The NT for non-Christians

I've been looking at some devotions on the sermon on the mount in the last couple of days. One point raised was that Jesus was teaching the disciples - so what is the implication that he didn't teach them how to live until after they were saved?

This has led me to ponder just how useful it is to use the New Testament (aside from the gospels, obviously) when trying to reach non-Christians. Often we find ourselves telling people that God wants them to change the way they live... which is true, but getting into specifics seems to be almost pointless. If people are cheating, lying, being sexually immoral or whatever, there's no point changing those things if they're still ignoring God. When the New Testament addresses these issues it's most often in letters addressed to Christians, or it's in the context of talking about the former way of life of the believers. Should we even be using these passages as evangelistic aids?

Christians are so often accused of trying to tell people how to live, and I imagine there's some truth in that. It's probably easier - or maybe just more natural - to focus on behaviours and outward things, but those things are irrelevant until people submit to Jesus. Maybe it's just our desire to add more to the gospel that makes us want to talk about issues that shouldn't be addressed until later. To take it to a more extreme example, should we worry about whether prostitution and drugs are legalised, or whether people cheat on their tax returns (or their spouse)? In a way, no, because the most important issue is whether people believe in Jesus and accept God's free gift of salvation. Any other issues can be addressed afterwards - and they usually are, because repentance means a change of heart.

Just some unedited and incomplete musings...


adam said...

in discussing this point of view with a friend of mine, he related the instance of a group called (i think) xxx ministries, who had a stall at an adult entertainment industry trade fair giving away Bibles, while outside the fair venue other Christian groups were protesting the event and warning people that they were all going to hell.

which group would Jesus join, i wonder?

femina said...

Yes, but what I meant was, we don't warn people they're going to hell because they're sexually immoral; we warn them that they're going to hell because they have rejected God. The finer detail of how they reject Him isn't all that relevant... so is there value in showing them - before they're saved - bits of the NT that talk about sexual immorality? Or lying, or whatever?

And presumably Jesus wouldn't pay the entry fee to the sex trade fair, so I'm guessing he'd join the group outside! :-)

adam said...

maybe he'd get someone to go fishing to get the entry fee! but i do understand where you're coming from.

i seem to remember that j.i. packer in his book, a quest for godliness, commenting that the puritan preachers favoured preaching doctrine in sermons than what we now would think of as an outreach service or outreach sermon... i think that's not bad, insofar as it's not quite saying here's salvation it's a cinch... except for this and this and this and this... in the movie death becomes her meryl streep's screech "NOW a warning!?" reflects some of the surprises the Christian faith could be seen to hold for some people.

perhaps the bits in the NT about sexual immorality could be quoted as evidence for their rejection of God, rather than the reason God is angry with them. (he has given them over to their sin, in other words.) however, without accepting the gospel as truth, and binding, it would likely seem more like indictment than evidence. a puzzle...

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