
One of the most personally haunting things I can think of is a person who can honestly go to God and say "Sure, You sent Gary to me to preach the Gospel; but he never gave it to me." Heaven help me if I do not preach the full Gospel.