Are you one of those Christians everyone seems to tolerate less and less these day? One of those bigoted, holier-than-thou types, passing judgment on people not like you and spewing hate toward them? Comments like these are inherently unfair because Jesus tells those who follow Him to love–rather than hate–others, yet an increasing number of people think of us this way. Sometimes it almost seems as if we’ve been plucked out of the real world and placed into an episode of The Twilight Zone, because it didn’t used to be like this. What happened? How are we to respond? What can we do? The answer, as always, is firmly and definitively rooted in Christ–where we should always be anyway.
Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them.” (2 Timothy 3:12-14)
I suspect this was inevitable. The church in America has–for far too long–been becoming more and more enamored with the ways of the unregenerate lost. We watch their news, engage in much of their entertainment, attend their schools, and want ourselves and our children to be successful and prosperous–if not outrightly wealthy–in this world. In too many ways we emulate their lifestyle, and are then surprised when rather than seeing Christ in us, the world sees a Pharisee–someone who verbally still recalls and insists on God’s holy standard, while no longer practicing it himself.
Yet, we cannot evangelize this way. We cannot convert those we emulate–those we admire or want to become like! The reverse is actually more apt to happen. Evangelization, remember, is speaking the Gospel to a person–explaining the lost state of all of us apart from Jesus, and the good news that they are “accepted in the Beloved [Jesus]” and are to “go and sin no more.” But if we do not think enough of Jesus ourselves to abandon the world’s agenda, how can we expect others to do so? Jesus Himself warned that if salt loses its flavor it is no longer good for anything, and so many of us who claim the name of Jesus have been unfaithful to Him at heart–we’ve treated our relationship with Him as a means of identification and affiliation, rather than genuinely denying ourselves and embracing the way of the cross.
The problem that occurs when Christians fall in love with the world is that their identification of sin in others, rather than being a witness of the truth, is interpreted as what it is–a hollow and hypocritical condemnation of those not like us. It is not at all unlike the man who offers to take the spec out of his brother’s eye, having a log in his own. If we do not think enough of Jesus to cling to Him ourselves and live for Him and love Him with our heart and soul and mind and strength–we aren’t fooling anyone, because they see what’s really important to us and condemn us for our hypocrisy.
But what if you aren’t being hypocritical? What if you have been faithful, giving all of yourself to Jesus–if you consistently deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him? If this is you–if your life reflects “Christ in you, the hope of glory,”–take heart! Recognize that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” That includes all. Recognize that “evil men and imposters will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” God has already told us; it’s going to happen. So despite all that, how should we respond? Our response is to remain grounded in Christ–to “continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of [everything He has taught us in His Word], knowing from whom you have learned them.”
That’s it. That’s God’s prescription for the craziness going on in the world today–and it is enough. If I belong to Jesus and have truly thrown in my lot with Him, it will be okay. As always, I must do my best to understand what He has said correctly, based on reputable Biblical translation and exegesis. As always, I must “examine…[myself] to see whether…[I myself am] in the faith” (II Corinthians 13:5)–that I am not a hypocrite who is unfaithful to my Lord. But beyond that, I must simply continue in the things I have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom [God Himself] I have learned them. Evil men and impostors will continue and grow worse, and there will be persecution. I, however, am to continue in the things I have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom I have learned them.
Help me faithfully witness You. Help me show love and service to You and others, but not love the world or anything in the world, because the world is passing away. Help me, instead, be found in You. Amen.