A couple weeks ago, we were having a conversation with the street youth concerning salvation by grace. We were discussing that you can still go to heaven no matter what you have done and that it essentially does not matter whether or not you follow the “rules.” (What does matter is a personal and saving relationship with Jesus.) After discussing for a little while, a youth from the back of the room solemnly spoke up, “You mean I don't have to go to hell?”
How such a simple statement can tell so much not only about the youth but also about the church she encountered! It seems to have spent way too much time preaching condemnation. I feel like the impression many nonbelievers have about Christianity relates to “fire and brimstone.” Not only that, but how many times have you heard nonbelievers deny a call to salvation because they do not want to or do not think they have the ability to follow all of the rules we put forth? I am not saying that the church should eliminate the sermon on judgment nor should congregations stop seeking holiness. I am saying is that the church (that means not only the pastors and church staff but also you and I!) need not forget the reason God brings judgment and that is to eradicate anything that hinders love.
The tactic of scaring and condemning people rather than loving people to Jesus has played a huge role in the lives of the street youth. A great number of street youth grew up in church, yet today will not even set foot in a church building. I have heard multiple times from multiple youth something along the lines of, “Oh I cannot come to your bible study because it is in the church and God will strike me down” or “the church will be struck down on behalf of my sin.” In the youth’s times of great brokenness and of most desperate need, the church's message seems to be that they are not good enough–that they have gone too far and done too much. I believe many of the youth probably spent some time in their pasts trying to live up to exceedingly high standards of "church,"and through each failure they began to condemn themselves even more than the church ever had. In their failures they have deemed themselves unworthy of the treasures of heaven as well as the treasures of this earth: health, prosperity, stability, strong relationships, self-respect, purpose, etc.
In spite of this, let us no longer look at the street youth and preach to them in accordance with the way that the world sees them. Rather, let us see them as our heavenly Father sees them. Let us stop defining them by their weaknesses and rather by the inherent strengths and purposes that God has destined in them. Despite what they have done (and do) and despite that they may not follow all the rules, God has called them his own, he has called them his people, he has called them his beloved. Let us also look upon them with these same eyes of love, and let us never cease to tell them of our love and acceptance of them and the even deeper love and acceptance of their Father.