Saturday, January 24, 2009

Sheep and Goats

WARNING: This is going to be a controversial post for some of you. Enjoy!

As I was walking up the stairs to my office this morning, one of the teachers from our school was commenting on how hard my job must be.

Which part? I asked. I do a lot of things.

The part about getting kids not to love the world.

She and her husband, a former youthworker, are doing some after school stuff with teenagers and apparently she's feeling the pain :o)

I told her that it's not hard at all!

Teenagers who are regenerate have this desire deep inside them to follow Jesus. They are sheep. They hear the voice of the Shepherd and they follow Him (John 10:3-4, etc.). They have AMAZING ups and downs, epic battles with the flesh (and parents), trouble of all kinds with the opposite sex, self image issues we cannot imagine, and yes, a fascination with all the world has to offer.

But I don't have to "get them" to love Jesus. There is this engine, the Holy Spirit, inside them that continually drives them towards God. I have watched this over and over again.

Because I'm not the one who has to "get them" to love Jesus, then I'm not the one who who has to "get them" to not love the world. I exhort them and counsel them and love on them and teach them, and sometimes deliver a godly kick in the pants, but they know innately that the world is hollow and ultimately Jesus is better. So they fall and get up. They land on their feet, even if it's a nail biter for a few years!

The problem, I told the teacher, is the goats. The youth group is full of them at the moment. Many churches are full of them, I believe. In fact, I fear that many pulpits have more than their quota of goats across the country, which explains to a large extent the condition of the church in America. For generations we have spouted a "gospel" that says that Jesus will take away all your problems and give you heaven if you say this little prayer. For generations, Christian parents have completely disengaged from their biblical mandate to disciple their children. For generations, youth ministry people have treated sheep like goats because the kid prayed a prayer at age 5 and we refuse to question his salvation, despite the mocking of God or whatever other deviant behavior we see.

And it's REALLY HARD to get goats to act like sheep. Really hard.

I mean, you can get them to for awhile, but when it really gets hot (like loving Jesus, let's say - or renouncing the world, or loving their neighbor) then they get really feisty. I have concluded, after almost 18 years of youth ministry, that the stupidest thing I can do is try to get kids who clearly are unregenerate to worship or be holy or live in any way like Christians. I need to love and evangelize them, and evangelism is surely the first part of the disciple-making spectrum, but I need to stop trying to disciple people who are not disciples.

Now I know, this whole regeneration thing is a bit controversial... we want to treat everyone like a "child of God". We don't want to "judge" anyone's salvation (and we shouldn't in a declarative sense, since only God knows the heart; but we can certainly question and inspect fruit!). We really want to think that getting the lost kid into a Christian community where he can see Jesus in action will win him. And I'll even go so far as to say that for someone who really knows they're not a Christian, this is probably a good strategy. But it does not work for the kid who thinks he's saved and is not. All it does is kill community in your group.

I have wasted far too much time trying to make dead people act alive. I am grateful that it is the Spirit of God that gives life, and that this life He gives cannot be taken away. My job is simply to fan the flame that God has already put in the soul, not to light the fire; and to proclaim the powerful gospel to those who are not yet lit.

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Anonymous Jeremy C said...

Good stuff Steve. I would agree with you as well. The Bible tells us not just how to be saved but what it looks like to be saved. If a person's life does not reflect what the New Testament says a believer's life should look like than one should question if they are in fact God's child.

Many evangelicals know what the Bible says about how to be saved but seem at least somewhat ignorant to all the passages that describe the reality of what it looks like to be a child of God.

Though you will find this throughout the NT, 1 John is as clear as day. Consider a couple passages. "By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother". 1 John 3:10
Clearly, if love and righteousness are not consistent qualities of your life you are not a child of God.
In the previous verse John says, "No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God" (3:9). Again, this might not be easy to swallow but it is clear. If you live in sin you have never been born from above. Yes, we do sin as believers but we don't live in it.
Believers fight against sin. We gouge out our eyes and cut off our hands as Jesus would say figuratively (Matt. 5:29-30). That is the length we will go to to rid ourselves of sin's dominating power in our life. We will fail at times but we will continue to battle sin.

Back to 1 John. He says in 3:14, "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death".

We know that we've passed out of death into life because we've prayed a prayer? because we go to church? because we believe in eternal security? No, you can pray, go to church, and believe in correct Bible doctrine and go to hell.
Loving other believers is supernatural and something you can't do on your own. It's something that God's Spirit enables you to do as you submit to Him. It is therefore evidence that God lives in you and that your His child. God's work in your life confirms that you are His.

Paul encouraged people to examine themselves to see if they were in the faith. "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test"! 2 Corinthians 13:5

Peter encourages us to make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10).

The doctrine of salvation needs to be trumpeted throughout our churches. What does it mean to be justified? What is propitiation, sancitification, glorification,reconciliation, redemption, repentance, faith, adoption, regeneration, election, and perseverance of the saints?

These arn't just old Bible words for people who like that kind of stuff. These are great words the Bible uses to describe salvation. They ground us in the faith and cause us to worship the Triune God.

The truths of these words sustain us, strengthen us, give us hope, and fill us with joy.


January 24, 2009 at 6:42 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

I like your point about struggling with sin: For the actual believer, there IS a struggle. The regenerate person puts up a fight for the sake of holiness. We lose battles for sure, but we get up and fight again.

So different from indulging in things that grieve God and hiding them.

I think our sin list needs a little revising, too. We can keep all the private morality issues - they're good, but Evangelicals could stand to add a few more: Failing to love my neighbor, failing to speak up for the one suffering injustice, being a poor steward of God's resources, failing to live by faith...

Not that we want to be preoccupied with a "sin list", but rather that we pursue God and recognize the things that grieve Him to the point that they grieve us too.

One of the marks of regeneration is a heart that wants to be like God's.

January 24, 2009 at 7:15 PM  
Anonymous steve martin said...

What if the sheep were really the goats and vice versa?

I mean, what if those who appeared to have the fruit of the holy spirit and who appeared to be doing all the things that Jesus said we ought, but were doing it not out of love, but for show. Playing the game so to speak. Their motives were rotten.

Who would know the difference...but God.

Could that be why Jesus told us not to judge. Let the wheat and the tares grow together (they look alike) and He will seperate them for only He knows the hearts of men.

Someone who seems, for all intents and purposes, like a goat, may in facy be one of His, called and chosen.

If somone were to fillow me around 24/7 for a week, they might be able to say that I am not really one of His.

I think that would hold true for just about all of us.

Food for thought.

January 25, 2009 at 7:08 PM  
Anonymous steve martin said...

Pardon the mispellings

January 25, 2009 at 9:03 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Point well taken - so we can't judge conclusively. I once wrote a kid off only to see that kid blossom later and become one of my best youth workers.

But by then I knew she was a sheep :0)

Jesus does say, "by their fruit you shall know them". So we're fruit inspectors, rather than judges. To qualify that, I think it takes time to see real fruit, and we never can declare a person a goat with utter certainty. That's God's job, as you rightly point out.

But as a pastor, I have a responsibility to lovingly confront a person who consistently lives like a goat but claims to be a sheep. And if I deeply suspect said person is unregenerate, I minister to them with the gospel as if they were unsaved. That certainly can't hurt. (Think of 1 Cor. 5 - where we are instructed by Paul to treat the person who claims Christ but lives like the devil like an unbeliever).

I also think of 2 Cor 13, where we are exhorted to examine ourselves to see whether we're in the faith. We are to inspect our own fruit!

John says in 1 John 5:13: "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life." This is the book where he articulates what a regenerate person looks like.

All that to say that we have a obligation to responsibly distinguish the flock, whether we're a shepherd of it or a member of it. Not to judge, but to humbly discern, if that makes any sense.

Otherwise we apply the wrong medicine to the wrong ailment.

I always appreciate your comments, Steve! They do make me think. This is why I love blogging...

January 25, 2009 at 9:12 PM  
Anonymous steve martin said...

"But as a pastor, I have a responsibility to lovingly confront a person who consistently lives like a goat but claims to be a sheep."

Steve, how would you feel if a Mother Teresa type person who lived a totally selfless life, giving evrything to the poor, would have that conversation with you. Your fruit wouldn't stand up to her totality of giving.

When a church member is unrepentant in a particular area, I do believe it's the pastor's responsibility to confront them.

But (a big but!) we all have areas where we could be confronted.

That's why the unmitigated (hard ) preaching of the law (before the gospel) is so important.

Remember the Pharisee and the Publican. The Publican appeared to be the 'goat' by his performance.
The Pharisee was the 'good church member'

Also, this type of fruit checker mentality can certainly lead to self righteousness because we are by nature, inveterate comparers of ourselves to others around us. That is not the standard that is the law. The law demands perfection and that is the only standard we ought look to for our Christian performance.

Steve, you are a true gentleman, and a good Christian Brother.


January 25, 2009 at 9:35 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Hey, Steve

I would take the story of the Pharisee and the Publican in the opposite sense you do. The Pharisee was like too many church memnbers - self righteous. The tax collector was repentant - one of the fruits of true conversion.

There are too many "one anothers" that exhort us to confront each other lovingly for me to take your position. One example of what I'm talking about is Jesus' story of removing the log from your brother's eye (Matt. 7:3-4). Jesus had just told the disciples and the audience not to judge (7:1-2). To try to remove my brother's speck without seeing my own log is hypocrisy, according to Jesus.

But then He says, "First, take the plank out of your eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."

So the end result is that I still have to deal with my brother about his speck - I just have to be transparent and humble enough to confront my own issues first.

What I'm learning from our dialogue and from some of the posts and comments on your site is that I'm woefully ignorant of Lutheran theology!

I have spent my life kind of assuming it was basically the same as the rest of Evangelical Protestantism - and I still think the essential tenets are. But I think we have a diffrerent view of things like how the sanctification process works and some other points. So now I'm a student.

So though we disagree, I'm glad to be dialoguing with you!

January 26, 2009 at 7:14 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

BTW - I agree that the law needs to be articualted before the gospel, or at least that we're law breakers so that we can see our need for a savior!

A soft gospel (Jesus wants to give you a wonderful life and take all your problems away) is no gospel at all!

January 26, 2009 at 7:16 AM  
Anonymous steve martin said...


It is great to discuss these matters of 'faith' with you.

I too, am a student.

Lutheran theology is a bit different than any other theology I've encountered.

It's a Pauline theology (mostly) and is very grounded in scripture.

It's Christ centered (what he's done for us) and not 'how to' or 'me' centered.

It's sacramental. Again trusting more in Christ coming to us (from outside of ourselves) than in our response, or our action or our feelings or emotions.

It places an extreme value on freedom. The freedom of the Christian and the freedom of God to be God and save whom He'll save.

That's a short primer on Lutheranism (the way I have been taight about it and see it).
As is the case with all denominations (and so-called non denominations) there are a lot of different versions of Luthernism running around. Some of them are a bit 'off' if you ask me.

Thanks a lot Steve! Enjoying your site immensely!

January 26, 2009 at 9:45 AM  
Anonymous steve martin said...

True statement! The gospel without the law (or a soft gospel) is no gospel, indeed.

January 26, 2009 at 9:46 AM  

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