How does a ministry balance "come as you are" invitations to Christ with the Biblical call for transformation? In our multicultural, all inclusive, tolerance based society, this can be a difficult road to navigate. Do we insist upon immediate repentance of blatant sin or do we recognize a process of sanctification? Can a guy with a purple mohawk or a gal with multiple face piercings grow in Christ inwardly and still look the same on the outside. Where do we draw the line on "acceptable sin"? What is acceptable sin and is there even such a thing?
As society becomes more and more "tolerant" of, well, basically everything, how does the church, especially in the context of evangelism, respond to today's culture with a message of God's holiness and remain relevant? A big trap to avoid is, when we call others to holiness, we do not consider ourselves the model for holiness! Jesus Christ is the model of holiness. When a guy who grew up in an upper middle class home, in an upper middle class neighborhood goes to a seminary after college and then falls into a pastorate in an upper middle class church he has a much different life experience than most people to whom he will minister. This upper middle class pastor, who probably spends most of his adult life in a coat and tie, may believe the appearance of an average upper middle class person is the appearance that best represents holiness. The only problem is, Jesus never addressed hair style and clothes.
The Bible clearly tells us men should not wear women's clothes and women should not wear men's clothes. Where the Bible speaks on tattoos and piercings, it also prohibits the eating of bacon, shrimp and lobster... Unless you are practicing Judaism and relying on the Law of Moses for salvation (which cannot be done) these prohibitions do not apply, anyway.
So purple mohawk guy, pierced face gal, sleeved young man, Jesus loves you, hair dye, hardware, tattoos and all. God's purpose for you may very well include your less than traditional appearance.
Blatant sin, which we could categorize as sin that leads to death, should be addressed and dealt with as soon as possible in the life of a new believer. If a person is truly surrendering his life to Christ and not merely looking for "fire insurance" against hell, there should be some immediate repentance of blatant sin. If someone is coming to Christ for salvation, chances are he is well aware of the fact there is blatant sin needing to be dealt with and are seeking God because of that sin in the first place.
The early church fathers instructed the non-Jewish believers to abstain from sexual immorality, eating of blood, eating strangled food and food sacrificed to idols. We see a Biblical precedent in the book of Acts where people involved in witchcraft and sorcery immediately gave up their evil practices and burned their books and other associated items. So, yes, there are behaviors and lifestyle choices that are absolutely incompatible with the Christian life, and no, this is not an exhaustive list of what we can and cannot do.
Discipleship is the key to all of this, teaching the new believer about the role of the Holy Spirit in convicting conscience about sin and the role of the Holy Spirit in helping us overcome the desire to sin. This helps us avoid, all together, the question of "acceptable sin". In truth, there is no such thing as acceptable sin, however, there are certain things that are sin in the life of one and not the other. To a drunk, having a beer is sin, to a person who has no compulsion or desire to be drunk, relaxing with a beer probably is not a sin. Where the Bible speaks clearly, we should obey and where the Bible is silent, we ought to pray and seek the counsel of the Holy Spirit before we attempt to remove every perceived speck from our neighbor's eyes. (for more on the topic of specks and beams, CLICK HERE)
Come as you are evangelism is absolutely legitimate, but, a remain as you are message is just as wrong as saying "change so you look like me". God will change the new believer from the inside out, dealing with bad and dangerous behavior, not necessarily general appearance. So, the message should be, "come as you are, expect God to transform you and your life, but, be the person God has allowed you to become, because He has use of you whether you are more comfortable in a sweater vest or a leather vest". Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.