WASHINGTON (BP) — Being a disciple of Jesus means growing in recognizing the importance of the common good of people in society, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell D. Moore told college students at a conference in the country’s capital.
Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, spoke Jan. 27 on the first night of the five-day National Association of Evangelicals’ Christian Student Leadership Conference. Students from across the country gathered for the annual meeting, which focused on how evangelicals are to think about the common good.
When people are left to themselves, they “want Jesus to come in and just extend our own idolatry of the self out into the infinite future,” he said.
“Following after Christ means that we’re replacing this sense of self at center in the understanding that we are the supporting characters in other people’s stories,” Moore told about 65 students. “We start to recognize and pay attention [to] as we’re growing in Christ-likeness and as we’re growing in the Spirit … the significance of others and to recognize the worth and the dignity of people who can’t do anything for us.
“That’s the reason why we care about the unborn when the rest of the world would want to dehumanize them by speaking of them simply as zygotes and embryos and fetuses and unplanned pregnancies,” he said. “That’s the reason why we care about people who are suffering with AIDS and with other diseases. That’s why we care about women who are being trafficked. That’s why we care about immigrant communities that are suffering. That’s why we care about people who are in prison.”
Moore added, “[W]e learn for His priorities to become our priorities, which means we start caring about what it takes to cause the people around us to flourish, what it means for them to live in ways in which they are blessed rather than cursed.”
He addressed the question of Christian thinking on the common good by teaching on Luke 10:25-37, the account of Jesus’ encounter with a lawyer, who was an expert in the Jewish law, and of Jesus’ resultant parable of the Good Samaritan.
Christians often fail to think about the common good because of concern it will detract from either the Gospel or mission of Jesus, Moore said.
“And they have good reasons to think that [about the Gospel], because there are all sorts of people who would rather think about the common good than the Gospel,” he told the students. It happens in churches, denominations and organizations, Moore said.
“Sometimes people will say, ‘We want to make sure that we protect the mission of Jesus, so we don’t want to be concerned about anything other than spiritual things.’ We understand why people think that, because they see the mission turn into all kinds of other things.”
People are made right with God only by faith in Christ, he said. “But that transformation of the heart leads to a following of Jesus and obedience.
“[F]aith and obedience are not at odds with one another, as long as they’re put in the right perspective and with the right priority so that the faith works itself out in acts of obedience, in acts of mercy and the things Jesus has called us to do,” Moore told the students.
Those who embrace the Gospel understand Jesus “presents Himself in solidarity with the people that we encounter, especially those who are vulnerable, those who are in harm’s way, those who are oppressed,” he said.
Christians sometimes say they work for the common good to have a chance to share the Gospel. “That’s true, but that’s only part of it,” Moore said.
He recounted a story he heard about the people of a church who ministered to severely disabled children who were unaware of who was with them, children with whom they would never be able to share the Gospel. The person describing this ministry asked, he recalled, “Is it worth it to minister to them?”
Moore said, “That is exactly the kind of question that the New Testament answers over and over again, ‘Yes.’ There is a mysterious connection between our recognition of Jesus and our recognition of those who are our neighbors, those who are in harm’s way.”
“[T]he mission of Jesus is the extension of the life of Jesus,” he said. “Jesus preaches the kingdom of God, never backs down from preaching the Gospel with Himself as the center of it. And as He does that, Jesus listens to the cries of those who are vulnerable around Him in order to work toward well-being and the common good. He preaches. He heals. He casts out demons. He feeds. He listens. He touches. He loves.
“When we respond to the cries of the unborn, when we welcome the orphan, when we hold the diseased, when we in our own churches first signify to the rest of the world that no one is without value, no one is without dignity, no one is without worth, all we’re doing is by the power of the Holy Spirit being conformed into the image of Jesus so that His priorities are our priorities, His mission is our mission, and His future is our future.
“[W]hen you work for justice, when you work for righteousness and when you do it with the Gospel at the center, you’re following in the way” of Christ, Moore said.
Sometimes Christians “are going to disagree on what is the best way” to work for justice “because the issues are often complex, he said. “How do we help the poor in a way that doesn’t simply just give people short-term money but actually causes people to flourish, to maintain families and to maintain communities and to carry out the purpose that comes with vocation?”
During a question-and-answer time with the students after his speech, Moore addressed how followers of Christ should respond to opposition. He recommended a Christian ask two questions:
— “Are my critics right about what it is they’re saying about me?
— “Am I being clear in what it is that I am saying?”
He said Christians should “want the right kind of opposition.”
“What you want to see is … the opposition is coming because you are standing with the Gospel and with the Word of God,” Moore said.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).