Summary: A look at how we frequently judge the inward readiness by the outward appearance and why that doesn't work.
HOW CAN YOU TELL WHO IS READY TO RECEIVE GOD? Outward appearance is a poor indicator of inward readiness.
- Jonah 3:5-10.
- Focusing on outward appearance hurts our witnessing because we don’t want to be mocked.
- There are many who appear to be far away from God because they are in fact very antagonistic to God and all that He represents.
- We don’t like being rebuffed and degraded, so we steer clear.
- But our passage is a stark reminder to us that outward appearance is not an ironclad indicator of inward readiness. In a moment, I want to unpack three of the reasons that’s true.
- For now, though, we need to simply face the reality of our folly:
a. Just because he’s wearing a biker jacket doesn’t mean he’s not interested in God.
b. Just because she’s living with him doesn’t mean she’s not interested in God.
c. Just because he drops F-bombs like they’re nothing doesn’t mean he’s not interested in God.
d. Just because she has everything the world can offer doesn’t mean she’s not interested in God.
- You can’t just a book by its cover and you can’t just a heart by the clothes the person is wearing.
THREE WITNESSING TRUTHS:
1. The furthest from God are often the most open to grace.
- We have a mental picture of where people are morally. Some, deep in sin, are all the way over here toward the right end. Some, passionately following God, are all the way over here on the left end. Most are somewhere in the middle.
- We too often take that continuum to also be an accurate measure of how open they are to God’s grace. Those way over here to the right in sin are almost totally closed to God’s grace. Those closer to the left are more open. That, if anything, gets it reversed. Grace is the good news that is especially good for those who are deep in sin. When you are in a mess and know you’re in a mess, the idea that there is forgiveness and that grace can make you new is especially enticing. That’s one reason why the “prostitutes and tax collectors” were more open to what Jesus had to say than the religious leaders and scribes.
- We do not appreciate the radical nature of grace. Grace reverses the way we normally do morality. Merit is our normal measure. Grace explodes merit.
- Of course, it helps when we realize that no one is going to make it to God via merit. But we are stubborn in clinging to our religious pride and our confidence in our righteousness.
2. We should hang out with “the least of these.”
- We have a “circle the wagons” mentality.
- Rather than focusing our church’s thoughts and efforts outwardly, it is the natural tendency for us to think mostly of ourselves. That, of course, is displeasing to Christ. He wants us to (a) be servants (which presumes a mentality that’s not self-focused) and (b) be evangelistic (which presumes that we’re around those who are lost).
- The longer we’re Christians, the more our lives revolve around church life. That is not a healthy thing. Certainly we want to be engaged in church but we also want to out in the world around those who are lost.
- One of the most telling differences between our lives and the life that Christ led is that He was regularly around those who were far from God. (Equally telling is the fact that when He was around folks away from God, then enjoyed being with Him.)
3. The power of God is sufficient to transform anyone.
- Paul tells us that salvation makes us into a new creation.
- In our own strength, we cannot change ourselves. With the power of the Holy Spirit working in a person saved by the sacrifice of Jesus, we can live out a life of victory through His power.
- We often think in terms of good people and bad people. (Of course, in that reckoning, we always merit a place as a “good person.”) But the Bible teaches us that all of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s standard. None of us are righteous on our own, no matter how beautiful our Baptist church membership card may be.
- When we see those deep in sin (drugs or greed or sex or whatever), we need to know that the power of God is sufficient to break those bonds and to empower them to a victorious life.
- I figure Jonah walked around Nineveh seeing what debauchery was going on thinking, “It’s no wonder God wants to wipe this place out! I don’t even know why He’s giving them 40 days.” I’m sure he saw a lot of things that increased his hatred for the Ninevites. I’m sure he saw things that turned his stomach morally.