In Ireland the most common material for fences is rock. The gates may be wood but the fences themselves are most likely piles of rocks. There is a simple reason for this. When clearing a field for planting you come up with many extra rocks. Some have gone so far as to say the most common field crop in Ireland was never potatoes, it was stones. Before you can plant a field it needs to be cleared of all these rocks, and what better way to use them than for fencing?
In our lives we also have fields of rocks. As we teach others (just as when we were taught) we often face fields full of the rocks of sin. We are people; sin is our most common crop. We must clear the fields before planting more productive things. Our tendency is to try to move the rocks one by one. But where to put them? We take people’s sins and try to build walls out of them. In order to teach someone about Christ, we first pick up this sin (usually announcing loudly to the world that we found a sin) and move it to one side. Then we go back and find another sin, and place it with the first one. After a long time, and much back-breaking work, we figure that we have cleared enough sin to plant the seed of the gospel.
But now we have a wall of sin. In any given person we might even be able to identify that “I found this rock right over there,” or “This stone was hidden in the high grass.” We have cleared the field, but we have not gotten rid of the rocks. Instead we have merely exposed them all for every traveler to see. We have built a wall of sin around the field, but we forgot to build a stile so that people (Jesus) can get into the field. We have cleared the ground, but not gotten rid of the rocks.
By identifying and moving sin around in this way, we also create a wall that sometimes fences the individual in. When he/she sees all those sins that we picked up and pointed out, they realize the enormity of their sin, but often not the possibility of its total removal. They feel that their sin is too great to forgive.
This is the way many of us approach evangelism. Our top priority is to identify sin and move it aside. After all, we can’t get rid of it ourselves. We just have to shift it. In identifying and opposing sin, we end up building a wall of defensiveness that actually keeps Jesus out of a life.
Recently the owner of a certain business was asked his personal position on a sensitive issue. Some people took his answer and blew it up into a national scandal. Some who claim to be Christians then made it appear that the issue was an unforgivable sin. They engaged in finger pointing, as if that were the only sin in the world. The implication was that they could associate with, or at least tolerate, any other sinners. One got the impression that some people would have stood by a friend convicted of murder, but would reject one who even hinted at committing this particular sin.
Jesus has a different approach. He doesn’t seem to care how many rocks are in the field, or where they are. He doesn’t even care how big they are. He simply removes them all at one time. He doesn’t even need to point them out. They just disappear. No rock walls. No broken plows. He clears the field, and then plants the Holy Spirit who bears fruit. (Gal 5:22-23)
Maybe some rocks will reappear. He doesn’t accuse, he just forgives. (1 Jn 1:7) Why can’t we be like Jesus?