Within one tenth of a second we form an opinion of people we meet. Our mind takes in their face, height, weight, tone of voice, race, age, posture, and language, as well as other factors. Processing that information we decide, almost instantaneously, if a person is trustworthy, if we want to talk further to them, along with many other conclusions. How accurate are we? Surprisingly, first impressions are not as superficial as they might sound. They serve a valuable purpose in our busy world, helping us to interact with others. As most of us could testify, some first impressions are far wide of the mark and, in time, we find that a person we did not find attractive to us is really someone who has much to offer us. Then, too, some are quite skilled at pretense and make a great impression but not long after we find that the reality is nothing like the image!
Paul, the apostle, who was known as Saul in the early part of his life, got things very wrong at first. He took in information about Jesus Christ and concluded that He could not be Messiah, that He was a terrible threat to Judaism, and that His followers were a deluded, dangerous lot! He persecuted the Church with zeal until he had a personal encounter that changed his first impressions. On the road to Damascus, when Jesus appeared to him to ask, “Saul, why are persecuting me?” his mind and heart were changed. The Pharisee became a Christian. The man devoted to the Law became a messenger of God’s grace.
Writing to the church in Corinth, and to us, he said; “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.” (2 Corinthians 5:16, NIV) The sight of the Christian is not informed by the obvious. With the help of the Spirit, he sees deeper, past the surface. “No more determining who is worthy of being within the reach of God’s grace,” Paul says. Christian, we must never, based on first impressions, conclude that someone is beyond God’s salvation. “He could never be a Christian,” is a statement of prejudice we cannot make. Don’t misunderstand. He is not saying that we cannot evaluate the actions of others. What God calls sin, we call sin. What God desires, we love. But, we are not to make the final judgment about who is ‘in Christ,’ or called by Him! But, Paul acknowledges that at first he even got it wrong about the Son of God! Nobody thought Saul a candidate for conversion, but God saw faith and met the man where he was.
The resurrection life of Christ starts inside, hidden at first from view, and makes itself evident in time with a transformed life. So, Paul tells us, “Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other.” (The Message 2 Cor. 5:17-18) God sends the message. You and I are just messengers. We don’t get to discriminate or decide to whom we will speak. “We are Christ’s ambassadors, and God is using us to speak to you. We urge you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, “Be reconciled to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21, NLT)
Are you unconsciously deciding who should hear the Gospel? Are you deciding that your friend, sophisticated and apparently in no need of God, has no hunger for Christ? Are you picking and choosing who you should love enough to tell them of Christ’s love? Stop it! What’s ‘obvious’ to us is not necessarily the truth. Christ died for all. We extend the Gospel to all and God alone sees and knows which heart will respond to His offer of grace with that flicker of faith that leads to a new life.
Here’s the word from the Word. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18, NIV)