I have a confession to make: I often live my Christian life defensively.
But I don’t think I’m alone in this.
You see, in a world where Satan, sin, and evil run rampant, it’s easy to close our eyes and cover our ears in dismay. To become defensive.
How can we keep sin out of the church? We must remain separate and not conform to the ways of the world. We must be vigilant against the schemes of the devil.
The church becomes a group of scaredy-cat Christians trying to ward off sin. We live a defensive faith.
Earlier this month I had the chance to go on an eight day tour of Israel. Those eight days were some of the most spiritually enriching days of my life as I saw dozens of biblical and historic sites of Israel and was continually amazed how seeing the Bible’s sites enhanced my view of Scripture and Jesus.
One day while we were in the Galilee region, we went to Caesarea-Philippi.
Matthew 16:13-20 retells Jesus’ time at this very site. Jesus gathered His disciples together in a main area of the town and began asking questions. “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” I can imagine the disciples sheepishly looking at one another wondering who would answer. “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets,” they responded. But Jesus pressed further. “But who do you say that I am?” Now I can really imagine their uncertain glances as they thought it over. But quickly Simon Peter belted out, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
I can visualize the smile on Jesus’ face. Peter got it! “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Christians love this passage. We read with boldness the promise Jesus gives at the end concerning the Church that He is establishing, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
But for most of my life, I read this passage wrong.
A couple years ago I heard a message on this passage which completely changed the way I view these words of Jesus’ words.
I used to read this passage as if it said, “I will build my church, and the powers of hell shall not prevail against it.”
But it doesn’t say powers, it says gates.
What are gates used for? Defense. When Jesus says the gates of hell will not prevail, He is essentially saying: the church should not be trying to defensively keep back the devil but the devil should be trying to defensively keep back the church. The gates are for Satan, not for Christians!
Christians are called to be on the offense, not on the defense.
When I first realized this a couple years ago, a chill ran down my spine. But as we stood in Caesarea-Philippi and our professor, Dr. Vanlaninghamm, shared more about the implications of Jesus’ words, I had another *Aha* moment.
Caesarea-Philippi was renowned in the first century for one thing: the Pagan Temple of Pan. Jesus’ prophetic words regarding the church were spoken outside of a cave where pagans sacrificed to false gods.
These are shelves carved in the rock where idols would have sat in the Temple of Pan.
Jesus said this with one of the most powerful images of evil in the first century right behind him. I believe He did this purposefully, to inspire courage into His disciples that what He promised, He would bring to pass. This is as if Jesus today stood outside the prostitution bars in Bangkok, Thailand filled with innocent 18 year old girls and said, “I will build my church and the gates of these brothels will not prevail!”
You see, Jesus called His disciples, and us today, to be Christians on offense. But more than this, He calls us to go to the hard places to reach the lost.
Being a Christian on offense means not just being vocal about social issues like abortion, racism, and sexism but instead seeking to build relationships with young moms, getting to know a person from a different cultural background, and viewing your coworkers of the opposite sex as equal.
It means inviting a homeless woman into your house for a meal even when you might be looked down upon by your peers.
It means pursuing a friendship with your neighbor who is openly gay and not being afraid to love him and share Christ with him.
It means spending a Friday night at a bar with your alcoholic cousin because it’s the only place you can find him to invest in his life.
It means responding to God’s call to serve Him even if that means going to the most dangerous country in the world.
It means picking up your cross daily, denying yourself, and seeking opportunities to selflessly share Jesus with others for the glory of God.
In the end, we must cling to the promise Jesus left us: Christ will prevail through the church; Satan will lose. When Jesus rose from the grave, He defeated evil, sin and Satan forever. The battle has already been won! Today, we as His people are to model this reality with our lives and seek to bring the good news of Jesus to the dying world at our fingertips and around the world. This doesn’t mean conforming to the world in order to reach them. We are called to stand out yet go into the world. Jesus modeled this with His life. He stood out with the way He lived and taught yet spent His time with prostitutes, tax collectors, and outcasts. Let us seek to live as Jesus did. Let us not stay back in our Christian bubbles with defensive cowardice but go in offense to bring the good news of Jesus to the lost, broken, and needy of the world.