“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. If you are insulted because you bear the name of Christ, you will be blessed, for the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you. If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs. But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name!”
~ 1 Peter 4:12-16
“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you.”
~ John 15:18-20
“Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”
~ 2 Timothy 3:12
The world system – with all of its growing megaphones pumped out by the glut of social media (not to mention Hollywood and cable networks) – has presented two falsehoods effectively and eloquently. They are:
If you love someone, you must accept everything they practice and believe.
If you believe that a certain lifestyle is immoral, this means you hate the individuals who practice those lifestyles.
These are clear falsehoods, and Jesus of Nazareth – this world’s true Lord – would have been indicted, condemned, and sentenced for violating both if He were still here in the flesh.
Part of what makes these two falsehoods so appealing — and appalling — is that the behavior of many Christians, both past and present, has tended toward hatred, bigotry, callousness, and a profound lack of compassion.
(Ironically, these are usually the same stripe of “Christians” who attack godly Jesus-lovers out of jealousy or some other base motive. And because of their slander, they do unimaginable harm to the gospel.)
Bible-quoting Warden Norton from The Shawshank Redemption is the superb caricature of this ilk of “Christian.”
Tragically, however, godly Christians who are loving and compassionate, yet who don’t compromise the standards of the Lord Jesus Christ, get conflated and confused with the Warden Norton-type “Christians.” (You know, the types who believe that God hates the same people they do.)
Because of this conflation and confusion, there’s tremendous pressure on Jesus-followers today — particularly those in their 20s, 30s, and 40s — to adopt the world’s narrative.
If you don’t adopt it, you lose friends.
If you don’t adopt it, you’re labeled a bigot, a hater, a hypocrite, a neanderthal, a moral idiot, and the ultimate smackdown – “intolerant!”
Tragically, because of the pressure to conform, many Christians have sacrificed Jesus Christ on the altar of gaining favor with the world.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
~ Romans 12:2
The challenge today, then, is to follow the despised craftsman from Nazareth who was the friend of sinners on the one hand (Luke 7:34), but who was separate from sinners on the other, even speaking unpopular truth to power (Heb. 7:26).
Every Jesus-follower must learn to live in this incredible tension.
It’s to decry – on the one hand – all hatred, bigotry and mean-spiritedness which has marked self-righteous, callous, and unloving “Christians.”
And on the other hand, to stand unspotted from the world without compromise, holding firm to God’s revealed will, come hell or Hiawatha. No matter what the cost.
If you wish to go on with the Lord, you’ll have to pay the price of refusing to conform to the culture.
“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”
~ James 1:27
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”
~ 1 John 2:15-17
This two-fold problem, then, is the challenge of our times.
Hiding under a blanket won’t make it go away. It’s here to stay, as risky and unnerving as it is.
Four things to consider.
1. The Christians of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries were labeled “incestuous cannibals.”
Yes, you read that right – cannibals who practiced incest.
They were labeled cannibals because they talked about eating the body of Jesus and drinking His blood (John 6).
They “practiced incest” because they married their “sisters” in Christ and their “brothers” in Christ.
I might add that the Christians during those three centuries were tortured and exterminated in brutal ways.
Now compare that to being labeled a bigot, intolerant, and a moral idiot.
That should put things into some perspective, no?
2. Jesus – who is our model and example – didn’t treat everyone the same.
That’s right. The Lord didn’t follow a one-sized-fits-all template when He dealt with the lost.
He backed the dump truck on the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees, emptying the cement on their heads.
But He was patient, compassionate, and loving to the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the multi-divorced Samaritan woman who was living in sin, etc.
The Lord’s multi-faceted posture is reflected in the words of Jude:
“And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.”
~ Jude 1:22-23, NKJV
Generally speaking, the posture of Jesus toward the world was embodied in these words:
Condone not. Condemn not.
Remember His words to the woman caught in adultery:
“Neither do I condemn you (condemn not) . . . go and sin no more” (condone not).
It’s possible to be compassionate without compromise.
I’ve lost count of the number of people who felt comfortable talking to me in private about some immense struggle they were going through because I didn’t condemn them on the one hand nor condone what they were doing on the other.
If you yield to the world’s pressure and condone that which is wrong, those in the world will disrespect you (even if they don’t explicitly say so). And you can forget about any chance of changing them for the better.
The same is true if you condemn others.
Unfortunately, Christians today seem to fall off one side of the horse or the other on this issue. They either condone all or they condemn all.
3. Accept the “new tolerance” as the order of the day.
Christians are labeled “intolerant,” yet the world isn’t tolerant toward those whose loyalty is to the despised craftsman from Nazareth.
So the “tolerance” works one way. This selective treatment produces the “intolerance” of “tolerance.”
Expect that. The world system doesn’t traffic in fairness. It’s hostile to God.
“You adulterous people don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?”
~ James 4:4
Why is it hostile to God?
Because of who presently runs it.
“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
~ 2 Corinthians 4:4
I call the “new tolerance” The Millennial Muzzle. Those who are in bed with the world use the “tolerance” card to gag Millennial Jesus-followers. And regrettably, some have fallen prey to the pressure instead of standing their ground for the Lord’s sake.
Be careful here. Standing your ground doesn’t mean being combative or belligerent.
I hasten to point out that if you’re someone who is obnoxious, nasty, and vindictive in an effort to “protect the truth,” then you’re showing people what you believe God is really like: retributive, touchy, defensive, slashy-burny, and demanding of theological precision.
This lack of self-awareness doesn’t win souls, change minds, or touch hearts. Instead, it collapses into a defensive posture that only builds higher walls of isolation.
No, standing your ground means not agreeing with what you know to be false and at odds with the Lord Jesus.
In regard to the “new tolerance,” Christian Smith has called for a “genuine pluralism.” He describes it this way:
“Genuine pluralism fosters a culture that honors rather than isolates and disparages religious difference. It affirms the right of others to believe and practice their faith, not only in their private lives but also in the public square — while expecting them to allow still others to do the same. Authentic pluralism does not minimize religious differences by saying that “all religions are ultimately the same.” That is false and insipid. Pluralism encourages good conversations and arguments across differences, taking them seriously precisely because they are understood to be about important truths, not merely private “opinions.” It is possible, authentic pluralism insists, to profoundly disagree with others while at the same time respecting, honoring, and perhaps even loving them. Genuine pluralism suspects the multi-cultural regime’s too-easy blanket affirmations of “tolerance” of being patronizing and dismissive. Pluralism, however, also counts atheist Americans as deserving equal public respect, since their beliefs are based as much on a considered faith as are religious views and so should not be automatically denigrated.”
While this is an ideal to strive for, don’t expect everyone to adopt it. They won’t. But articulating it for open minds to ponder is worthwhile.
The other problem is . . .
4. The myth that if you’re a person of faith, you must offer an instant opinion on whatever social, political, or economic issue that’s burning up the social media newsfeeds.
Don’t succumb to the pressure to respond instantly to everything that comes across your newsfeed. This usually leads to some egregious missteps.
There is no angel in heaven telling you to lean into every new flare-up on your Facebook feed.
Find out what you believe first on a given topic — which requires time to research and reflect. And only respond when the Lord leads and you have something valuable to say.
And for heaven’s sake, don’t equate someone’s disagreement with “the-gospel-is-at-stake-we’re-losing-the-culture-war-and-heading-off-the-cliff” tremor.
Adding to the noise because of the pressure to respond only adds to the confusion, and it doesn’t help anyone . . . let alone the cause of the gospel.
Remember too, it’s often wiser to ask questions rather than to issue statements. (Jesus did this constantly.)
And there’s no problem with saying in response to someone’s grinding questions, “I don’t know right now. I’m still investigating the subject and listening to all sides,” or words to that effect.
(See my post I Don’t Know.)
Giving stock answers or quoting the religious party line are also counterproductive.
As a Jesus-follower, effective cultural engagement that doesn’t backfire in your face requires thoughtfulness and prayer.
So never rush into it.
Finally, consider what Paul says in Philippians. It sums it up nicely.
“Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ . . . Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies . . . For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. We are in this struggle together . . .
~ Phil. 1:27-30
See how relevant the Bible is?
For further thoughts on this subject, you can listen to these two talks:
RETHINKING DISCIPLESHIP – delivered in Urbana, Illinois.
For God So Loved the World vs. Love Not the World – delivered in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Your chest might tighten a bit as you listen to certain parts of these messages, but I trust you will find them to be fog-clearing.
Would to God that all of the Lord’s children would reevaluate how they respond to the world’s narrative in the light of Jesus Christ and the price He paid for living against the current.