Last month I shared, and affirmed, this quote from Beth Moore (sorry for all the Beth Moore this week…well, sorry/not sorry!), and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it:
“You will watch a generation of Christians – of Christians – set the Bible aside in an attempt to become more like Jesus. And stunningly, it will sound completely plausible. This will be perhaps the cleverest of all the devil’s schemes in your generation. Sacrifice TRUTH for LOVE’s sake. And you will rise or fall based upon whether you will sacrifice one for the other. Will you have the courage to live in the tension of both truth and love?”
I first heard these words on the day Beth preached them at Passion 2017. I sat in my car, glued to my phone, while her words poured out like fire. I needed to go inside and work, but I couldn’t pull myself away. I was riveted by her message because it mattered a lot. The above statement, in context, was not a swipe at anyone in particular, but a challenge to those called to ministry, a challenge to keep their true north.
A few days later the quote went viral, almost taking on a life of its own, and inspiring a good bit of debate. For me, however, this statement addresses something deeper and more widespread than any of the debates ever addressed. I think Beth is getting at a mindset that has seeped into nearly every strand of Christianity, and is deeply problematic, which can be summarized as this:
The ends justify the means.
You’re probably familiar with this term, which essentially means “the outcome justifies the method.” So long as we get what we want in the end, it doesn’t matter how we got there. This kind of perspective is everywhere, and it has actually been used to accomplish some really, really good things. Case in point: loving people. There is a real (and understandable!) temptation to downplay certain aspects of Scripture, or ignore them entirely, because they get in the way of loving people. And I am SO sympathetic to this. Scripture has been used and abused to hurt people, so I get why Christians would do this. And yet, at its core, this is an “ends justify the means” mentality.
Now, before it seems like I’m picking on one type of Christian, I want to re-emphasize that this mentality is everywhere. We see it when people endorse violence in order to achieve peace. We see it when pastors use emotionally manipulative strategies to get members, or raise money for a good cause. We see it when Christians choose a “lesser of two evils” in order to achieve an ideal outcome.
This mindset is absolutely rampant, but here is the reason we need to resist it:
In the gospel of Christ, the means are just as important as the ends.
When we look at Jesus–his life, death, and resurrection–we can’t subtract one. There is no death without his life. There is no resurrection without his death. There is no eternal life without Jesus becoming human, taking the form of a servant, and coming near so that our sin could be nailed to a cross.
Jesus’ means were just as important as his ends, and we are called to bear witness to both. Not just part of it, and not just the stuff we like. But all of it. That means we bear witness to:
- Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law, and his upholding of the entire Word of God (Matt. 5:17, Matt. 4, John 10:35)
- Jesus’ ministry on earth–how he spent his time, with whom he spent his time, and how he treated people
- Jesus’ sacrificial, self-giving love (Phil. 2)
- Jesus’ stern words about hypocrisy and sin, and judgment (Matt. 23, 25)
- Jesus’ radical words about grace (John 8)
- Jesus’ rejection of power struggles (Luke 23:3)
- Jesus’ ultimate “means” for accomplishing God’s plan of salvation: a cross (John 19:30)
Those were Jesus’ “means.”
Now, God is a redeemer. He is perfectly able to take our sin and our broken “means” and transform them into beautiful ends. But as Paul put it in Romans 6, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” God’s ability to redeem our broken means does not instill them with inherent worth.
Instead, we should be skeptical of any means that requires others to die in place of us. We should be skeptical of any means that has a lower view of Scripture than Jesus did. And we should be skeptical of any means that takes short cuts where Jesus took the cross.
Because here’s the thing: you can only leave out Scripture so many times before it’s no longer really necessary to your teaching. You can only leave out Jesus so many times before he’s no longer the center of your faith, but simply an accessory to it. And you can only leave out Jesus’ example and teaching so many times before they function only as suggestions, rather than holy commands.
Friends, if we are going to be faithful, then the means must be just as important as the ends. We must hold onto the fullness of Scripture, and the fullness of Jesus’ life and death, if we are going to be fully faithful to God. I’ve heard it said that there are beliefs we hold in an open hand, and beliefs we hold in a closed hand. When it comes to God’s two primary revelations of Himself–Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and the inspired Word of God–these we hold tight.