I recently heard Bible scholar Dr. Michael Heisner say that when Paul went into a town he searched two places, the synagogue and the jail. He did this because he knew he would start at one and end up in the other. Paul knew just how confrontational the message of the cross would be.
There is a popular phrase that circulates around churches that says you may be only Bible someone ever reads. Meaning, your life should reflect the gospel to others. However, people are not going to come to faith by osmosis, simply because you were kind to them or gave the homeless guy by your office your jacket. Without a doubt these are Godly actions, but they are not the full gospel. I see in scripture that Jesus commanded his disciples to go out, two by two and call people to repentance. He then told them that if they do not want to hear it, shake the dirt off of your sandals at their doorstep and go somewhere else. I personally can not think of anything more confrontational then calling someone to repentance. It can feel like a dagger of betrayal or hate speech to the person on the receiving end. But the call to repentance is the message that Jesus sends his disciples out to teach. We see very little of this from the pulpit or personal interactions with Christians today. I have had many neighbors that I had hoped would come to Jesus simply because they knew I was a christian and that I was a nice guy. I regret the fact that I have moved never knowing whether or not they were saved simply because I didn't have the courage to ask.
Often times we confuse our morality with the gospel. We assume that by living a good life others are going to be attracted to that and we hope they start the conversation so we can gladly proclaim the gospel. It's wonderful when this happens, but we must never forget that morality is not the gospel. Repentant faith in Jesus as Lord and God is the gospel. That is why confrontation is so important. Confrontation brings clarity to ambiguous spiritual talk.
If you have read this far, you might be squirming a bit in your seat because we have been ingrained with the idea that we should avoid confrontations at all cost. The term brings up mean Bible thumpers or nuns with a ruler ready to slap our hands. But confrontation is necessary anytime truth is being discussed. Truth by very definition separates itself from lies. That is why when Jesus sends out the disciples he instructs them to call people to repentance. He does not tell them to go and make friends for a few years and hope someone asks them about the bumper sticker on the back of their camel. He tells them to go and confront sinful people with their sinfulness. Relational ministry is still very important, we walk with people sometimes for years before they make a decision to reject or accept Christ. But we must not sacrifice the gospel for the sake of the relationship.
"Confrontation brings clarity to ambiguous spiritual talk"
Confrontation can be done in such a way that it doesn't come across as hateful. Think of the story of Jesus meeting the woman at the well. He is kind, but also very confrontational. He mentions that she has had many husbands and is currently with a man she isn't married to. We know from the context that she came to the well at that time most likely to avoid the very type of conversation Jesus intended to have. We can imagine that she had been confronted before by family and friends about her lifestyle. Just from my own experience there were times before I was saved that simply waking up and looking in the mirror I was confronted with the reality of my sinfulness. But Jesus did not just confront her illness he treated her spiritual sickness. A doctor always has to diagnose the problem before he can prescribe a cure.
If we are going to make any attempt at following the example of Jesus and the disciples then confrontation must be apart of that. It is a necessary act of love that is uncomfortable for many. And it should be uncomfortable to a degree, because we are laying out the sinfulness that a person already knows they have deep down in their heart. But we are not laying it bare so that we can mock them, we expose the wounds so that we may treat them.
So, have you every actually asked your neighbors, “Do you know Jesus and have you repented of sins and made him Lord?” Without Godly boldness and loving confrontation, we do not give the gospel the clarity it deserves.
Caleb is lead pastor at Logos Church and enjoys writing about pop culture, Star Wars, Jesus and what effective ministry might look like in Tulsa.