Two summers ago, over the Fourth of July weekend, I visited a friend in the hospital. As I walked into the ICU room, the TV mounted on the ceiling glared into the darkness. The movie Jaws was playing, which I suppose has become standard fare for Independence Day television viewing. The patient was sleeping, so I sat down and began to watch. It had been several years since I’d seen it, and I picked up at (of course) the Fourth of July scene on the beach.
If you’re familiar with the movie, this is a very tense scene. The beach had been closed because of recent shark attacks, but the City of Amity had made the decision to reopen for the Fourth since a large shark had been caught and destroyed. The beach was the town’s only industry, and without tourism dollars, the town couldn’t survive the long winter months. So of course, the beach was packed with residents and tourists celebrating the holiday.
But there was a problem. No one was going in the water.
Again, if you’re familiar, you know there were two important men present that day, with two very different agendas. Mayor Larry Vaughn was there, dressed in his finest summer suit for the festivities. And Sheriff Martin Brody was also there, equipped with a pair of binoculars and a walkie-talkie, assisted by other officers patrolling in boats and flying overhead in helicopters. Sheriff Brody had vehemently disagreed with the decision to reopen the beach, believing the true predator was still out in those waters. Up to this point in the movie he’d been ridiculed and even threatened for his vigilance and insistence that there really was still a shark out there, that it was a big one, and that it was deadly.
But Mayor Vaughn was irritated that Brody’s crying “shark” had people afraid to actually go into the water, so he coaxed an older couple and their grandchildren to go on in, the water is fine, all is well. The crowd followed. The results were tragic. The sheriff was right. The mayor was wrong.
The Watchman on the Wall
Later as I was reflecting on that scene, I was reminded of Ezekiel 33, where God describes to Ezekiel the job of a watchman. In ancient times, when a watchman was posted on the wall of a city, his job was to vigilantly scan the horizon for approaching enemies. If he saw something and didn’t warn the people and they died, their blood was on him. But if he warned them and they didn’t heed that warning, they were responsible for their own fates. Then God told Ezekiel that he was making him the watchman for Israel, and that he should warn people about their sin. If he failed to warn them and they died in their sin, their blood was on him. If he warned them and they failed to repent of their sin and died, they were responsible for their own fates.
In Jaws, who was the better watchman, Mayor Vaughn or Sheriff Brody?
Judging or Warning?
There is a notion these days that calling someone a sinner or any behavior sinful is judgmental and unloving. Two Bible verses used over and over to support that notion are “Judge not, lest ye be judged” (Matthew 7:1) and “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7). Yes, Jesus said both of those things, but did He mean that one should never tell others that their behavior is sinful and, if continued, will result in eternal punishment? On the contrary, Jesus spoke just as clearly about hell as He did about heaven and forgiveness.
A Christian is someone who has been born again by the power of the Holy Spirit of God, given eternal life, forgiven of sin, and given the desire and power to overcome the slavery to sin. A Christian now sees the light of the gospel of the glory of Jesus Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:2), and sees that He is beautiful and holy and worth whatever price must be paid to know, love, obey, and serve Him. People who have that experience are compelled to tell you about it, out of love for Him and love for you. True followers of Christ are not pointing fingers; they’re standing at His cross, begging you to come there too and receive what they have received.
So please understand something. When a Christian says that you are a sinner, that the wages of sin is death, and that the penalty is eternal hell, they’re not hating you, being mean to you, or picking on you. They’re not “judging” or “throwing stones.” They’re doing what God has asked of them. God’s desire is that no one perish, and that is a true Christian’s desire as well. The goal is conviction, not condemnation.
Lies and Half Truths
Now, there are two other groups of people claiming to be Christians. One group is pointing fingers and calling names. The other group is saying go on in, the water is fine, there isn’t a shark. They say God is love and He accepts you as you are. But that is only part of the truth. The whole truth is that God is love and you can only come as you are, but if you come to Him you must repent of your sin. To repent means to have a drastic change of mind and heart, to see your sin for what it is and hate it. Once you have repented, you should be baptized and then begin to walk, by the power of the Holy Spirit who now lives in you, in the newness of life that you have been given. True repentance will always lead to a hatred of sin, and it will always result in action being taken to leave a life of sin. It’s true that Jesus is a friend of sinners, but He’s such a great friend that he won’t leave you in that former state where you’re overcome by your sin. He will help you, strengthen you, teach you, correct you, punish and discipline you, and change you.
So if someone who claims to be a Christian is pointing a finger at you or calling you names, or if they’re telling you that you’re okay and Jesus is okay with you the way you are, rest assured that they are not representing the Jesus of the Bible — the one who said things like “The world hates me because I accuse it of doing evil” (John 7:7) and “unless you believe that I am who I claim to be, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). No, Jesus did not throw a stone at the woman who was caught in the act of adultery. But He did tell her to go and leave her life of sin. That is what He said to me, by His written word and by the Holy Spirit, and that is what He will also say to you. Love only wins because true Love warns.
The Christian’s Responsibility
And Christian, you are a watchman. Are you more like Mayor Vaughn or Sheriff Brody? Are you warning people about sin and hell and offering them the good news of the Gospel, or are you pointing fingers and calling names? Are you accurately representing the Jesus of the Bible, or are you telling them He’s okay with sin? Yes, it’s costly to be a good watchman. It may cost you your job, your reputation, your relationships. It may cost you your life. But truthfully, the cost is so much higher to face Jesus one day and know that you did not warn people while they still had the chance to repent and live. If you don’t know what you need to do, open the Book and get some help from someone who understands it. If you’re intimidated, ask God for strength and courage. He’ll give it to you. But please, don’t be silent. Someone’s life depends on you.