On a recent trip TLI was able to train a small group of about 10 pastors who serve in a difficult Himalayan region. The challenges there reach far higher than its mountainous elevation. To be a Christian in this predominantly Buddhist country is to deny your national and cultural identity. Accompanying social and governmental pressures take the normal challenges of everyday ministry and make them even more demanding. Meanwhile, the small and struggling church there is sadly weighted down by much man-made tradition and legalistic teaching.
John's Gospel was the subject of our week-long training. In our study we moved through the book chapter by chapter, helping the students see the way in which the story unfolds the life and ministry of Christ. One of the main points we demonstrated from the Gospel was how John positions the grace of Jesus against the legalism of the Jewish community. Focusing on two Sabbath healings from John 5 and John 9, we saw the amazing grace of Christ expose the heartless legalism of the nation's leaders.
At the end of the week, James*, one of the trainees, rose to preach his assigned text, which also happened to be from John 9. He stood before the class, giving his presentation and explaining the misapplied legalism of the Pharisees. Then, almost mid-sentence, he paused, turned to the TLI teachers and admitted, "I think I'm guilty of the same mistakes in my own ministry." His confession was astonishing.
As James confronted the text of John and considered his own ministry, he recognized many of the same legalistic tendencies. This pastor, by God's grace and through his Word, essentially saw how he was misrepresenting God's goodness in the way he preached the gospel to his community. And in light of the truth of John 9 he wanted to turn his focus more clearly on the grace of God expressed perfectly through Jesus.
“This pastor, by God's grace and through his Word, essentially saw how he was misrepresenting God's goodness in the way he preached the gospel to his community.”
James' confession was instructive to the class. It was also incredibly encouraging to the TLI trainers. This, after all, is why we do what we do. It is such a great joy to see how the Word of God has the ability to expose our sin and mercifully lead us to repentance and faith. Now James can return to his people proclaiming with even more clarity and grace the good news of Jesus Christ.
*Name changed for security purposes