In this series we’re talking about the credibility gap - the negative perceptions those outside the church have about us - and what we can do to close it.
Think of it this way. If a father dies and leaves an inheritance for his young children, those children are not much better off than slaves until they grow up, even though they actually own everything their father had. They have to obey their guardians until they reach whatever age their father set. And that’s the way it was with us before Christ came. We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world.
But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.
Before you Gentiles knew God, you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist. So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing. Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things, for I have become like you Gentiles—free from those laws.
Paul here is tapping into a deep and long biblical thread that goes all the way back to the beginning of the Bible. He’s talking about idolatry, which, you might be surprised to know, is pretty much the ultimate sin of humanity in Scripture.
Starting in Genesis, humanity was created by God for a special purpose. He made us to be the rulers and the caretakers of creation. It was our vocation to help creation thrive. But almost immediately the plan started going awry. Not only did we start trashing the place and hurting one another, but we started to worship created things and let them rule us.
Can you see why idolatry is the ultimate subversion of God’s intentions for creation? We were made to rule the world, but we let the world rule us!
Here’s why that’s a problem. You cannot worship idols and obey God. One of them has to take precedence.
No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.
Before we know Christ, there’s not really an option here. But then Jesus entered the picture. He died on that cross to bring an end to the power of those idols over us. He opened the door for us to live another way.
THE CREDIBILITY GAP
What non-Christians so often see when they look at the Church is Christians who say our allegiance is to Jesus and his kingdom above all, but who bow to man-made idols no differently than anyone else.
The credibility gap widens when our allegiances are misplaced.
1) Wealth is not your god.
Culturally we have bought the lie that if we just sacrifice our lives on the altar of the American dream, we’ll finally find the satisfaction or significance or meaning that we’ve been looking for. Christ has offered us freedom from that lie. In him we have everything we need and in this spiritual family there is more than enough to go around.
2) Christ is not a label.
Christ is not a label. And if we want to close the credibility gap, we’ve got to be very careful about who is taking his name.
Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.
When we are looking for which causes or leaders to support, we should base those decisions on biblical principles first, like justice and mercy and purity and love and life and compassion. Not the virtue signaling or clever slogans or assurances of someone’s faith that convince us to turn off our critical thinking.
3) We are not enemies.
We are not enemies. We are family. If anyone is going to lead our community forward into a time of healing from all of this, it should be us.
Let it be us. Let us pledge our allegiance to the kingdom of God and right the ship of our vocation - bringing healing to this broken world in his name and putting all of our man-made idols back where they belong.