In this last article, I want to suggest a possible conversation with Joel that takes seriously (1) an approach to Scripture as an unfolding redemptive story that centers on Jesus Christ and (2) an approach to Joel that takes into account his experience as a saint, sufferer, and sinner. I want to revisit a text I mentioned in the first article—1 Corinthians 6:18—but use it in a multifaceted way. What might a snippet of conversation look like?
You: Joel, thanks for being willing to sit down and talk. I know a lot has been going on, with your parents in the midst of divorce proceedings.
Joel: Yeah. I never believed something like this could happen—it’s rocking my world.
You: I also know that you really feel burned by Melissa. [Joel looks down.] You must be struggling with a lot of anger and disappointment right now.
Joel: What can I say? I’m ticked at my parents, Melissa, even God. I’m tired of playing the Christian game anymore. At least the non-Christians I know aren’t pretending to be someone they’re not.
You: It’s interesting you put it that way. In some ways, I feel you are pretending to be someone you’re not.
Joel: What do you mean?
You: Well, I was reading this passage, 1 Corinthians 6:18–20, earlier this week and I thought of you. Could I share a bit?
You: In this passage, Paul is urging repentance from sexual sin and—
Joel: I don’t want to hear this.
You: Wait a minute, I want you to see something else first. Let me read verses 18–20. [Reads the passage.] Paul is not just pulling commands out of thin air. He’s building an argument for sexual purity by stressing the identity of the Corinthians in Christ. They’ve been incorporated into God’s story! He’s saying they’ve—you’ve—got the Holy Spirit. You’ve been bought—redeemed—at great cost. You’re united with Christ. You’re not your own.
You: That’s your true identity. Joel, I’ve known you for nearly 10 years, since you were just a kid. I’ve seen the authenticity of your faith. I’ve seen you live out the reality of your connection with Jesus. I’ve seen God’s grace in action in your life. I know that over the last six months or so the suffering that you’ve experienced has clouded your vision and made it hard to see who you really belong to. The choices you’re making right now aren’t in line with your real identity! It’s like you’re pretending to be someone you’re not.
Joel: Well, I’m not sure who I am anymore.
You: C’mon, let’s grab a cup of coffee. Let’s take a walk and talk further…
While this is a highly idealized conversation, compressed for the sake of illustration, I hope you see how different this approach is from a “take two verses and call me in the morning” approach to ministering the Word. By keeping our eyes open for the ways in which any passage connects with Jesus Christ, and by approaching people as saints, sufferers, and sinners, we are better prepared to bring the riches of Scripture to bear on the realities of life. No more Bible bandaids—for Joel, or for anyone else!
This blog is adapted from the book CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet (New Growth Press, 2009).