I posted a meme on Facebook yesterday that drew some interesting discussion. Here is what it said:
Secular Person: I want to do X.
Christian: You’re free to do it.
Secular Person: But you think X is wrong.
Secular Person: Because you want to control me.
Christian: No, You’re free to do whatever you wish.
Secular Person: But you think X is wrong.
Christian: Yes, but only because I want what’s best for you.
Secular Person: But I want to do X.
Christian: You’re free to do it.
Secular Person: But I want you to say that X is good.
Christian: I can’t say that.
Secular Person: Why are you such a hateful, intolerant bigot?
A number of Christian friends liked this post as do I. I think explains exactly how Christians are to respond to the world. However, a number of friends said that their experience with Christians was anything but this! In fact, their experience with some Christians was the exact opposite: Christians were controlling, don’t want the best for them, and are hateful and intolerant bigots!
I thought about responding to all the comments on Facebook but realized I had a lot more to say than would fit that forum. So, here we are!
First thing I want to say is this: If you see a “Christian” being hateful (intolerance is another issue I’ll address), than you really have to ask yourself if this person is really a Christian or a CINO (Christian in Name Only). 1 John 4 puts it this way:
If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
A Christian – one who truly accepts the faith has a number of things happen that includes:
- They recognize they are a sinner in need of a savior
- They surrender themselves to Jesus
- They become a new creation in Christ – the old is gone the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17)
- They become indwelt by the Holy Spirit (John 15:26-27)
- They will be transformed (Romans 12:1-2)
- They will produce good fruit (Matthew 7:17-20)
- They will deny themselves (Luke 8:23)
- They will consider others better than themselves (Philippians 2:3-5)
The evidence of true Christian faith is obvious. Conversely, the evidence of a CINO is just as obvious – they look exactly like the world and nothing like Jesus. Of course, that doesn’t mean those in the faith are perfect – far from it! We just recognize our failures, seek forgiveness, and do everything we can to embrace the lifestyle of holiness that Jesus has set before us.
Thus, when a “Christian” is mean spirited, demanding, controlling, et al, one legitimately can question whether they are really a Christian. But my suggestion is not to lump them in with those truly in the faith because they certainly don’t represent us!
So, let’s get back to the meme! A secular person wants to do X and the Christian says you’re free to do it. Is that biblical? Yes. 1 Corinthians 6 has an interesting discussion about all this. Here is verses 12-13:
“Everything is permissible for me”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”–but I will not be mastered by anything. “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”–but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.
Paul is chastising the Corinthians in this section of his letter because they first had brought lawsuits against each other instead of deciding the matters internally between brothers. The letter starts out, however, chastising the church there for allowing sexual immorality of a kind even the pagans find abhorrent!
You see in the verse above quotes around “Everything is permissible for me.” Paul is quoting the Corinthians who argue they can do whatever they want. Notice how Paul doesn’t disagree with them! Certainly, they can do whatever they want! We all have free will and can act anyway we choose! But Paul notes that not everything we do is beneficial. In fact, Paul says that one can be mastered by those unbeneficial things even if they are permissible to do.
So, yes, secular person can choose to do X and as a Christian my response is you’re free to do so even if I think it’s wrong and not beneficial to you.
Let’s dive deeper!
Jesus tells us some very important things about how to live our Christian walk. Let me share a handful:
- “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way, you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? (Matthew 7:1-6)
- 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” (Matthew 5:38-40)
- “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies too. Pray for those who treat you badly.” That seems a very strange thing to say, doesn’t it?” (Matthew 5:43-44)
- “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
First, we see we are not to judge. The reason is quite simple: God is the judge not us. When we judge we believe that we are God – at least we believe that we should sit on God’s judgment seat! That is very dangerous grounds, my friends! Lucifer got kicked out of heaven for wanting to set his throne higher than God’s!! Not judging people is perhaps one of the hardest things to do in our “body of death” as Paul puts it. Our sin nature really, really, really wants to judge other people but it’s just our pride talking. When we judge others what we’re really saying is that we are better than them! Instead, we should all be like Paul who tells in 1 Timothy 1:15 that Jesus came to the world to save sinners and that he is the worst! I often tell the group to whom I’m preaching that of all the sinners in the room I am the worst! Who am I to judge others when my sin is scarlet red? What I need to do is love others, share Jesus so they, too, can be forgiven and have eternal life with Jesus, and let God do His job which is to judge.
That plays itself out in today’s environment in a variety of arenas. We love the woman who has decided to get an abortion and pray for her. We love the homeless person who is struggling with drugs, alcohol, mental illness, and other issues. We love the LGBTQ+ folks most of whom don’t know the Jesus we know. We even love the pedophile whose brain function is so fallen and broken that they’re sexual drives are perverted.
We love and don’t judge. God is the perfect judge and when the time comes everyone will be judged and His rulings will be exactly what everyone has earned.
When you read “Do not resist and evil person” do you think it means don’t defend yourself? That’s not what this is talking about here. This is the well-known verse about “turning the other cheek.” In first century Israel, if you wanted to insult someone you would slap them on their cheek or pull their beard. Jesus tells us to literally turn the other cheek – when insulted don’t respond, just turn the other cheek and allow the person to slap that one too. In other words, DO NOT BE OFFENDED.
Our culture today in America must be the most offended people who have ever lived! Satan loves it when we take offense because it means we will respond in very ungodly ways! But what is offense? It’s pride! Someone does something with which you disagree – perhaps vehemently – and you are offended because your beliefs or values have been challenged or attacked. Jesus was called an agent of Satan, a liar, illegitimate (bastard son of Mary), and more. Did Jesus call down a legion of angels to smite these folks? Nope. Did He even argue much with them? Nope – corrected the Pharisees a few times but that’s about it. He modeled turning the other cheek, especially when the Romans were mocking Him as the King of the Jews!
There are people out there who say and do what we Christians would consider the most offensive and blasphemous things! What should our response be? You guessed it: Love. That’s what we are taught as you will see next!
Okay, Jesus tells us to love our enemies. This is a hard one…that is until you read scripture which tells us in Ephesians 6:12:
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
In other words, no matter how bad or evil someone is understand that they are not our enemy per se; our enemy is the one who prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). We as Christians are up against Satan and his fallen angels who blind people to the truth and is the prince of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4) so we are in enemy territory!! Our so-called enemies don’t know Jesus, don’t know the love of the Father, are not indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and cannot do anything but what their sinful nature tells them to do which is then inflamed by Satan to extreme degrees!
So, yes again! We are to love our enemies because only love overcomes hate; only light penetrates darkness. Everyone is made in the image of God and while many (most) will choose not to follow Jesus these people are still precious in God’s sight as part of His creation whose names He knew before they were born. We pray, then, for their souls, for their harden hearts to soften, for them to meet Jesus in a powerful, life-changing way. What we don’t do is what the world does: we don’t fight with them, we don’t belittle and degrade them, and we don’t devalue them as if they are beyond God’s redemption.
The last one is forgiveness. There are four areas of forgiveness we must have in our lives:
- Forgive others their transgressions against us
- Forgive ourselves for the transgressions we have committed
- Seek forgiveness from those against whom you’ve transgressed
- Forgive God (which seems weird but when you’re mad at God reconciliation is vital)
What this means in real life is we ask God to forgive those who transgress in a way that jars our Christians values in the same way as Jesus asked the Father to forgive the Jews and Romans crucifying Him because they know not what they do!
We forgive and pray for those who hurl epitaphs at us for standing firm in our faith.
We seek forgiveness from the Father AND the people on the receiving end should we slip into worldly ways and respond in unkind or unloving reactions.
In a word we humble ourselves!
This all being said, none of it means we keep our mouths shut regarding the truths of God and the Good News of Jesus! In fact, we are told be bold (2 Timothy 1:7)!
God has identified what is sin and what is evil. And there’s no getting around us having to call it out! Take a look at a passage you may not know about in Ezekiel:
“When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood.” (Ezekiel 3:18)
If you’re a believer this ought to shake you to the core! We are, indeed, to call people out. But look at what Paul says in his first letter to the church at Corinth:
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister[a] but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? (1 Corinthians 5:9-12)
Pay particular attention to verse 12. Paul is saying that the Corinthians misunderstood his last letter (a missing Pauline letter to that church) in which he was expressing not to enable the sexual immoral in the church. But in verse 12 he clearly says don’t judge the outsiders – non-believers – what are they to us? But we do hold accountable those inside the church!
How do we reconcile Ezekiel and Paul? Pretty easily actually. God was speaking to Ezekiel about how to have relationship with God’s people – other Jews who all were believers. Paul also is speaking about holding fellow believers accountable – God is saying the same thing to both.
That leads to this final question: How are we to share the truth of scripture to unbelievers? The answer is pretty easy: Speak the truth in love as we are taught in Ephesians 4:15.
I personally believe that one of the most unloving things you can do to a person is lie to them. It’s a personal betrayal that regardless of the best motives hurts a person and can cause significant ripple effects. That said, the truth can be painful, especially truth that cuts against someone’s belief system or long-held ideas or ideals. But what is better: living in the truth or living in a lie? The answer is obvious except for the most diehards who refuse the truth no matter how convincing.
Most “Christians” are really good at telling the truth but completely suck at doing so in love. Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:
If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
You’ve probably heard some of this at a wedding you attended, perhaps even your own. But that is not what Paul is writing about. Paul is saying that without love he is nothing and nothing he has to say has any meaning! He then goes on to express what telling the truth in love actually looks like!
When we share God’s truths with people, we must follow this outline!
- Patience – do not get frustrated with people when they pushback
- Kind – always be kind to people even when they get heated
- Envy – don’t envy their apparent freedom to choose against the things of God that are hard to live with in this culture
- Not Boastful – do not be full of pride as if you’re all that and bag of chips while the unbeliever is going to hell! Humble yourself and realize you, too, were going to hell before Jesus saved you!
- Do Not Dishonor Others – no name calling, coarse jokes, marginalizing, or devaluing another made in God’s image.
- No Self-Seeking – it’s not about you; it’s NEVER about you. It’s always about Jesus.
- Not Easily Angered – we all get angry, but we cannot sin in our anger (Ephesians 4:26). Don’t take the bait. When you feel yourself getting tense pray for the other person!
- Keeps No Records of Wrongs – sharing Jesus is not a tit-for-tat business. Forgive 70 times 70 (Matthew 18:21-22) and when you forgive it’s as if it never happened.
- Does Not Delight in Evil – stand firm in your beliefs and do not compromise but do so in a way that is not offensive. Simply agree to disagree.
- Rejoice in the Truth – as you tell the truth you should be delighting. People should see your passion for your belief in the Truth, which of course is Jesus!
- Love Protects, Trusts, Hopes, and Perseveres – we tell the truth in a way that honors and glorifies God but does not damage the other person. We are vulnerable and transparent yet wise as a serpent (Matthew 10:16). We trust that God’s word never returns empty even when we feel we are throwing pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6). And we persevere when attacked for our beliefs. We persevere not only in the truth but in telling the truth in love no matter the temptation to fight fire with fire!
What would I tell the secular person who wants to do X? I’d tell them they’re free to do whatever they want but to understand that everyone reaps what they sow (Galatians 6:7-9). Not everything is good or beneficial. Not all their choices will be honored by God. Choices have consequences both in this world and the next. Be of sober mind as you decide things. But no matter what you decide God loves you as do I even if both God and I vehemently disagree with your choice.
For my Christians friends who are breathing hard after reading this I’d say relax. Understand that God is sovereign not you nor I. He’s known all of what is happening since the beginning of the world and is in no way taken by surprise by America’s sharp decline in its moral foundations. Our job is to tell the truth in love – that’s it. The greatest commandment is to love God and love others (Matthew 22:34-40) not to force people into believing what we believe even though we know we are right.
God’s got this so let Him sit on His throne and let us continue to be the workers in the kingdom showing people the love of Christ which is the only thing that can break a hardened heart!
There’s a lot of wisdom there. I think where today’s Christians run into trouble today is when they try to legislate their behavior as law, even if it violates the freedom of religion for others. There is a very real fear, even among Christians, of a growing trend toward a theocracy.