I was recently working a secular job where there was very little actual care for the customers. Every way in which the business was operated only served one purpose, to get customers to spend money and to illicit customers to continue to spend money. Virtually every practice in this retail chain was ingenue or dishonest. I don’t think it was necessarily because of one person or another in the store at which I worked; I simply think that human depravity is so severe that this is just the way that people do business. Of course, purely secular companies are always interested in getting sales numbers up and getting more people to be a part of their rewards programs. I witness fewer and fewer people actually wanting these things and more people recognizing the sales con for which these means are used. There was one customer interaction that I remember vividly. There was a woman who was ready to purchase some items that she found. She looked like she was having some life-challenges and said something about a family member who had just passed away. I simply asked her how her family was doing and she was so surprised that I would care enough to ask. What kind of society do we live in that people are surprised when we actually care?
It occurs to me as I think about the path that God has thoughtfully and carefully prepared for His people, that there are many who are not on that path. There are a great many people who do not know Christ and who are not abiding in Christ and in His word. There are people outside the preverbal church walls who are downtrodden, impoverished, drunk, given to prostitution, heavy-hearted, gluttonous, hateful, and prideful in their own ways. Indeed, this describes all of us. In this world, there are outcasts, refugees, aliens, and minorities. How does the Gospel inform our walk as we follow this path in a world where many people are ignorant (either willfully or not) of God or where so many are cast aside by those who consider themselves to be something?
Joshua sent two spies to report on the land, and we get to read about their interaction with a Canaanite woman named Rahab. Even though her people had earned destruction and refused to repent before God, God saved her family from destruction.
“When we heard this, we lost heart, and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on earth below. Now please swear to me by the Lord that you will also show kindness to my family, because I showed kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father, mother, brothers, sisters, and all who belong to them, and save us from death.”
The men answered her, “We will give our lives for yours. If you don’t report our mission, we will show kindness and faithfulness to you when the Lord gives us the land.”
Then she let them down by a rope through the window, since she lived in a house that was built into the wall of the city. “Go to the hill country so that the men pursuing you won’t find you,” she said to them. “Hide yourselves there for three days until they return; afterward, go on your way.”
The men said to her, “We will be free from this oath you made us swear, unless, when we enter the land, you tie this scarlet cord to the window through which you let us down. Bring your father, mother, brothers, and all your father’s family into your house. If anyone goes out the doors of your house, his blood will be on his own head, and we will be innocent. But if anyone with you in the house should be harmed, his blood will be on our heads. And if you report our mission, we are free from the oath you made us swear.”
“Let it be as you say,” she replied, and she sent them away. After they had gone, she tied the scarlet cord to the window.
As we consider this part of the story together, we must consider what it means that someone would be considered an outsider. The people of Israel were God’s chosen people. They had come to the land of Canaan with particular instructions to take that land from its current inhabitants (the Canaanites). It is clear, here, that all of the Canaanites are outsiders to God. They are outside of the people of God, of the promise of God, and of the will of God. For a moment, here, I want to take us back to Genesis 15:13-16:
Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be foreigners in a land that does not belong to them; they will be enslaved and oppressed 400 years. However, I will judge the nation they serve, and afterward they will go out with many possessions. But you will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a ripe old age. In the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
This was before the Hebrew people went into Egypt and became slaves there. God was promising to bring them back to the land of Canaan when the iniquity of the people in the land had come to fruition. The Canaanites had made themselves outsiders and, because of their own rebellion against God, had earned the wrath of God as a national people. When we are considering the things of God and we ask “What makes the outsider an outsider?” we know that the outsider is an outsider because of his own sin. God, through punishment, is, in the story of Joshua, addressing the sin of the Canaanites. God would address that sin through the words and the actions of His people.
When we think about the outsider, this is where we must begin. The fringes of society exist because people are sinners against God and have been estranged from God. So, when we address the problem of the outsider, we have to begin with sin because it is sin that has caused people to be outside of God’s people, promise, and will.
Here is the catch: every single person is a sinner and has earned the wrath of God. We can read this in Romans 3:23. I am certain that I am among the worst. We were all estranged from God and lost from His path. We had no hope of finding this path because without God’s election we have not the desire for anything godly. Jesus Christ came to deliver people so that they might delight in God. In Christ, then, we are restored as children of God. When we are restored as children of God, we are then able to think about repairing the social equity in our own society. In fact, the Gospel would call us to conduct business, operate our politics, and take care of those on the social fringes without partiality. Why? We are to love because God first loved us. This path that God has us on is such that we must always be reaching out to the outsider because God came and rescued us.
In the passage above, God even rescues a Canaanite woman and her family even though the Canaanite people had earned for themselves God’s punishment. How gracious and merciful is it that the just God would still rescue anyone from their ranks?
God delivers people from sin, not people without sin.
The spies replied to Rahab’s request for safety, “We will give our lives for yours.” You can say what you want about the people outside the church walls. I am going to choose not to listen when supposed ‘christians’ condemn worldly or sinful people. The biblical response in both the Old Testament and the New is that we will give our lives for other people because Christ gave His life for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). This care for others who don’t know Christ and who are not on God’s path is so strong in the person who has been saved by God, that Paul even makes the statement:
“For I could almost wish to be cursed and cut off from the Messiah for the benefit of my brothers, my own flesh and blood” (Romans 9:3).
Only a new heart given by a true God could cause anyone to begin to feel or think this way. If you are hurting and without life, I would be willing to give up my life to see you gain it. This is the type of grace and mercy that actually having a relationship with God produces in the people of God. We can’t do anything else but seek to include the outsider because God has included us. If we do not have this gut-wrenching desire to see people come to know Christ, to receive life no matter what their sins are (remember that God still saved from the midst of the Canaanites), then I don’t think we know Christ at all or understand at all what He did for us.
This is the opposite of seeker sensitive. To be seeker sensitive is to conform a church service to the preferences of people who are seeking. Do we want to know the truth as presented in Scripture? No one seeks God and no one does good (Romans 3:11, Psalm 53:1-3). People are entirely depraved and lost in their sin. It doesn’t do us any good to just tell someone to be better, to have enough faith, or to tell them that they have a sinful lifestyle. It is not beneficial at all to have an entertaining church service that people might be drawn in by our talent. According to Scripture, people who have not been regenerated by God simply don’t care. People don’t feel guilty because of their sin, and they do not understand or seek after God. Christ, however, seeks after sinful people. Because Christ seeks sinners, we go to people and meet them where they are in a sinful world. If regeneration precedes faith, this is going to change vastly the way that we practice evangelism. The Gospel we share is going to be a desperate Gospel of hope, not of condemnation. Whereas the great majority of evangelicalism places obedience and belief as a prerequisite for salvation, we are going to recognize that God is the one who must do the saving and the regenerating. Faith had already been produced in Rahab and her family. It is why she helped the spies and why God saved her. We will recognize that we can only believe if Christ has produced faith in us to believe. This is God’s grace, and it is unconditional regarding anything that we can produce in or of ourselves. There is a sanctity to all human life that is so great the God of the universe would seek after us even in our depravity. How could we ever believe that any life is not worth saving? “God so loved the world (a world full of rebellion wrought by wretched people), that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will have eternal life. He did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:16-17).
One of the greatest contradictions in popular Christianity is that some will say that God’s love is unconditional, yet if we don’t believe, He will send us to Hell. That is conditional! If we are going to believe that God’s love and grace are unconditional, then we must also believe that He is the one who produces faith in His people. This, indeed, is what we see throughout the Scriptures. It is hope for us. For, without the election of God we would never understand or seek after God and would all stand condemned. Will we, too, with great passion and great grace, seek after people who currently have no desire, but every need, for God?
God seeks, so I also seek.
If we want to continue to talk about this amazing grace that God has toward sinful people. Rahab was saved from a condemned people. She became the mother of Boaz. Boaz married Ruth (another outsider, a Moabite) and they had a son named Obed. Obed fathered Jesse, who fathered King David. It is through this kingly line that Jesus, the Messiah, was born to offer life to people for the glory of God (Matthew 1:1-16). God not only saves sinful people. He exalts them in mighty ways for His glory!
God is so gracious toward sinners that He allows the weeds to grow with the wheat until the judgment (Matthew 13:24-30). There are people who have not trusted in Jesus who are still allowed by God to work in Jesus’ name even though some of them were seeking their own glory (Luke 9:49-50, Matthew 7:22-23).
We were all outsiders, God is the great restorer, therefore every genuine Cristian is a missionary. How do we treat the refugee and the immigrant? How do we pursue the poor and downtrodden? How do we help the orphan and the widow in their time of need? If we consider the unborn person to be important, but reject the refugee, what contradiction have we produced in our own hearts? If we reject the unborn but accept the refugee and the alien, we are a kingdom divided against ourselves. This is one reason that I am so thankful that Jesus is neither Republican nor Democrat. He is concerned with all human life.
With what sort of character are we conducting our business and our relationships? It absolutely breaks me to know that we care so much about personal gain that it causes us to fail to love unconditionally. As a society, we are only going to pretend to care about people when there is some sort of personal gain in it for us. We are willing to be ingenue and dishonest with people so that we look good even though nothing of genuine, long-lasting benefit is accomplished by any pretending whatsoever. I think the secular world would learn a great deal about conducting business and about genuine customer service by simply reading the Scriptures:
“But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also. And if anyone takes away your coat, don’t hold back your shirt either. Give to everyone who asks you, and from one who takes your things, don’t ask for them back. Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. If you do what is good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is gracious to the ungrateful and evil. Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful” (Luke 6:27-36).
Of course, the point is that God is merciful toward even the sinner and even toward the unregenerate person. If we love God, then we will be gracious to the ungrateful and merciful to everyone just as our Father in Heaven is ever-merciful. To love God is to be gracious and have mercy toward those who are estranged from God, and to be such genuinely and unconditionally.
How are we reaching people with the gospel of grace and restoration? How are we raising up ministers and planting churches to see this message of hope declared to all nations? Are we, a people saved by grace, showing the same sort of grace? Have we truly been impacted by the unconditional grace of the living God?
God restores, so I seek to restore.
God delivers people from sin, not people without sin.
God seeks, so I also seek.
God restores, so I seek to restore.