I want to briefly share a story of two Christians. Similar to the story of the prodigal son, this story is intended to be a parable for us to learn an important lesson about living our faith.
There was once two Christians. One was a man of God. Not a priest or anything, just a normal man that sought after God and his ways daily. He had a friend who was also a Christian. However, this second man was far from God.
The First Man
But he knew that for all the good that he did everyday, were it not for what Jesus Christ did for him, he would be lost forever.
The Second Man
The second man was also a good person. He rose early from bed to do his work, but he rarely thought about God and very rarely remembered to pray or thank God for his good fortune. And why should he? He worked very hard, and wasn’t the good career and money he was earning a result of his own hard work? He lived a very comfortable life and because of his self-sufficiency rarely thought about God. But if he ever needed God, he knew that He would be available. He felt proud because he was one of the “good people” and didn’t really need God’s love and grace. He felt sorry for all the other sinners out there, but was happy that Jesus loved them regardless of their sins. He served when he was asked to as long as it fit his schedule. But he couldn’t help but think that he had more important things he could be doing for God. Strangely, he never did the more important things, but chose to grumble and complain about what was was asked to do. Most importantly, he went to church every sunday. He loved the pastor and most of the time he received a good message, with lots of useful tips, which is why he kept going every Sunday.
On the surface, both men would appear to be very similar. Both would appear to be Christian. God loved both of the men, but only one was a Christian in his heart. Jeremiah 17:10 says “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.”
The lesson is that you may be able to “act” Christian, but to be a follower of Jesus Christ, you must BE a Christian with all your heart, mind, and soul.
The lesson is that you may be able to “act” Christian, but to be a follower of Jesus Christ, you must BE a Christian with all your heart, mind, and soul. God knows the difference even if you can fool everyone else.
Being a Christian means more than saying you are so, and going to church every Sunday. You must ever strive to live as God calls you to live. You must be in relationship with God, and humbly submit to His will everyday. Being a Christian means you are a follower of Christ. Are you following or trying to lead your own life?
So, think about the two men in this story. Which of the two men are you more like? If you find yourself relating more to the second man, I urge you to recommit your life to Christ, and humbly follow him every day of your life.
Logically speaking, the outward behavior of Christian people should be irrelevant to the truth of Jesus Christ. Even true believers who know the gospel are prone to fail once in a while. What matters is what the Bible actually teaches, which is far from what the world sees in Christians.
Still, this objection is still very real to a lot of people, so it deserves to be addressed.
Instead of drawing people toward Christ, many of us are turning off the world to the message.
*Taking off the robot hat.
As a human being, it’s easy to discredit a belief system or religion if you see its adherents acting in unflattering ways. It’s just a natural response. In fact, Jesus was well aware of this natural tendency of human beings and instructed Christians to be like salt or a light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16), meaning we’re supposed to set a good example and positively influence the world around us. Salt is meant to represent something that not only brings out full goodness (flavor), but also to preserve and keep things from rotting. We are to be holy and uphold morality in a world that naturally degenerates toward sin. A light, obviously, shines and counters the darkness, showing the right path.
Unfortunately, Christians seem to be failing in great measure (though to be fair, some succeed). Instead of drawing people toward Christ, many of us are turning off the world to the message. As Ghandi famously said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
So what exactly is the problem? Let’s start with the root of the problem…
Most “Christians” are not actually saved.
This part should come as no surprise to some people, especially considering my deluge of posts about this topic recently. Sadly, many modern churchgoers—especially in America—believe themselves to be Christian, but are really participating in just another religion. A true relationship with Christ and the changing power of the Holy Spirit cannot be found in them.
Some people estimate that perhaps only 5–10% of so-called Christians in America are actually true followers. This means that the vast majority of people are living by their own flesh, and therefore are just as likely as the rest of the world to succumb to temptations and fall to sin. The problem is, if an atheist person committed some morally questionable act, no one would flinch. But if a “Christian” does it, it sets off alarms and people cry “hypocrite!”
What is it exactly that we do that offends the secular world?
1. An average situation…
Imagine a scenario where a churchgoer is on a business trip with a few of his work buddies. Let’s call him Jim. His buddies decide one night, after a hard day of negotiations, to hit up the local strip club and down a few beers. What is the right response for Jim? Admittedly, he’s in a rough spot.
On the one hand, he could succumb to peer pressure and decide to go along. After all, he doesn’t want to offend them or come across as a Jesus freak, would he? But the problem is, he has just undermined the gospel and any possible platform he might have to share the message in the future. If a month from now, Jim is alone with one of his work friends and brings Jesus up, that friend might be thinking about Jim’s behavior that night at the strip club. His friends might think to themselves, “There’s no difference between Christians and us except we get to save our time and money on Sundays.”
On the other hand, if Jim declines the invitation, he might face added pressure. “Why not, come on man!” This is where he needs a lot of discernment and tact. Jim has to communicate that he doesn’t agree morally to such activities without coming across as pious or overly judgmental. This is an extremely hard line to walk, and most will fail miserably. (It’s probably a lose-lose anyway, practically speaking.) If he condemns the activity too hard, he adds to the stereotype that Christians are condescending and judgmental. If he’s too soft, he’s not standing up for his beliefs and is perhaps being ashamed of the gospel.
As 1 Peter 3:15 says: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”
This might mean that Jim will become less popular and that he won’t get invited to future events. They might label him as a party-pooper. So be it. At least he stood up for the truth without compromising and committing the sin of pride and condescension.
From that simple example, what I was trying to illustrate is that Christians either fail by going along with the world or by going against it with pride and spiritual piety.
2. Priests and pastors…
First off, I’ll share this rant by Christopher Hitchens, the militant anti-religious atheist: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOamsF5r3TE.
I have to say, this is one of those rare times when I actually agree with a lot of what he says. The church has a lot to be sorry for, especially (historically) the Catholic church. Priests molesting young boys who are entrusted to their care and instruction is abominable. A history of anti-Semitism is not only abhorrent, but it’s strikingly UNbiblical and simple-minded. This kind of twisted behavior can only come about when we take something meant for good—the church—and turn it into a man-made institution, sullied by power grabbing and the substitution of earnest faith with rituals and rites. It’s no wonder so much has gone wrong over the past centuries.
But the Protestant church is not without blemish, either. You have pastors who are more interested in rubbing shoulders with the Washingtonian elite rather than being set apart from this world. There are people like Ted Haggard who embarrass the name of Christ by engaging in an active lifestyle of sexual sin and betrayal. Countless thieves, like Benny Hinn, use the name of God to fatten their wallets by deceiving the naive and trusting.
So what is going on?
It’s simple: they forgot—or never really knew—the Bible. They left the Holy Spirit out of their lives and they carried on alone, puffed up in their own pride and accomplishments (and congregation size).
Catholic priests mistakenly were taught that celibacy was holier than married life, and they chose a lifestyle that so precious few are actually called to. Think about it: Paul in the New Testament lived a celibate life, but he spent every waking minute preaching and arguing for God’s Word. When he wasn’t doing that, he was locked up in prisons and suffering. Do you think he had time to be a husband? Meanwhile, you have modern priests who interact with their parish members time to time and preach, but are left living a fairly comfortable life otherwise. With their weak flesh and idle time, it’s no wonder so many priests fall. Celibacy isn’t the way to go for most people.
Protestant pastors see their churches growing and they think, “Wow, I must be a good preacher!” They don’t spend every day in their Bibles, nor do they guard against the enemy. Pride or complacency (or straight-up being a fraud) opens the door and lets temptation come right in, besetting their lives with sin.
If only people would stay true to God’s word instead of their own insights and willpower. Man-made institutions and systems will always fail.
3. The bizarre and newsworthy…
You hear about it on the news all the time. The “Christian” mother who killed her kids because she thought God told her to (more like a demon). The “Christian” who opens fire on a Jewish crowd, thinking he’s fighting for some righteous cause (nevermind that Jesus was a Jew and that they are still God’s original chosen people).
Side note: Please stop calling Hitler a Christian and using him as an example. It’s ignorant and ridiculous. He was not a Christian, pure and simple. A person might call himself one for political purposes, but when your actions go against the Bible and you even plan on replacing scripture with your own book (Mein Kampf) in every classroom, that is not the work of a person indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It’s obvious as night and day.
Or how about the parents who beat their adopted children to death because they read from the Bible not to spare the rod? I guess they missed the part about being careful to discipline them. Perhaps they read Proverbs 23:13, which says: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.” Common sense (and the countless other times in the Bible that refer to death as the opposite of salvation) would tell a normal person that the “he will not die” part refers to moral and spiritual death. By lovingly disciplining a child and correcting him, the parent is saving him from a future life of debauchery, corruption, and self-destruction. Heck, reading the very next verse should have made it obvious: “Punish them with the rod and save them from death.”
Again, this is just a result of bad biblical interpretation, twisting words to fit our own sinful agendas, or plain and utter stupidity. A wicked person can easily open up the Bible and find a way to justify his or her actions, but this blatant misuse doesn’t demean the actual word of God one bit.
So what can Christians do to fix this?
First, much of the criticism is justified, so we as a body of believers need to take responsibility and do better. Granted, we are judged more harshly than the rest of the world, that’s hard to deny. We could do the same things as a nonbeliever, but be impugned or labeled as a hypocrite for it. Is it a fair standard? Yes and no. Yes, because as true believers, we ARE supposed to be in a process of sanctification, so we simply cannot continue to live as the rest of the world. But no, it might not be completely fair because it’s still a process; none of us ever achieve perfection in our flesh.
Second, so-called “Christians” either need to give their lives over to God or stop calling themselves Christians. The word itself means “followers of Christ,” which entails actually following Christ’s way. They can attend church and call themselves seekers if they want, but they need to get it out of their heads that they’re set because of their false flu-shot salvation.
Third, we all need to bring the real Bible back to the church. Let’s ditch the man-made stuff that distracts from the true gospel—all the unbiblical rules, rites, rituals, and other things that supposedly make you holy. These things give people a false assurance and complacency that is dangerous in light of constant spiritual attack. If people were more biblical, they couldn’t possibly live their embarrassingly immoral lives and cast mud on the name of Jesus to the world.
Ultimately, the goal is not to be liked or to fit in. The Bible tells us straight up that the true gospel will probably bring hate upon us or persecution. But what we can’t do is undermine God’s glory by being poor representatives on earth. We can be hated for standing up for the truth, but we shouldn’t be hated for being hypocrites, thieves, and perverts.
1 Peter 2:11-12 tells us: “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
Our good deeds might not make an impact now, and in fact, standing up for the truth may bring persecution upon us. But it will bring further glory to God in the enFfd. May we let the Holy Spirit guide us always.
Originally posted by Joe Kim on his blog http://live2believe.org, reprinted with permission. This article is Copyright (c) 2011 Live2believe.
Last week, Willow Creek Church and its association held its Global Leadership Summit; a worldwide leadership conference for Christians. Every year, this conference invites a cross section of our population to speak and share leadership principles to help improve our world. Past speakers have included Jim Collins (“Good to Great” book author), Daniel Pink, Seth Godin, Jack Welch, and others. Willow Creek invites leaders to share their not-exclusively-Christian message to A LOT of Christians worldwide. This year, Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, was invited to come, and he accepted. I have no doubt he would have shared some pearls of wisdom from his book “Onward” that sells in Starbucks stores worldwide. However, when homosexual activists protested his presence at the conference, he caved and withdrew from the speaking engagement.
So, the question this week is: Should Howard Schultz have caved to homosexual activist censorship? Other related questions that also come to mind… Was this an appropriate response? Does the homosexual community benefit from this censorship? Does the Christian community benefit from this censorship? Does Starbucks, it’s customers, employees, and stockholders benefit from this censorship? Would you have recommended he speak or stay home?
With recent events like the Oslo “Fundamentalist Christian Terrorist” bombing (as it’s being referred to in the mainstream media), how can you and I positively change the face of Christianity today? We can’t keep crazy people from doing crazy things, but you and I CAN and MUST positively influence those around us. If for no other reason, then for when people like Anders Behring Breivik do crazy things in the name of Christ, people we know will say “That’s not the Christianity I know”.
So, how can you change the face of Christianity in your own circle of influence today?