Can I admit from the start my own difficulties with this topic? I expect most of us will struggle with this, but I know God’s grace can bring us growth.
You meet someone raw, just out of the world and newly saved. F-bombs drop like a shock-and-awe campaign, and they got saved while living with someone they’re dating. God found them misbehaving the same way He found us. We know this in our heads, yet all we can seem to think about is the gap between where they are and where they should be. “Where they should be” could probably be a post in and of itself. For now, though, what do we do about that inescapable drive to “make them” change, whatever our motivations and goals may be? Something inside of us screams to take control, almost is if we want tomake their decisions for them.
When we see ourselves as capable of making other people change their beliefs or behavior, we become manipulative. Perhaps we withhold fellowship until they attain to some sufficient picture of “normal” that we can actually work with. Perhaps we resort to some version of scolding them, requiring some measure of visible penance before we’ll stop. Perhaps we simply don’t want them coming to a gathering until their lifestyle cleans up a little bit, maybe tiptoeing around them with uneasiness and avoidance.
We have no power to make anyone do anything, and I really do mean that. We have two main tools at our disposal. First, we can clearly show them who God is through what we say about God and how we treat them. This includes urgently and vividly showing them the real damage of their sin, the glory of the God from whom sin separates them, and the power of Jesus to rescue them. Second, we can pray for God to give them eyes to see Him as we strive to display Him clearly and contextually. Only God can do the rest. If they don’tsee the God we show, they won’t really change no matter what we do. In fact, the danger of manipulation is that they might change for all the wrong reasons, seeing behavior as the way to gain favor with us and with God.
God proclaims His gospel through His church, through us. We are indeed “in the way,” and we must be. Intervention is right, but the how and the why matter. As we approach our friends we deem as “raw,” will we release our grip on control and manipulation? Will we rely on (1) the gospel message and (2) an eye-opening God to do the heavy lifting? Will we say with our actions, “Yes, the gospel is enough!”?