I remember before I was converted, that often I would feel guilty just driving by a church or if I saw that someone I knew was saved. They didn’t even have to say anything and I would feel conviction. Something inside of me was repulsed by them, even hated them. I felt judged by them.
We were having this discussion a short time ago here with a couple of leaders and a group of students. They were saying that the number one reason nonChrisitans don’t go to church is that they feel judged by the church. So basically the strategy became, “How do we make ourselves seem less judgmental and more accepting?”
But I had to disagree with them. If the truth were told, I think that in our day, the church has gone a bit overboard on trying to be accepting and culturally relevant. We are so seeker sensitive we hardly mention words like sin, judgement, hell, repentance, etc. (all words that Jesus used frequently) because we are afraid of scaring people away.
A typical reaction when people feel judged is that they blame the church, or certain individuals. Oftentimes we equate conviction with condemnation or judgment. But I would submit to you that the conviction is coming from another source.
When Jesus was about to be crucified he told his disciples that he must go so the Comforter can come. We wouldn’t be able to receive the Holy Spirit unless he left. Then he explained the what the Holy Spirit would do when he came.
“But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”
John 16:7-11 NIV
It’s clear that to the world, the Holy Spirit has one primary dominant role: to convict them of sin, righteousness, and judgment.
I concede that there are a few renegade guys out there who act as though they are supposed to be the junior Holy Spirit, sniffing out sin in everyone they meet, but those people are few and far between.
The truth of it is that people are under conviction already because that is what the Holy Spirit is doing within them, convincing them of their need of a Savior.
I see this all the time in witnessing. People who aren’t Christians tell me things like, “I’m a good person. I try to do more good than bad, to make up for my wrongs.” I had one guy tell me he baptized himself in his shower. Why would they do that? Because they are
1) convicted of their sin (they know they have done wrong)
2) they want to be made right
3) because they know there is a judgement coming
Sound familiar? Exactly what Jesus said the Holy Spirit would do.
So I’m not too quick to blame the church for being too judgemental in all situations. It’s the Holy Spirit preparing the hearts of people to receive the good news. Instead of nodding in agreement and consoling people that the church is too harsh, I’ve learned to recognize that God is already at work, and use that to meet them where they are at and lead them to the cross, where they can find freedom and forgiveness.