To be a voice for another

ambassador

Jesus stated that John the Baptist was the greatest man to ever live.  Jesus considered him greater than Moses, Abraham, any of the patriarchs or people we typically associate with Old Testament greatness:

“Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

– Matt 11.11

God Himself, in the human form of Jesus Christ, declared John the Baptist to be the greatest.  This is remarkable.  Especially considering we have such a small knowledge of his life and ministry!  Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, Paul wrote much of the New Testament, Abraham’s life is detailed through nearly every stage, but the story of John the Baptist is primarily wrapped up in his singular purpose:  to be the witness.

The Old Testament promised a prophet who would come before the Messiah and “make straight the path for the Lord” (Is 40.3).  As the Jews were awaiting the Messiah whom they believed would come and rescue them from the bondage of the Roman Empire, they were looking for this prophet.  Many believe that this would be Elijah, in fulfillment of a prophecy in Malachi:

“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.  He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”

– Mal 4.5-6

The Jews knew that Elijah had not died, and thus they were expecting the physical reincarnation of Elijah.  Thus, when they questioned John as to his identity, John proclaimed that he was not the reincarnation of Elijah, but Jesus stated that John was indeed fulfilling the role that they were expecting of Elijah:  the fore-runner prophet declaring Jesus’ coming:

“And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.”

– Matt 11.14

John’s role was to prepare the way for Jesus.  He was the prophet.  He was the “voice crying out in the wilderness” (Matt 3.3, Mark 1.3, Luke 3.4, John 1.23).  He had a dynamic ministry, he had disciples, and he led many people to repentance and baptized them back into the ways of the Lord.  But His ministry had one purpose:  to point to Jesus.  His personal witness was that he was the forerunner and after him was coming someone much greater:

John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’”

– John 1.15

“It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

– John 1.27

And perhaps his most well known statement is the humble observation:

He must increase, but I must decrease.”

– John 3.30

John existed to point people to Jesus.  He was “a voice crying out in the wilderness”.  The interesting thing about a voice, however, is that it is nothing in and of itself.  It belongs to someone.  It is the tool of someone.  It is a means by which someone communicates and makes a point.  A voice is only valuable as the user deems to utilize it.  John was the voice proclaiming the truths of God.  God was utilizing John and speaking through him, and John knew it.  He sought no glory for himself but fully and regularly pointed people back to Jesus.  And in doing so, Jesus declared him to be the greatest man ever born of a woman.

What can we learn from this remarkable example of John?

It has become very trendy to encourage people to become the voice for those who have no voice:  the homeless, the orphans, the unborn children, etc.  Non-profits and humanitarian organizations are continually seeking to raise awareness for their causes, for the needs of people around the world, and they systematically do so by seeking out advocates and ambassadors.  They teach us that we can change the world by being the voice of someone in need.

Much greater than this ambition, however, is our calling to be ambassadors for Christ.  The Bible actually calls us that:

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

– 2 Cor 5.20

All of humanity has one, singular and massive need:  salvation.  Apart from Christ we have no life and we are condemned to an eternity in Hell.  This need is infinitely greater than food, water, clothing, shelter or anything else we consider a basic human need.  When we come to know Christ and are forgiven, we are given Spiritual life, we are saved from Hell, and we are appointed as voices to go out and tell everyone.  Thus we are ambassadors from God to the needy.  We can offer the hope that only He provides.

Unfortunately, often times our worlds center around us.  We can be selfish, we can be proud, and we can be lazy.  We can preach Gospels that bring the glory and attention back to ourselves and our efforts instead of bringing glory to Jesus and His wonderful grace.  We can be silent when the Holy Spirit within us is urging us to speak and proclaim the truth.  We can choose to lay around and watch TV rather than invest in our family, friends and neighbors.

John was the greatest voice to live.  He was completely committed, he spoke truth, and he pointed people to Jesus continually.  By making little of himself, he became great in the Kingdom of God.  Jesus says,

“It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

– Matt 20.26-28

We can and should strive to be great in the Kingdom of God.  We can and should seek to store up for ourselves treasures in Heaven.  And we do this by dying to ourselves, serving others, and being a faithful witness for God to the world.  Let’s be the voice He has called us to be.  Let’s allow the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us and give us the words as we need them.  Let’s be more like John, giving all of the glory and honor to Jesus Christ alone.

When life gets messy.

High speed image of splashing milk

When God calls us to salvation, He places us perfectly within His body:  the Church.  We are all given strengths and abilities to help the church thrive, to maintain health, to reach the world and to make disciples.  The Church needs every member and every member needs the Church.

“But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.  For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.  For the body is not one member, but many.  If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.  And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?  But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.  If they were all one member, where would the body be?  But now there are many members, but one body.”

– 1 Cor 12.12-20

This is the beautiful and unique form of community with which God has blessed the Church.  In short, we get in each other’s lives and we “do life” together.  But do you know what happens when you get in other people’s lives?  It gets messy.  No Christian has attained perfection and the fullest maturity until he is freed from his earthly body, and that means that people are going to be misunderstood, people are going to be offended, and there will be conflict.  Even within the Church.  ::gasp::  If you’re not getting messy, you are not doing it right.

But let us not despair about this fact.  This is actually our opportunity to first of all glorify God in how we respond.  If Jesus is our example, let us remember that He was the only person to walk the face of this Earth without sin, and He was despised, mocked, tortured and murdered.  He endured all of this without lashing out, but with forgiveness and grace, even praying for God to show forgiveness to those who were in the act of murdering Him.  Can you imagine?  We often times need space and time to cool our emotions, but Jesus, in the midst of His own murder, was able to show selflessness and mercy.  In the same way that He loved and forgave us, we must love and forgive one another.  Otherwise we elevate ourselves and our offense above what Jesus endured on the cross.

Secondly, this gives us an opportunity to grow in maturity.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”

– James 1.2-3

I particularly love this passage out of James because he speaks directly to “various trials”, not simply persecution for the Gospel’s sake.  Various trials can be our cars breaking down, a difficult child, a tension at the church or persevering through an illness.  All of these various trials are tests of our faith.  How do we respond?  Do we get angry and selfish?  Or do we turn to God and die to ourselves?  Are we humble or are we proud?  When we persevere through the testing of our faith we achieve endurance.  And Romans tells us that,

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

– Rom 5.3-5

We will not have proven character until we persevere through the mess of relationships and come out victorious on the other side.  We will not have true, Biblical hope until we persevere through trials that test our faith.  If we do not persevere and glorify God by dying to ourselves and following Christ’s example in day-to-day trials, we will be tossed around like the waves of the sea and depend on our circumstances for happiness (James 1.6).

Thirdly, these situations give us an opportunity to express the Gospel to others in the Church and to a lost world.  We will all have conflict.  But consider this:  we are all familiar with the terrible and ongoing “worship war” that is present in many churches.  Everyone wants his own style of music.  For some the music is too loud, for some it is too soft, for some it is not played skillfully enough, and for some the style is just unbearable.  Consider a person who has never come to the church before and who has never heard hymns, contemporary praise, quartet or even Christian rock music.  Everything, to him, is new.  He can have two polar opposite experiences determined by the church-goer by whom he sits.  The church goer can have a bad attitude, choose not to sing, choose to be grumpy – or even wait in the foyer until the music is over before coming in.  The unsaved man will see nothing different from the world here.  What he knows and expects.  Nothing attractive.  And he will probably examine the music with the same mindset.  Now, imagine he sits next to someone who does not necessarily care for the style of music being played, but this person says in his heart, “I want God to be glorified by the music and in my heart.  I am going to sing whatever they choose to sing and praise God!”  He considers his neighbor who loves this music and can best express his heart to God through this style, and he prays, “God help my neighbor meet with you today, and I praise you that these songs are fostering his heart to praise you!”  The lost person will see this as a selfless and humble person who loves God and loves his neighbor, and will see something different.

If the world sees conflict between two believers, if the believers act like the world, then our witness is lost.  But if the believers humble themselves, put one another’s desires and needs above themselves, respect one another and forgive lavishly, then we demonstrate the love and forgiveness that we have been showed in Jesus.  Scripture teaches us that we only love because He loved us first (1 John 4.19).  And Scripture teaches us that we should love and forgive in the same degree by which we are loved and forgiven.

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”

– Col 3.12-13

Paul teaches us that our attitude towards one another should be, at the foundation, one of humility.  And based on that humility we bear with one another and forgive in the same manner that we have been forgiven.  What does that mean?  If you have come to Jesus for salvation, He has forgiven you of every offense you have ever committed and will ever commit.  In short, there is nothing that another person can do to you that would be worse than your offense against a holy God.  Therefore, if Jesus has forgiven you of everything, then we, by His example, must forgive every offense confessed towards us.

Paul knows, however, that this is not easy and that it goes against our sinful nature.  That is why every single letter that He wrote addressed the topic to some extent.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.  Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.  Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord.  “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

– Rom 12.9-21

So much as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.  This does not mean that you have to be buddy-buddy with everyone in the Church.  This also does not mean that you excuse and overlook sin.  Jesus gave us very clear instructions for how to handle a church member who is sinning (Matt 18.15-17), and Paul teaches us that when someone is in sin, we should lovingly restore him and help him fight the sin (Gal 6.1).  We should never overlook sin, but bring it to light and squash it before it takes a foothold in anyone’s life.  This is the truly loving thing to do, to push one another on to maturity and hope.

But humility follows the example of Christ and dies to one’s self.  Humility seeks to glorify God and His gospel by forgiving in the way that He forgave.  Humility serves the body and individuals in the likeness and manner of Christ (Phil 2.3-8).

Life will get messy.  It is in these moments that we must choose to put away our pride, we must choose to seek to glorify God by loving and forgiving as He has loved and forgiven.  We must long for the unity of the body by lifting one another up and resolving conflict, and this will show the world that we are Christians:  by our love (John 13.35).  It is easy to do service projects and humanitarian aid.  It is easy to look happy on Sunday mornings, but a dynamic witness to the world is Christians loving one another when they do not necessarily want to.

“For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.  For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.  For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”

– 1 Peter 2.19-24

So let us approach community with a realist mindset, knowing that pouring into one another’s lives will bring conflict eventually.  People are people, they will let you down.  But let us embrace those opportunities to press into God, to press into one another, to grow in maturity, and to be a dynamic witness to a lost world.  Let us die to ourselves, put one another first, help one another fight sin in our lives, and thus sharpen one another and be what God intended the church to be:  a body.

You may be the only Jesus they meet.

jesus

Have you ever heard the admonition, “Watch how you act, you may be the only Jesus he meets”?

It is very possible that if you travel to a country with a predominant religion other than Christianity, specifically a third world country, you could be the only Christian that another person meets.  I would be willing to bet that that would not be the case here in our comfortable US of A.  But yet parents say this to their children, youth pastors say this to their students, collegiate Bible study leaders say this to their young adults and pastors say this to their congregations.  Even if it is true that you happen to be the only Christian that another person on this enormous planet meets in his lifetime, consider today what it is that you are really saying:  “You better be good enough to convince that person to come to faith.”  Or even worse, “If you screw this up, you are the reason that person will go to Hell.”

Is that really the message that you want to communicate to your children?  Or anyone?  Did you come to faith because of another person?  Or because of Jesus Christ?

“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”

– Rom 8.29-30

Paul teaches us that the process of salvation is God’s foreknowledge of His own, leading to God predestining them to salvation, calling them to faith, justifying (declaring the verdict: penalty paid), and ultimately saving forever.  God is the controlling force in salvation.  Faith itself is a gift from God.  We are incapable of generating it ourselves or convincing others to have it:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

– Eph 2.8-9

Scripture teaches us that there are none righteous, and not a single person who is seeking after God (Rom 3.10-12).  We are naturally His enemies, we naturally have animosity towards Him (James 4.4, Rom 8.7).  So if someone hates God, is His enemy and is not seeking after Him, do you really think that someone acting nicely, or someone obeying Scripture will be enough to change the onlooker’s mind?

The danger here is threefold.

  1.  We cannot cause another’s salvation
  2. We cannot cause another to reject God
  3. If we believe or teach that we can affect another’s salvation, we live for others and not for God.

New birth is a miraculous work of God that is not dependent on anyone but God.  Dead men do not say, “I sure wish I were alive” (Eph 1.2), and the unborn do not reach out to potential mothers and ask to be born.  God gives life.  If you believe that you are capable of convincing someone to come to faith, then you will live a life of extreme and unbiblical burden at best, and of heresy at worst.  Why?  Because you will waste all of your time examining what you do, examining the response and trying to craft the perfect presentation of the Gospel, apologetics and witness.  You will devoid yourself of faith and trust, you will carry a burden that is not yours and you will believe yourself to be in the place of God.  Worst of all, you will neglect God, you will not rely on Him to lead, to change others, and you will live a life of duty rather than thankfulness and love.

When people fall away, you will feel guilty.  When people refuse the Gospel, you will take it personally.  When people move on from your church or your Bible study you will be crushed.

This is not a warrant to act wickedly.

What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?  May it never be!  How shall we who died to sin still live in it?

– Rom 6.1-2

This is an exhortation to trust God.  God has commanded us to preach the Gospel, to be wise with every word that comes out of our mouth and to make the most of every moment.

“Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.  Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”

– Col 4.5-6

But we do not do this because we believe that we can save or change people.  We do it because we love God and are thankful for our salvation.  We are the mouthpiece and God is the one who gives the faith.  He has given us the honor and privilege of being a part of His great work of salvation, but that part is limited to simply being the mouthpiece.  He does the rest.

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.  So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

– 1 Cor 3.6-7

We must be obedient to share.  We must live lives of thankfulness.  We share the Gospel because we are thankful and obedient, not because we can save people.  We look at Jesus when we share the Gospel, not the hearer.  We obey the commandments because we are thankful for salvation and we love Jesus, not because we want others to see how we act and think, “wow, she is different”.

If you live for God, He will be proud to call you His own:

“But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.”

– Heb 11.16

Think about it.  Do you want God to be ashamed of you?  Or do you want that person who may never meet another “Jesus” to to be impressed by you?

It is not about you.  Or me.  Or the only Jesus that people meet.  It is about us being faithful to be the mouthpiece so that that person might meet Jesus.  Let’s not embarrass our saviour or ourselves.  Let’s live for Him and let Him take care of the rest.  My parents used to say it best when we would leave the house, he said,

“Remember who you belong to”.

Live for God in thankfulness and obedience.  Not for anyone else.

Everyone Is An Expert.

einstein

On Monday night, the news rocked the United States the comedian Robin Williams had committed suicide by hanging himself.  Almost immediately the blog posts, the “authoritative” articles on depression and addiction began to get passed around, and now we are in the phase of everyone getting mad at one another for their opinions.  Matt Walsh has received a lot of heat for stating that depression is not only chemical, but can be a spiritual issue too and consequently made a decision to kill himself – he is not a victim of an outside force, while others want to say that Williams was indeed a victim of an illness over which he had no control.

I will not chime in on the issue here.  I have written on suicide before, evaluating its damnable nature, and have studied under some of the most respected Biblical counselors in the world.  But what is grieving my spirit today is not the fact that the conversation is happening, but the nature of the conversation.

Consider a controversial topic:  suicide, depression, homosexuality, gender roles in marriage, divorce, remarriage, atheism, whatever.  Then go to your facebook page, where you can hide behind a screen and the solitude of your bedroom and write your opinion on the topic.  What will happen?  Immediately people will respond with their opinions, and that which they believe gives them authority on the topic is simply this:  “My best friend killed himself”, “My sister suffers from depression”, “I have lots of gay friends”, “My parents are divorced” or “My buddy lost his mom in a tragic car accident and his dad is now dying of cancer and he has no reason to trust God because his life has been so terrible”.

“I know someone who” has now become the benchmark for authority and grounds to speak to a topic.  Unless, of course, you yourself have walked through it.  If you struggle with depression, homosexuality or have been divorced then no one can assert authority over your experience.  Unless, perhaps, they have experienced it too.  We are all reactionary to the world news around us, and we choose to process it based on our own experience and we demand that others listen to our opinions because we are so wise.

We are once again back to the conversation of absolute truth.  A philosopher will read my blog and say, “She is doing exactly what she is condemning”.  And in a way, yes, I am.  However, my opinion is that I am incapable of determining the absolutes on any of these topics and I choose to look to God to see what He determines as the absolute, the Truth.  I submit to an authority higher than myself.

If we can agree to allow the Bible to be our authority then we have a starting point.  If you refuse the authority of God through the proclamation of His Truths through the Bible, then no common ground for conversation can be established.  We will argue the nature of man; does he have a soul?  Is there an eternity?  Is there morality?  And if so, how do we define it?  These conversations are impossible without an agreed authority.  Even if we happen to have a similar morality, we will differ on topics, nuances or preferences.

FOR THE EARTH IS THE LORDS, AND ALL IT CONTAINS.

 – 1 Cor 10.26

Not only does the Earth belong to God, He created the laws of science, laws of nature, moral laws and structures for how we are to live.  Unfortunately, in evangelicalism today, we teach one another to shy away from that.  “No one can refute your testimony” we praise one another when training Christians to share the Gospel.  And while that is true, we must remember that the opposite is also true: we are incapable of refuting another’s story.  What about those who have learned to distrust God because things did not go how they wanted?  What about those who have experienced evil spirits?  What about those who have experienced miracles in false religions?  What about those who have witnessed the sinfulness of Christians and the church full of hypocrites?  What then?

No friends.  Your testimony is important.  But it is not the Gospel and it will not save anyone.  And your testimony cannot stand up as superior to another’s testimony of a false god.  Only the Word of God can do that.  Only the inspired Scriptures can, without a doubt, affirm that we are living a godly or sinful life.  Only God’s direction can determine if we know Him and are forgiven.  And since He is the author of human life, He gets to determine the morality of homosexuality, He gets to determine to cure for depression, He gets to exemplify Himself to the atheist, He alone is God.  And one day, that friend or sister or parent will kneel before Him with the rest of creation.

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

– Phil 2.9-11

Has God done a mighty work in your life?  Do you have a friend who suffers from depression or has committed suicide?  Are your parents divorced?  Or is your buddy homosexual?  That person is not the authority on the topic.  You may not dictate how culture handles the topic just because you know someone walking through it.  God has written the book on each topic.  Literally.  And He has the say.  And whomever is living in rebellion of what He has said about it will give an account for it one day.  So whose side do you want to be on?  The judge’s?  Or the defendant’s?

Let’s get over ourselves.  Let’s get over our “experiences”, and let’s learn to evaluate our experiences against the heart of God – which we can only know and learn through the Word of God, the Bible.  Share your testimony, but lace it with Scripture, and remember that your testimony is fallible, but God’s Word is not.

So you have a Jesus fish.

ichthus1

American Christianity has become trendy.  Musicians fake faith to succeed in the Christian music scene, Jesus has been trivialized to be made cool (anyone remember, “Jesus is my homeboy”?), WWJD bracelets were a permeating fad that rocked the teenage world before silicone wristbands were the thing, and we all know the passive aggressive ichthus fish that Christians mount on their cars, either in silent witness of their faith or in direct rebuttal to the Darwin fish or coexist bumper stickers parked down the street.

So let us consider some food for thought.  When I was in high school and the Jesus fish fad started, I told my friends that I would never put one of those on my car because sometimes I make mistakes:  I can cut people off, I might speed, and I know how prevalent road rage is so I do not want to be a bad witness.  Sounds pretty noble, does it not?  It did in my seventeen-year-old mind, anyway.  It’s better to not be a hypocrite, right?

Yes.  It is better to not be a hypocrite.  We learn from Scripture that it is better to be hot or cold than lukewarm (Rev 3.15-16).  I realize that there is debate about the exact meaning of the passage, as it has been suggested that hot and cold seasons led to better shipping lines in the ports near Laodecia; that hot and cold were both good things, but the simple reality is that God holds us accountable to the measure by which we have understanding.

Paul teaches us that those who have the Law will be judged by the Law:

For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.

– Rom 2.12-13

This can be confusing.  Does it mean that people who have never heard the Gospel, the story of Jesus, are off the hook?  Do they get to go to Heaven?  No, it does not mean that.  We know that everyone has sinned, and some have sinned knowing the Gospel and some have sinned not knowing it.  But all know that they have sinned, and verse twelve tells us that those who do not know the story of Jesus will still perish.  God’s wrath will still be poured out against them and their sin in eternity.

But those who have heard will be held to a higher standard.  The judgment will be according to knowledge and responsibility.  Someone might say, “Hell is Hell”.  And yes, an eternity of suffering in Hell is a terrible thing.  But Jesus states that those who hear the truth and deny it will suffer a worse judgment than the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah who were destroyed by fire for their wickedness (Matt 10.15, 11.24), and even worse for those who are hypocrites, who profess to be leaders in the Church and lead people astray, their judgment will be the worst:

“…but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

– Matt 18.6

Perhaps the most sobering sections of Scripture deal with precisely this topic:

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.  Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? 

– Heb 10.26-29

The absolute worst situation, eternally, in which one can find himself is to have heard and known of Christ and His work and to deny it and live a life of sin.  We know that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God, so we must share the Gospel every opportunity that we receive, but at the moment of hearing one enters a new level of responsibility before God (Rom 10.17).

On that foundation we return to the original question.  Should a Christian hide is faith for the sake of not being labeled a hypocrite?  Is it more noble to not put a symbol of my faith on my car for fear of being judged when I make a mistake?  No.  It is not.  In fact, Jesus said,

“But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.”

– Matt 10.33

Does that mean that I must put an ichthus on my car?  No.  And no, you do not have to forward that chain email or post the picture of Jesus to your facebook wall to ensure your salvation.  But it does mean that if your logic for not doing these things is to not be labeled as a believer, then you need to check yourself.

We must, however, adhere to Jesus’ standards and the foundations of the faith.  We may not excuse our own sin or other’s sin by the blanket observation that “everyone is a sinner”.  We cannot let our friends continue sinning without holding them accountable based on the logic, “I just sinned yesterday”.  We must let sinful brothers and sisters call us out.  Because our sinful brother and sister is not the standard.  Jesus is.  And even though we all fall, we can push one another on to holiness.

So put away your fake piety and embrace your identity.  And when you screw up, praise Jesus boldly in front of others for the grace that you have received for the forgiveness of your sin.  If you have an ichthus on your car and you cut someone off in traffic, make a kind gesture and mouth “I’m sorry”.  If you are wearing a WWJD bracelet and you get angry, or lie, or screw up, return to the offended party and confess it.  Repent.  Praise Jesus for grace.  And let that be a testimony of how Jesus is working in you today.

That does not belong here.

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.  Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

– 1 Peter 2.11-12

I like to run.  I live in the city, not in a subdivision but amongst older homes organized into neighborhoods in the more traditional sense, and I run on sidewalks and running paths the vein the city of Denver.  I live in a cute community, older homes that are well kept and fun to look at for their variety.  But there is one house that I pass on a regular basis that just does not fit in.  And it is not the house, but it is the fact that they use the small plot of ground between the sidewalk and the street to grow corn.  Yes, corn.

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I grew up in the country and we always had a large garden.  My roommate keeps vegetables on the side of the house, but this stands out!  It simply doesn’t belong there.

Yesterday I was reflecting on our responsibility to share the truth boldly and verbally as part of who we are:  aliens.  We are to be in the world but not of the world.  We know when something does not belong.  Corn does not belong on a city street.  Do people know that you do not belong in the world?  Can someone observe you and know that the Earth is not our home (Heb 13.14)?

I think that we hear this general instruction a lot, but little help is offered as to what exactly that means.  Do we create a new monastery where we wear robes, sing chants and remove ourselves from daily interaction with the world?  Do we start making our own clothes, stop using electricity and focus on dominating the Earth?  Do we, as one tribe I know of in the world, reject all forms of social structure including clothing, education and buildings in order to live as closely as possible to the way in which Adam and Eve lived when God created them?

“What we must do is to outdo the world in honesty, kindness, gentleness, usefulness, moderation of spirit, charity, compassion and readiness to help others in their need.”

– John Owen

But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed.  And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.

– 1 Peter 3.14-16

I love the fulness of the picture that Peter paints for us here in that we have hope in Jesus Christ and have been transformed.  Because of that transformation and separation from the world, we will be slandered or persecuted, and on the grounds of our response to our persecution – faith, hope and love – people will see that we truly are different and will ask about the hope.  When we answer about our hope with gentleness and reverence, those who slander or persecute us will be shamed because our hope is sincere and they proved unable to nullify our witness.

Were all Christians meek, quiet, peaceable, sober, self-controlled, humble, useful, kind, gentle, willing to listen to all, cheerful in trials and troubles, always ‘rejoicing in the Lord’, then the world would not take offense at them, but wonder how any could live without them, and so be won over to them, making every effort to be like them.  If honesty, sincerity and uprightness were seen among Christians on every occasion, how greatly it would glorify Christ!

– John Owen

How then do we show that we do not belong?  By exemplifying the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, but loving as Christ loved, by preaching the Gospel at every occasion, and by maintaining our witness even in the midst of trials and tribulations.  They will know we are Christians by our love (John 13.35), and love never fails (1 Cor 13.8).  And we maintain this by not loving the things of the world, as we cannot love the things of the world and love God (1 John 2.15, Matt 6.24).  Let’s be the corn growing on the city street.