A pastor friend puts guests in his church at ease by giving them permission to “kick the tires of the Christian faith and his church.” It’s no surprise that this kind of environment draws people who are experiencing a disconnect between God and life, God and church, and church and life. I’ll admit that despite being a Christian and part of the church for a long time, I’ve often felt that disconnect. The best way to describe the experience is “lost.”
I don’t mean not knowing where you are and in need of direction. I mean what Merriam-Webster defines as lost:
1. Not made use of or claimed
2. No longer possessed or known
3. Destroyed physically or morally; desperate
4. Taken away; beyond reach; denied; hardened
5. Lacking assurance or self-confidence; helpless
I sometimes cringe when I hear preachers call non-Christians “lost people.” It sounds demeaning. If I’m sitting in a room and hear someone refer to me as lost because I don’t believe what they do, it’s likely that will be the last time they get an opportunity to talk to me about Jesus. Today, after spending most of my life trying to follow Jesus, I have a better understanding of what it means to be lost and what Jesus meant when he said that he “came to seek and save those who are lost” (Luke 19:10, NLT).
Webster has it right. Jesus didn’t define lostness as not being on his team. The lost people he sought to save were those who were considered useless, who didn’t belong, and who were in every way desperate, hardened, and helpless. In effect, they were nonpersons, denied access to their Creator—a Creator who would declare their worth to all and restore them to abundant life. The truth is one doesn’t have to be a non-Christian to be lost. I know.
I have the privilege of knowing a family who demonstrates for me what it means to go from being lost to being found: After having a child of their own with much difficulty, they decided to adopt. In 2009 they brought home a son from Russia. Nolen was chosen by my friends out of an orphanage to be part of their family. Nolen didn’t belong to anyone. Now he does. He belongs to all of us. His life changed forever the day he came home with my friends.
In a few weeks, my friends will be adding to their family again through adoption when they leave for Africa to welcome twin girls into their family.
Adoption in the Bible is rich in meaning and is a metaphor used for salvation. As my friends have made very real to me, it’s the process of God intentionally choosing us (Ephesians 1:5, 7), bringing us close, and moving us from helplessness and despair to incredible blessing. We are no longer nonpersons but children of God (Romans 9:4). We are freed from slavery to fear and given a family called the church. We’re given a story, meaning, and identity. And we receive an inheritance where we had none before (Romans 8:15, 23).
As you’re kicking the tires of the Christian faith and life to see what it’s like, I’m hoping this truth connects with you as much as it does me even today.
Jack Radcliffe is dean of The Youth Ministry Institute of the Tennessee Conference UMC and adjunct professor at Martin Methodist College. He has an MDiv from Ashland Theological Seminary in Ohio and a DMin in Practical Theology, Adolescent Development and Culture from Fuller Theological Seminary.