Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Taking our Cues from the Devil

One well-intended Christian (I’ll refer to him as “Bill”), expressing the view of many Christians, is convinced that the world rejects us because we are offensive:

  • Jesus is respected among all but the most intransigent scoffers. It is the behaviour of Christians that people object to…Simply claiming a divine mandate to behave however we see fit, and blaming others for not seeing the beauty of the Gospel, is precisely the kind of hubris that people rightly object to.
Bill does have a point. To preach the Gospel – to evangelize – without showing love, respect and patience (2 Tim. 2:24-25) is blameworthy. He also correctly points out that our divine vocation shouldn’t be an excuse to “behave however we see fit.” We should be on a growth-journey, and our goal should be nothing less that conformity to the example of our Savior (1 Peter 1:15-16).

However, I think that Bill has some unwarranted assumptions:

Although Bill is correct that the typical unbeliever expresses more respect for Jesus than for the church or for Christians, he assumes they respect the Jesus of the Bible. Instead, my experience has been that when they express respect for Jesus, it is for their own conception of Jesus. They often see Him as a revolutionary or an iconoclast, as someone who is overthrowing all religion or theology. Therefore, we shouldn’t interpret their expressed respect for “Jesus” as an openness to the Gospel.

Bill also assumes that “it is the behaviour of Christians that people object to” and than the offensiveness of the Gospel itself. Instead, the Gospel has always been highly offensive to the natural man. It claims:

  1. We are all sinners who deserve nothing but death from a righteous God.
  2. We cannot save ourselves. We can never be good enough.
  3. There is only one way to be saved and that is through faith in the Savior.
  4. Anyone who does not believe is condemned eternally.
I don’t know why Bill thinks he can trust the judgment of the unbeliever, someone who suppresses the truth (Rom. 1:18-20), hates the light (John 3:19-20), and regards the things of the Spirit as “foolishness” (1 Cor. 2:14). On top of this, Jesus promises us that we will be persecuted as He has been persecuted (John 15:18-20), even to the point of death (John 16:1-2).

Nevertheless, I am sure that there is some truth in the claims that Bill has heard. In many ways, we fall far short of our Lord. This should not be surprising. God has chosen this world’s rejects (1 Cor. 1:26-29). We therefore come to him with many social deformities. We are often lacking in suave, sensitivity, and even an understanding of the culture of others. This might make us prone to stepping on their toes.

Also, we find ourselves in a psychological pressure-cooker. This is because our Lord is in the painful process of refining us (1 Peter 4:17), and this can make our lives look pretty messy at times.

However, this isn’t the final page of our biography. There is another dimension that we must not overlook, lest the world intimidate us into silence. Our Lord uses us supernaturally as we take our baby-steps in obedience to our calling:

  • For we are…the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? (2 Cor. 2:15-16)

Consequently, while some are nauseated by us, other are detecting something heavenly about our lives, something that profoundly attracts them to the mercy of God within us.

Nevertheless, as Bill suggests, we shouldn’t allow this divine perspective to create spiritual laziness. A recent Pew survey revealed that Christians know less about their own religion and do atheists. This is deplorable and helps to explain why we are so reluctant to spread the Gospel! It also helps to explain why many Christians are in flight-mode around the unsaved.

Bill is also right that we shouldn’t condemn others for not accepting the Gospel. We do not have this right! Apart from the grace of God, we’d be no better than they. If we condemn or look down on others, we are therefore acting in a way that is antithetical to the Gospel, as Paul warned:

  • For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? (1 Cor. 4:7)
However, I wonder how many have been turned off to the Gospel because of such attitudes. We need to examine ourselves. However, I think that it is both self-destructive and church-destructive to carry around with us a “mea culpa” attitude, as many younger Christians do. They have been convinced that the church has utterly failed in its mission.

Consequently, embarrassed by the church, we have set about to remake the church into something else, in hope that the world will love us. We have watered down the teachings of the Bible; we have pursued professional respectability by embracing evolution, sexual experimentation and a series of politically correct “isms.” We have given ourselves over to mysticism and post-modern skepticism as alternatives to the teachings of the Bible and have mistaken the acceptance of the world as the acceptance of God.

We do need criticism, but it must be constructive criticism, which points to specific attitudes or behaviors that need to be changed, not the global indictments of a world that hates the Gospel. May God fortify us for the journey!

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