Read at beginning of message:
Matthew 5:1-12 (NIV)
1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
I have an observation to make before I begin today?s message? If Christ to be bodily present in our church this Sunday, we would delight in introducing him to others. Yet there seems to be a problem and this problem was summed up a number of years ago in a song called “Jacob?s Ladder,” which topped the pop music charts. Huey Lewis sang about being pursued by a fat man who was selling salvation. It?s not too surprising that he responded by saying he was not in a hurry to think about such things and then added scathingly, “and I don?t want to be like you.”
Most people won?t come right out and say it, but you?d better believe they?re thinking it. They?re not interested in committing their lives to Christ unless they observe attractive and consistent patterns of living in the Christians they know. Joe Aldrich, author of the book Life-Style Evangelism, put it like this: “Christians are to be good news before they share the good news.”
Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV)
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
The question to ask then is, when people observe us as Christians, are we good news or bad news?
Though it?s tempting, to run ahead and talk about practical tips for communicating our faith would be premature. You see, before we can become highly contagious Christians, we must first live in a way that convinces the people around us that we actually have it ourselves!
Did you notice that in these verses where Jesus asserts that we are salt and light, he says nothing about what we have to say? He doesn?t give us a three point evangelistic sermon. He doesn?t teach them the four spiritual laws or the Roman Road presentation. He doesn?t even draw them the bridge illustration.
If we want to be the kind of high-impact salt and light Christians that Jesus said that we are to be, we?re going to have to first take some preliminary steps of self-examination and then be willing to make any needed character adjustments. We must start by making certain that the way we?re living backs up the words we?re speaking. To modify those song lyrics, we want people to observe our lives and think to themselves, “I didn?t think I?d ever feel such urgency about spiritual matters, but I sure wish I could be like them.”
Jesus knew the importance of perceptions. That?s why He gave us such clear instructions about being salt and light. He knows that as you learn to live out these guidelines in tangible ways, people will begin to “see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
Do you see what Jesus was getting at in these verses in Matthew 5? He was telling us that the attitudes and actions of each of His followers either draw people toward a relationship with God or push them further away. So Jesus was pleading with His people – then and now – to live in a way that would draw people toward the Father. Think about it: how we conduct our daily lives has implications that reach all the way into eternity.
Christians who repel the lost from Christ.
Salt and Light can be good. But it can also be bad if you have too much. Too much can be repulsive! How does food that has too much salt taste? What happens when someone approaches you on the highway with their high beam headlights?
The Christian who repels the lost is the salt that has lost its potency and the light that has been hidden. The Christian is not having the desired impact on the people around them.
Let me share with you three types of Christians that repel the lost from Christ.
1. In Your Face Christians
These are the hard sell, confrontational evangelists. They are the ones who pull up in the car next to you at the stoplight, and yell across to you, “Do you know you are going to hell without Christ.”
2. Holier-Than-Thou Christians
These are the smug and the self-righteous types. They have exchanged their priestly, Pharisaic garments for more contemporary clothing, but their hearts are just as judgmental. They make it plain that you probably couldn?t live up to their level of spirituality, so you might as well not try. You know the type don?t you?
3. Cosmetic Christians
These are the Christians which seekers realize only have a veneer of Christianity. Their faith, only skin deep, doesn?t change their character and values. The seeker sees these people, and says, “There is no real difference between me and them, except that I might have more fun.”
As one writer has written, “If sin dims our testimony so that our “light” is no longer visible, some of those we might have influenced for Christ may drift on in spiritual darkness.”
But that is the warning. That is not how it is meant to be! It is as Michael Green wrote in his commentary on these verses, “If Christians are insipid they are useless to Christ. There should be a flavor of Christ-likeness, a sparkle of joy and unselfishness about him or her that is immensely attractive.” That is what we are calling Contagious Christians, those who draw lost people toward Christ.
Christians who draw lost people toward Christ.
Christians who appropriately are a “flavoring” influence on those around them, and demonstrate the reality of their faith are contagious Christians. They are the Christians who demonstrate what are called “good works”, that influence people toward Christ.
Jesus uses the term “good” five times in the Sermon on the Mount. Each time he uses it to contrast those who are failing to produce faith substantiating righteousness, and loving acts of service with those who validate their faith through these actions. In other words, contrasting those whose faith is seen in what they do and those whose faith is talked about but hard to see.
Let me give you three examples of the kinds of Christians who have this contagious character?
1. Christians who count the cost
What I?m referring to are: believers who live out their faith even when it demands sacrifice.
To demonstrate the incredible witness of a costly Christian in his transition from atheism to Christianity, Lee Strobel shares the story of Ron Bronski:
Ronnie had been a member of one of the street gangs in Chicago. A rival gang had beaten up his brother, so Ronnie decided that he was going to get even.
One night, he had gotten a pistol, and waited for, Gary, the guy who had been responsible for his brother?s beating. When Gary came out of the building with a few other gang members, Ronnie came up behind them, yelled his gang name, and pulled the trigger. The gun just clicked. The gang members turned around, and Ronnie pulled the trigger again. This time a shot was fired into the air. The members of the gang began to run off in different directions.
Ronnie ran off in hot pursuit of Gary. He shot another shot that caught Gary in the back. And Ronnie walked up to Gary, turned him over, and putting the gun to his head, pulled the trigger once more. This time the gun locked up. He dropped the gun and ran.
Ronnie knew now he had to get out of town. So he packed up his girlfriend and they left that night for Portland, Oregon.
In Portland, Ronnie got a job, where several contagious Christians surrounded him, and over time he made a commitment to Christ. And Ronnie began to transform. Ronnie became a model member of his church. He became a model member of the community.
But something deep inside continued to gnaw at his soul. Ronnie knew that although he had been restored in his relationship with God, he had not yet been restored to society. There was still a warrant out for his arrest for attempted murder. And although the Chicago Police had discontinued looking for Ron Bronski a long time ago, and were probably glad that he was out of town, where he could have stayed and lived without ever being caught, he knew what he had to do.
He kissed his wife and children. He took a little bit of hard-earned money, and hopped on a train to Chicago, to turn himself in. He knew that he was looking at a very good possibility of jail time for up to 20 years.
Lee Strobel, still an atheist at the time, was assigned to the criminal courts building by the Chicago Tribune. He was used to hearing people who were obviously guilty trying to exploit the system, trying to find any loophole to get out of responsibility for the crime they committed.
And into that scene walks Ronnie. And he tells the judge, “I did it. I?m guilty because not only did I shoot him, I was trying to kill him. But I have become a Christian since, and now I realize that what I did was wrong. I?m sorry for what I did.”
Lee Strobel?s assessment “this drew me towards Christ.” To see someone so convinced of their faith that they were willing to be faithful even when it meant up to 20 years in prison made a remarkable impact, and showed him that Ronnie?s faith was for real.
(quoted in “Developing A Contagious Christian Character, by Steven Chapman)
Bill Hybels has written,
“Sacrifices impact people for a lifetime. And in a day when narcissistically ?looking out for number one? has been elevated to an art form, almost any kind of sacrifice will cause a stir.” (quoted in “Developing A Contagious Christian Character, by Steven Chapman)
The second kind of Christian that draws others to Christ is a:
2. Compassionate Christian
When action-oriented compassion is absent, it?s a telltale sign that something?s spiritually amiss. Whether the problem is with the organization or the individual, uncaring Christianity does not attract inquirers into its fold. But a clear and consistent demonstration of Christ-like love is a powerful magnet that pulls people toward Him. So let talk about being a compassionate Christian.
One of the primary reasons God calls His followers to be extraordinarily caring people is because acts of mercy open up people?s hearts like nothing else can. Put another way, there?s tremendous pulling power in the expression of even a single act of kindness. And God wants that power to draw people toward his Son.
These acts of service include what Steve Sjogren has coined, random acts of kindness. But they also include intentional efforts to serve the real needs of people God has placed around us. It is the cooking of meals for a neighbor?s family who has had medical issues. It is watching children for those who don?t have someone readily available. It is including them in a backyard barbecue. It is volunteering to help them work on the car, or on the house. The list could go on and on because it is any type of service that demonstrates in a very practical way the love of God.
Kerryanne and I have been the recipients of many acts of kindness?(talk about children?s clothes ? share about driving down the road and stopping to help people with electric wheelchair ? share about Chantal helping gentleman at the door in Owen Sound)
Let?s touch briefly on one more kind of contagious Christian:
3. Consistent Christian
We are talking about those who demonstrate integrity of faith even when they don?t know they are being watched.
They are authentic about the struggles that are present in their life. They observe a high level of honesty, what we would call being “real”.
Do you know what seekers need to see in you more than pasted-on smiles and religious slogans? They need to see you grapple with fear and sadness and anger and jealousy and loss. They need to hear you talk openly about your struggles with issues of purity. They need to watch you work out your faith without discounting the everyday realities of life.
I read about a business owner who, as a seeker, had employed scores of Christians in his company. He watched them like a hawk:
“You know, I was naturally drawn to God by observing Christian workers who were conscientious and kind and thorough and aggressive on the job,” he said. “But I?ll tell you what really impressed me. One day a guy who I knew to be a fresh convert asked if he could see me after work. I agreed to meet with him, but later in the day I started to worry that this young religious zealot might be coming to try to convert me, too.”
“I was surprised when he came in my office with his head hanging low and said to me, ?Sir, I?ll only take a few minutes, but I?m here to ask your forgiveness. Over the years I?ve worked for you I?ve done what a lot of other employees do, like borrowing a few company products here and there. And I?ve taken some extra supplies; I?ve abused telephone privileges; and I?ve cheated the time clock now and then.
“?But I became a Christian a few months ago and it?s real – not the smoke and mirror stuff. In gratitude for what Christ has done for me and in obedience to Him, I want to make amends to you and the company for the wrongs I?ve done. So could we figure out a way to do that? If you have to fire me for what I?ve done, I?ll understand. I deserve it. Or, if you want to dock my pay, dock it whatever figure you think is appropriate. If you want to give me some extra work to do on my own time, that would be okay, too, I just want to make things right with God and between us.?” (quoted in “Developing a Contagious Christian Character”, by Steven Chapman)
Well they worked things out. And the business owner said that this conversation made a deeper spiritual impact on him than anything else ever had. It was the single most impressive demonstration of true Christianity he had ever witnessed.
What was it that made this new believer so contagious? Was it a clever new gospel presentation? Was it a well-rehearsed testimony? Obviously not. It was merely a genuine and humble admission of wrongdoing along with a willingness to make it right. It was consistent Christianity.
Perhaps there?s something you should confess at work, in your home, or in your neighborhood. Or there could be an area of your life that you know isn?t right, but you?re still trying to cover it up in the hope that nobody will find out. Maybe now God?s Spirit is prompting you to go to somebody and say, “Because I mean business about my relationship with God and I want to be right before Him and with you, I need to apologize.”
Can I give you an inside scoop? People who are investigating Christianity don?t expect perfection from Christians. They?re too street smart for that! What they do hope to find is someone with the courage to confess their blunders and make things right. They want to see humility and repentance, and maybe even restitution.
Recently, I read a letter written by a relatively new Christian to the person whose life had influenced hers so greatly. She actually lists about a dozen qualities she found contagious in the life of this older Christian. Listen to some of what she wrote:
You know when we met; I began to discover a new vulnerability, a warmth, and a lack of pretense that impressed me. I saw in you a thriving spirit – no signs of internal stagnation anywhere. I could tell you were a growing person and I liked that. I saw you had strong self-esteem, not based on the fluff of self-help books, but on something a whole lot deeper. I saw that you lived by convictions and priorities and not just by convenience, selfish pleasure, and financial gain. And I had never met anyone like that before.
I felt a depth of love and concern as you listened to me and didn?t judge me. You tried to understand me, you sympathized and you celebrated with me, you demonstrated kindness and generosity – and not just to me, but to other people, as well.
And you stood for something. You were willing to go against the grain of society and follow what you believed to be true, no matter what people said, and no matter how much it cost you. And for those reasons and a whole host of others, I found myself really wanting what you had. Now that I?ve become a Christian, I wanted to write to tell you I?m grateful beyond words for how you lived out your Christian life in front of me. (quoted in “Developing a Contagious Christian Character”, by Steven Chapman)
Basically, she was saying, “Thanks for being a Contagious Christian.” Reading a letter like that motivates me to live as a contagious Christian too. How about you? I?ll bet you want your life to count for a whole lot more than trinkets and toys and zeros on a paycheck, too.