Loving Messy People: The Goal and the Gospel

Almost every system to deal with people’s messes caters to self-defined goals. Whether you want to be happier, calmer, more productive, more disciplined, or less stressed, there are countless self-help resources and professionals with the express purpose of helping you change in the exact ways you desire. We define our own messes, and so we also define our own goals of change.

However, if we are going to follow God’s call to speak the truth in love to one another, we must first clarify what the goal of that love-filled truth is. More specifically, we must make sure that our goal is in line with God’s goal. Thankfully, God has communicated his goal for our ministry clearly and repeatedly in Scripture.

God’s will for our lives as Christians is no secret. His goal for us is not simply that we would have better marriages, be less anxious, be happier, or feel fulfilled (although those are all natural byproducts of his goal). God’s goal for us is that we would become more like Christ. Having reconciled us to himself through Christ, God is in the process of transforming us more and more into his image.

Consequently, God’s goal for our ministry to one another must be to help one another become more like Christ too. There are all sorts of different goals we could pursue, but only helping one another grow closer to Christ and become more like him can accurately be described as “truthing in love.”

When God’s goal becomes our goal, we won’t be encouraging others to pursue their own passions and desires. We won’t be trying to help people identify and achieve their self-focused dreams. Instead, we will be reminding them of the truth, implications, and expectations of the gospel. We’ll be reminding them that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5: 24). We’ll be reminding them what God has designed them for, and what he has promised to produce in them. His Spirit dwells in every Christian and naturally produces Christlikeness in the midst of every one of our messes: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5: 22– 23).

Interestingly, if you listen to the mess of any Christian’s heart, the opposite of that struggle is inevitably described here in this list. This is what it means to say that Scripture truly is sufficient for all of life. The sanctifying work of the Spirit addresses every aspect of the mess we experience. But when we define our own goals, we find that, while they are similar, those goals simply don’t go deep enough.

In the midst of marital strife we want to get our own way, but God wants to produce love, peace, and faithfulness. In the midst of depression we want happiness, but God wants to give us lasting joy. In the midst of anger we want to be able to stay calm, but God wants to produce true peace and gentleness. In the midst of overeating we want to lose a few pounds, but God wants us to develop true self-control in all areas of our lives.

God wants to go deeper. He is after our hearts. He wants us to be like him. This is what he created us for, and what he re-created us for. Our goal in personal ministry must be his goal.

The goal of all biblical personal ministry is to help one another become more like Jesus.

Excerpted from Loving Messy People: The Messy Art of Helping One Another Become More Like Jesus by Scott Mehl. Now available for pre-order.

Shepherd Press