I am easily offended. And so are you, apparently.
In an age of political correctness, the list of topics, statements, or beliefs that offend continues to grow. Our culture continues to update its allowed topics of conversation, appropriate political beliefs, and expected responses to various situations.
That which is deemed offensive is a moving target, determined by secular humanism's subtle but ongoing metamorphisis. Because our culture, by-and-large, is not anchored to something concrete and objective, opinions transform and values morph.
This is the pool we swim in. Correction: it's the pool we were rescued out of but still swim in until our Lord Jesus comes back to make a whole new pool (this is a wonderful example of an analogy breaking down). We are being told explicitly and implicitly what is and what is not offensive. Once we cross a line, purposefully or accidentally, there are relational consequences with those in our realm of influence. Rejection over your political party, your choice to vaccinate/not to vaccinate, or your views on refugee resettlement can all bring a relationship to a screaching halt.
If relationships can be severed over these things, what hope do we have as we invite others to do life with us, believing an offensive gospel?
Do you recall the process of making friendships as you, for example, started college?
Let's say you are walking into the freshman dorm, and meet your new roommate for the first time. Seems like an ok guy. He's putting a Minnesota Twins banner on the wall and is wearing a Star Wars t-shirt. "I think we'll get along just fine."
You start by asking the surface level questions, and as time goes on it gets deeper and deeper. Who they are and what they believe continues to come forth in word and deed. Slowly but surely, your Twins-loving, Chewbacca-impersonating roommate seems as though he came from another planet.
The deeper elements of who they are, what they believe, where they have been, and where they are going determine whether or not this relationship blooms into a lifelong friendship, or a 9 month-long exercise in patience.
As relationships grow in depth, they are opportunities to see how someone ticks and then connect with them in a deep and meaningful way. The issue, however, for those of us in Christ, is that as we see who people really are and what they believe, we must overlook the offense or differences we feel in order to make a grace connection.
As a Vikings fan, I must overlook the offense I feel from those who like the Packers so that I can forge a meaningful relationship.
And, we must realize that the the grace connection we make, where Christ is communicated in word and deed, there will be offense the other direction. This is guaranteed.
As Paul wrote to the church in Galatia, he gave them encouragement and truth in the areas of justification by faith alone. The church was beset by those calling people to trust in Christ, while believing circumsion was necessary as well for salvation.
This offended Paul, the idea that Christ's substitutionary death was not sufficient. So, in Galatians 5:11-12, he says this:
But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case, the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish that those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves.
To those who thought circumcision necessary for salvation, the gospel of grace was offensive. To say that faith is a gift that comes by hearing, not something we earn, is offensive. And ultimately, those around us while they may try to be religious to impress God, or while they find their justification in doing things their own way, they are resting in their own ability to save themselves.
This thought should be offensive to us, because it's offensive to our holy and just God who is high and lifted up! He is not like us, in that our God is completely morally pure in every sense. Apart from Christ, we are dead in our trespasses and sins, children of wrath. Not a popular message, but necessary as we seek to engage with those around us.
The gospel is offensive on the heart level. The problem with those around us is that which offends them is often tied to their self-defined identity. My political party is who I am. My gender identity is who I am. But, as Creator, God defines identity. We are just really good at trying to usurp his role as Identifier and define ourselves how we see fit. Political affiliation is not an identity. Nor is one's gender. At best, it's part of how we see ourselves.
The gospel message rips from us our ability to define ourselves as we see fit, and puts before our hearts the great need we have. Those apart from Christ see this message as foolish, they suppress the truth about God and themselves and discount the need for a Savior.
These are the people swimming in the pool. As we do life, these are the people we encounter.
Embracing the Offense
People are easily offended. And we have believed and seek to communicate the Good News that offends in the deepest of ways. What hope do we have?
To begin, we must embrace the offensive nature of the gospel. Paul did, and he suffered for it. But, his labor and toil in communicating the gospel resulted in disciples being made and churches being planted. He despaired of life itself, yet in his weakness he was strong. He and those traveling with him were so burdened beyond their own strength that they had no choice but to rely on God. The God who raises the dead.
They had been persecuted for this offensive message, they were being persecuted by this offensive message, and they knew more persecution was in their future (2 Corinthians 1:10).
As we embrace the offense of the gospel, we must remain connected to others who are striving side-by-side with us. Paul didn't experience these burdens alone. He had others around him who believed the gospel as well, and traveled with him as they shared their lives with others.
Too often we look at ourselves as those who are called to have "come to Jesus moments" with everyone around us, or we are not doing what we are supposed to be doing.
Rather, as connected to one another in Christ, having all things in common, we can partner with one another, the Holy Spirit, and the offensive gospel to enter into this culture opposed to the Good News.
We exercise love for the stranger, or outsider (a.k.a hospitality). We invite people into our lives, and there might be a come to Jesus moment where you intentionally confront someone with the need of salvation. Or it might be an invite into Missional Community. Whatever it looks like, it is living life with intentionality, not hiding your beliefs but communicating them in ways that understands the offense while knowing the hope we have in Christ.
Lord willing, as we go forth into our community with one another, we can share with people the most offensive thing they've ever heard. But thanks be to God that the offense of the gospel does result in people being convicted of sin, righteousness, and judgment, having nowhere else to look but to Christ.