I hated algebra. No two ways about it, I hated it, and while I am sure some of you mathematicians will want to correct me, I have not used it once since the day I left drafting school and even then it was only to prove I knew it. There was one thing I learned that I sort of remember, order of operations. When working through an equation there are certain functions you must do first or you will throw the whole problem out of whack.
There’s an order of operations for Christianity too and this one is painfully easy to remember, though people show me all the time that they don’t know it. It goes like this:
Jesus ALWAYS comes before repentance.
So often we in the church seem to believe it can happen the other way around. That people will clean up their collective acts and then they can come to Jesus. This is never the case. Ever. Oh people can have a change of heart, or people can feel drawn to Christ, but it’t the Holy Spirit that leads us to true repentance, not an act of the will. I know this seems like I’m mincing words but let me show you why this is an important distinction. I once heard of someone who told a parent their child was going to hell because of a sin they were committing. The implication was clear, that person needs to stop sinning so they can get into heaven. You may agree with that, but the person doesn’t have the power to stop sinning on their own. They need the help of the Holy Spirit, which means they need Jesus. Most of the time the best place to find Jesus is within the Body of Christ, the church, but it’s hard to get people into the church when the church tells them they’re going to hell.
For the record, when I preach, I do preach about sin and I do preach about repentance, I even preach about hell, but to tell someone they are going to hell, well that is not my job. Rather my job is to teach people about the One who laid down His life to free us from the stuff that will ruin and destroy us. He is the righteous judge. He said “let Him without sin cast the first stone,” so I couldn’t stone you even if I wanted to (and for the record, I don’t). My job is to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Our job as the church is to love people, speak the truth in love, and point them to the One who leads us all to repentance. In this broken world this is not easy but it is and always will be right.
In some of our churches, we need to take down the “no sinners allowed” sign and put one up that says “come in and find freedom.” It’ll get messy, but it’ll be worth it.