Abiding in Christ
About the Guest
Jesus commands His followers to be great neighbors. Are we? Scott Sauls, author of "Irresistible Faith," talks about what it would look like to live so compellingly and lovingly in our cities and nations that, if we were removed, people would miss us terribly. To truly be salt and light, Christians must think first how to bless others, rather than how we can protect what we have. The starting place must be abiding in Jesus and assuming His likeness.
Scott SaulsScott Sauls is senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and author of Jesus Outside the Lines, Befriend, From Weakness to Strength, Irresistible Faith, and A Gentle Answer. Scott also served at New York City's Redeemer Presbyterian Church as a lead and preaching pastor and planted two churches in the Midwest. His work has been featured in publications including Christianity Today, Relevant, Qideas, Propel Women, He Reads Truth, Leadership Magazine, The Gospel Coaliti...more
Jesus commands His followers to be great neighbors. Are we? Scott Sauls talks about what it would look like to live so compellingly in our cities that, if we were removed, people would miss us terribly.
Abiding in Christ
Bob: Pastor Scott Sauls believes that all of us would be better, both individually and as families, if we started spending more time with people who aren’t exactly like us.
Scott: There’s an us-ness to walking with Christ—it’s not me and Christ; it’s not me and my handful of friends that I have stuff in common with and disagree with about nothing—it’s getting into a community of people, ideally, with as much ethnic diversity, or economic diversity, or political diversity, or ideological diversity, or where you are on the org chart diversity so that you can rub against people who have a different life experience and a different understanding to sharpen you and to change you.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, June 24th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. Are there some areas where all of us need to be challenged as we think about how we walk with Jesus? Pastor Scott Sauls says, “Yes,” and we’ll talk more about it with him today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Tell listeners—when you started a church in Detroit, back three decades ago, what was the burden?—because there were churches there—what was it that you wanted to start? What did you want your church to be?
Dave: We had one dream—and we still have the same dream—to reach the guy not going to church—that was it. I was that guy. We just sort of had a dream of the Great Commission being able to be done through a community of people called the church.
Bob: And why does the 35-year-old guy, who’s not coming to church—why is he not coming to church?
Dave: If he’s anything like me, I thought the church was irrelevant; it just didn’t seem to do anything—it was something I was not attracted to.
Ann: I didn’t grow up in the church, but I had a view of people that went to church. I didn’t feel like they were relatable; and I didn’t feel like, necessarily—this is a broad judgment and not anyone specific—but I felt like, “Oh, there’s nothing about them that’s really attractional.”
Bob: —like if someone said, “Wouldn’t you want to be like them?”—it’s like—“That’s the last thing I want to be.”
Ann: To be truthful; yes!
Bob: That’s tied right into what we’re going to be talking about today, because we are going to be talking about what an irresistible faith looks like.
Dave: I’m excited! I love this topic; I love this book.
Ann: Yes! Dave was talking about it last night.
Dave: Oh, yes! This is very important!
Bob: Scott Sauls is joining us on FamilyLife Today. Scott, welcome back.
Scott: Thanks for having me back, Bob.
Bob: You’re excited about his subject as well.
Scott: I am!
Bob: Would you agree with their characterization that most people look at church folks and think: “I don’t want to be like them,” and “What they’re talking about is irrelevant”?
Scott: I think it’s an accurate statement that most people don’t want to be like the portrayals that they see of Christians.
Ann: That’s a good word.
Scott: But I think there’s also some really magnificent things going on, and done, and led by Christian people and people who identify as followers of Christ that just don’t get the press that the more embarrassing stories do.
Bob: Here’s the question as we dive in—because your whole book, Irresistible Faith: Becoming the Kind of Christian the World Can’t Resist, I think what I am about to say you’re going to say: “I would agree with that. We’re doing a lousy job as being ambassadors for Christ.” In general, the evangelical community in America—if you said, “This is what it means to be a follower of Christ,” a lot of people would go, “If that’s what it means, I’m out.” At the same time, Jesus was hated and mocked. He wasn’t the kind of person the world couldn’t resist, there were a lot of people who put Him to death.
Scott: Right! Well, publishers come up with the sub-titles. [Laughter] It took me a while to come around to the sub-title, myself, because of the same question. But I’ve come around to the sub-title because, everywhere you look in the Scripture and also through history, you see a certain kind of person, who is put off by Christ and put off by the kinds of things Christ came to be about and bring about in the lives of His followers; namely, people in power, who feel threatened by movements that are becoming more popular than them.
We’re seeing this happening in China right now, for instance, where the state—even though they have all the power, all the resources, all the publicity channels—they’re cracking down on house churches because they can’t stop the spread of love that flows from the gospel through the churches in China.
That was the case in the first century, as well. Caesar was opposed to the church because the church said, “Jesus is Lord.” The irony of that is that, because Jesus was Lord, it made Christians the best citizens of Rome. They took care of Rome’s poor better than Rome did, so that’s the rub.
I think, when you look at the sub-title, Become the Kind of Christian the World Can’t
Resist, we‘ve got to look at the kinds of people, who couldn’t resist being around Jesus—that was people, who didn’t feel like they belonged in the religious communities—to your point, Dave, earlier—
Dave: Right! Right!
Scott: —and people, who thought the religious communities were irrelevant to their lives; and all of a sudden, Zacchaeus, the crook, discovers he can be forgiven and have friends. Or the prostitute, in Luke 7, discovers she can actually experience real love, that’s not dirty, but that’s pure and beautiful.
You go on, and on, and on—you go to Luke, Chapter 15, before the parable of the loving Father, who loves both the Pharisee son and the prodigal son and welcomes them both/ invites them both in. That parable begins with the statement: “The Pharisees”—the religious people—“were grumbling because all of the sinners”—all of them—“were drawn to Jesus, and they couldn’t get enough of what He was saying.”
Ann: I can totally relate to that. I didn’t grow up in church, but I remembered my mom did hand my sister and [me] a Bible. I think I was 12 years old. We started reading it together at night—we read the New Testament—we read the Gospel of John—was where we started.
I will never forget—my sister and I both had abuse in our backgrounds—and I remember reading it and being so drawn to this man, Jesus. I wanted that—I didn’t even know what it was—but I wanted that. I thought: “I would follow Him,” “I would walk with Him,” because of the way He treated others. He was compelling; He was irresistible to so many.
Scott: Yes; Jesus says: “You’re the light of the world. You’re a city on a hill. Let your light shine.” I think we’ve been too shy about the amazing things that the movement of Jesus has brought into the world. Think about all the hospitals that begin with the word, Saint, founded by believers.
I’m reading, right now, the biography of John Newton, who was the primary influence of William Wilberforce, who almost single-handedly convinced Parliament to end slavery. You could go on and on and on—some of the world’s top scientists in history—faithful believers doing wonderful work. Those stories don’t get told. I think part of it is we don’t do our part in making sure those stories get told. I think that the l4ight is hidden under a bushel in some respects.
Bob: You saw the survey results, recently, that said—I think the number was—46 percent of Millennials think it is wrong to try to persuade someone to become a follower of Christ; did you see that?
Scott: Fifty percent of Millennials; yes—is what I saw from—are you talking about the Barna survey?
Bob: The Barna—here’s what it said—they said: “Following Christ is important. It’s life transformational. It’s a part of what my faith is,” and “I think it’s wrong to try to convert somebody.”
You can understand why there is this awkwardness in our culture today to not want to be divisive and polarize.
Scott: Yes; I think there are a lot of factors beneath that. One is that the creed of western American culture, in particular, is “expressive individualism,” which basically means the only wrong thing that you can do is evangelize. The irony there is that’s a form of evangelism. I can’t say that “Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” then what you’re saying is that “Pluralism/religious pluralism is the way, the truth, and the life.”
Bob: “That’s your creed of your life”; right.
Scott: You and I can have completely opposing views on something and neither of us can be declared wrong—but that’s where we’re at. I think that one of the things that Christians in the church—we need to really be intentional about—is recovering that story of a beautiful narrative of what it means to live, as a follower of Christ, and as collective followers of Christ in the world. Because Millennials, to their credit, are a movement-oriented generation—they’re a social justice-/mercy-and-justice-oriented generation.
If they see the church leading the way, in the way the first century church was leading the way, in mercy and justice efforts. I mean, by the 3rd century, A.D. the fabric of Rome was transformed because of believers.
Dave: I love how you introduce this in your Introduction—it’s such a beautiful picture. I’m going to read to you, and I want you to comment on what you wrote.
Dave: You said: ”What would it look like for us, the church, to become those who lived most beautifully, loved most deeply, and served most faithfully in the places where we live, work and play? What would it look like for us to live so compellingly and lovingly in our neighborhoods, cities and nations that, if we were suddenly removed from the world, our non-believing neighbors would miss us terribly?”
How about this one? “What would it look like for Christians to become the first place people go to look for comfort when a life-altering diagnosis comes, when anxiety and depression hit, when a child goes astray, when a spouse files for divorce, or when a bread-winner loses a job?”
Ann: This is your heartbeat!
Dave: “What would it look like for Christians in the church to be that kind of irresistible community?” Talk about that.
Scott: I think it would look like 1st century church in Rome. What it would look like is a transformation that Christ is most certainly capable of—a transformation in the hearts of His people—to begin to think, first, about how others are blessed and enriched by Christ rather than how we can be off to the side in our safe, little cozy places, and Christian ghettos, and protect whatever we have.
It’s pretty audacious to think about what it would take to get to that place. I’m in, and I think that there are actually a lot of people who are!
Dave: I am, too.
Ann: Me, too!
Scott: You would be so—
Bob: The starting place for what you’re talking about in the book—at least, what you say is the starting place—is for Christians to learn the art of abiding. I think it’s interesting that that’s where you start; because we would typically say the starting place is the PR side—is: “How do we project better who we are?” But you say we got to make sure we are who we’re supposed to be before we start trying to let our light shine before men.
Ann: What does that look like, and how do we do it?
Scott: It’s like the church that has an incredible outreach ministry; but once people get there, nobody shows interest in being their friend. You’ve got to be what you’re trying to invite other people into; right? There are no shortcuts to becoming the kind of Christian who abides in Christ and gives off the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, kindness, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control—there’s no shortcut to that.
Abiding in Christ, which in my view—that’s just simple stuff—like being in the same local church every week; be part of a community and learn to love and live in a community, long term; and get your nose in Scripture as much as you can on a daily basis; and be a person of prayer—they’re just the simple stuff. And endeavor to be the same person in private as you are in public and the same person in private as you are on social media. Start there, and let’s see what happens.
Dave: It’s interesting—when you begin your book about abiding in the irresistible Christ, your first chapter, “Being Okay with Not Being Okay,” I read it and I’m like: “Oh! Here’s a pastor sharing real stuff, honestly—vulnerable stuff.” I’m embarrassed to actually be called a pastor, alongside of you, because you had so many sins in there; [Laughter] because I don’t have any of those; but—
Scott: I’m so ashamed to be in your presence. [Laughter]
Dave: You should be!
Ann: I live with him, so I can speak the truth. [Laughter]
Dave: I find it refreshing because so many Christians, let alone pastors, don’t share the struggle.
One of the things you said was, “Man, I thought, by now, I’d be so much farther in my walk with God in terms of transformation.” Talk about that a little bit, because that’s irresistible to people; but we’re afraid to share that.
Scott: Somebody’s got to go first. It might as well be the person who’s leading. You said it, yourself, at the beginning of the broadcast, Dave—that you, at one point in your life, didn’t go to church;4 because you thought it was irrelevant. What could be more relevant than human struggle? What could be more relevant than saying, “I feel lonely,” more than “I don’t feel lonely”; you know? Taking off the masks, not in a self-indulgent way, but in a way that points to how Christ is the solution, and the community of Christ is the solution to that, and the mission of Christ is the solution to that.
The people who have always impacted me the most are the transparent ones and the vulnerable ones. I’m so much of a mess; I’m so much of a disaster—that I’m not able to hide any of this stuff that I write about in Chapter One; so I might as well talk about it; right? Otherwise, it’s just the elephant in the room that everybody knows about and whispers about. Why not just talk about it instead, and cultivate the art of apologizing and asking for forgiveness, and inviting feedback? Isn’t that what Christ invited us to do?—to sharpen each other, as iron sharpens iron; right? We love that verse until we have to apply it.
Bob: You talk about church engagement being an essential part of developing who we are—abiding. The average young couple today says regular church going is maybe twice a month; it’s not a weekly discipline for a lot of people today. Why is the regular rhythm/the discipline of—not deciding, on Sunday morning, if you feel like going to church or not today—but saying: “That’s the default. Of course, that’s what we do every Sunday,”—why is that so big of a deal?
Scott: Every time I bring that—just about every time I bring that subject up, I say: “Look; go to another church. If you can only bring yourself to come to this one twice, find one you can go to four or five times a month, depending on how many Sundays are there; because it’s where Jesus Christ says that He’s going to primarily meet His people.”
If you read the New Testament, this is where a Southern vernacular comes in handy; because if you were to accurately translate the Greek in the New Testament—you probably already know this if you’ve studied Greek; right?—is that almost every single second-person reference in the New Testament is plural.
Bob: It’s actually, “All y’all!” It’s not just “Y’all”; it’s “All y’all”; right? [Laughter]
Scott: There’s an us-ness to walking with Christ—it’s not me and Christ; it’s not me and my handful of friends that I have stuff in common with and disagree with about nothing. It’s getting into a community of people, ideally, with as much diversity as possible. I know, in some zip codes, it’s very hard to think about ethnic diversity or economic diversity—but where that’s not possible—generational diversity, or political diversity, or ideological diversity, or where you are on the org chart diversity so that you can rub against people, who have a different life experience and a different understanding of this or that subject so that you can be sharpened.
I think I talk, in the book, about the sandpaper effect; right? You get two people, who are different—say, two generations—say you’ve got a -year-old and a 23-year-old in your church, talking about politics. You can pretty well surmise where that conversation’s going to go; right? That 62-year-old is good for that 23-year-old and that 23-year-old is just as good for that 62-year-old.
But the beginning of their conversation is going to be like two gritty pieces of sandpaper rubbing together. The heat’s going to go up; it’s going to feel awkward/friction; they’re both going to want to jump because of the awkwardness, or the pain, or the anger they’re feeling, or the offense that they are feeling. But over time, as they continue to engage and stay committed to one another, what happens to both of those pieces of sandpaper? They become smoother; right? And the heat becomes less as they rub together, and they learn from and rub off on one another.
C.S. Lewis said, in The Screwtape Letters—one of the letters the mentor devil says to the junior devil: “Whatever you do, get this man in church as fast as you can; because when he gets in church, he’s going to notice people sing off key; they have squeaky boots; they have double chins; they’re boring people; some of them are often offensive; they chew too loudly; or whatever; and soon he’ll have nothing to do with the Enemy,”—the Enemy being God in The Screwtape Letters; right?
What Christ wants to say is, “Hey; it’s quite the opposite.” By the way, if we don’t like diversity, then we’ve really got to ask ourselves if we want to follow Jesus; because he’s a dark skinned, Middle-eastern Jew, who never spoke a word of English, never hung out with white people—if you’re white like me—was poor and homeless for a good part of His life, did things that all political parties would be offended by.
You’ve got to decide: “Do you want Him as your consultant, or do you want to Him as your Lord?” “Do you want Him as your personal assistant, or do you want Him as your Master and King?” “If you want Him as your Master and King, then you’ve got to look to His church, in whom He lives, collectively, to sharpen you, and to change you.”
Bob: You are talking about the importance of diversity and being with people who aren’t like us. People are going: “That’s not church. But I’m going to church on Sunday. I’m going with my like-minded friends, who look like me; so being in church every Sunday, that’s not going to give me diversity. If I want diversity, I should go to the bar.”
Scott: I would say, “It should be church.” Also, I think a lot of churches have a lot more diversity in them then we will recognize; because I think we, very superficially, think of diversity almost strictly in terms of ethnic; and ethnic diversity is a very important reality in the body of Christ—every nation, every tribe, every tongue—very important! But there are, also, other forms of diversity that have to be cultivated.
I mean, think about it—the very first cross-cultural relationship in the Bible—what was it?—Adam and Eve! Two different chromosome structures coming together; they are there to sharpen one another. Paul writes, in Ephesians, about how the point of marriage is, ultimately, to get one another ready for Christ—to sharpen one another. Personality differences and life experience differences ought to grow all of us up a little bit more rather than be the cause of an offense and getting our feelings hurt.
Bob: The importance of us being the people we need to be, both as individuals and as a community, in order for us to put Christ on display, I think that can’t be lost. As husbands and wives, and moms and dads, we’ve got to say: “There’s a priority here. If we’re going to be ambassadors for Christ, we’ve got to be molded, and shaped, and modeled/conformed to His image.” I think what Scott said—acknowledge the fact that you’re a mess; spend time in God’s Word; get in the church with other people who are not like you—that’s going to have the kind of impact that’s going to begin the process of you becoming an irresistible witness for Christ.
Dave: Yes; I would say—where, Scott, you started the book is exactly true. When we abide—and you explain all that in the first section/what that looks like when a follower abides in Christ—that is irresistible, because fruit is the result—the fruit of us?—no; the fruit of Christ. Man, oh man!—there’s nobody that isn’t drawn to that like a magnet. What a great place to start!
Ann: My thought was: “The more we abide in Christ, the more we look like Christ; and that becomes irresistible. It’s not that we are; but He is, in us, and everyone wants to be around Him.”
Bob: It will be off-putting to some because that’s the case—but Jesus said, “If I be lifted up, I’ll draw men to Myself.” There are those who are hungry for Jesus; and if we will be His representatives, our faith will be irresistible to those who God’s working in.
This week, we are making Scott’s book available to those of you who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife® with a donation. We think this would be a great book for parents and teens to go through together, maybe, at the dinner table. You just read a paragraph or two from one of the chapters and have a conversation around the table about how your family can apply what you’re reading.
Again, the title of the book is Irresistible Faith: Becoming the Kind of Christian the World Can’t Resist, written by Scott Sauls. We are happy to send you a copy of the book when you make a donation to support the ongoing work of FamilyLife Today. You make it possible for other listeners in your community to hear this program every time you donate.
Thanks for helping this message get out to more people as you make a donation today. Be sure to request your copy of Scott Sauls’ book when you get in touch with us. You can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to donate at 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Again, be sure to ask for a copy of the book, Irresistible Faith, as our thank-you gift when you donate today.
Scott Sauls made a connection today between having an irresistible faith and abiding in Christ. We’ve got the President of FamilyLife, David Robbins, here with us today. David, you learned something about abiding in the vine when you were living overseas as a missionary in Italy; right?
David: That’s right! Meg and I lived in Tuscany for two years, serving at the University at Pisa. We were actually studying John 15 and went with a vinedresser—a literal vine dresser—who worked in a vineyard. He talked about there being three criteria for this shoot to stay on the vine and whether they cut it back or not. He was talking about that verse in John 15 that every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes so that it will bear even more fruit.
He said it’s three criteria: one was the direction of the vine, the second was the vigor of it’s growth, the third was the strength of the attachment to the source. If any of those things were off, then the vinedresser would actually cut the vine back so that it could grow in the ways that the vinedresser wanted it to grow.
I think the conversation today reminds me of that—because if we are going to be around people that aren’t just like ourselves; if we are going to initiate vulnerability with an irresistible faith; if we are going to love and learn in community, truly, long term—those will all be things that will stretch us. It will feel, sometimes, like we’re being cut back; but it’s always worth it to stay in step with the direction and to keep growing, no matter how old we get.
Bob: Keep bearing fruit.
Bob: That’s good. Thank you, David; that’s helpful.
I hope you can tune in and listen tomorrow. We’re going to have a conversation with Scott Sauls about how important it is for us, as families, to be spending more time with people who aren’t just exactly like us as we continue talking about an irresistible faith. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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