Representing Christ

The final words of Jesus that are recorded by Matthew are instructions for His followers to carry out while He is away: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The idea of spreading out all over the world is itself a daunting task, but for many of the early missionaries for Christ, travel and culture shock were only the beginning of their troubles. People were going to HATE them for being Christians: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)

This posed a real problem for the early church. Hatred can often lead to violence, and the Roman government had very little tolerance for troublemakers whose religion led to violence. So what could the church do, to maintain its credibility and its political freedom while also standing up for Christ? The book of 1 Peter appears to have been written as an answer to that question.

Peter writes the book specifically to the “aliens” who have been scattered all over the known world for the sake of Christ, and he addresses all kinds of difficult situations that they may encounter.

What if Christ’s people find themselves disagreeing with the governing authorities?
What if a Christian servant finds himself serving an unjust master?
What if a Christian wife finds herself with an unbelieving husband?
What if a Christian finds himself in an argument in which his faith is called into question?
What if there are arguments within the church itself?

All of these situations must have been common for the early church, and any of them could have ended badly for everyone involved, but Peter’s instructions contain a steady theme that runs throughout the book:

Stand up for Jesus Christ, but do so in a way that is above reproach. Do not give them any reason whatsoever to slander your character. Be respectful. Be gentle. Be humble. Demonstrate through your behavior just how beautiful and beneficial your religion really is.

As Jesus said in Matthew 7: “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

The world will judge our message not simply by what we say, but also by how we say it, and what we do to demonstrate it. When we argue on behalf of Christ, let us do it, as Peter says “with gentleness and reverence.”

After all, Jesus Himself is our ultimate example. He was unjustly nailed to a cross.   He could have called ten thousand angels. But instead He responded by praying for our forgiveness and entrusting Himself to the Father.

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Are Christians Better than Other People?

One common complaint raised against Christians is that “you think you are better than everyone else.” The typical response, often offered preemptively before this objection is even raised, is that “I do not think I am better than anyone else just because I am a Christian. I am just as bad as you are. The only difference is that God looks on Christ’s righteousness instead of my sins.”

So is it true? Do Christians really think they are better than other people? And should they? Are they actually better than other people?

That depends on what you mean by “better.”

Does a Christian have more intrinsic worth in God’s eyes than a non-Christian does? The Biblical answer is “no.” We derive an objective value from being a soul created in God’s image, whether Christian or not (Genesis 1:26, Genesis 9:6, Acts 17:28).

Does God love a Christian more than a non-Christian? If love means wanting what is best for a person, and acting in their best interest, then once again, the Biblical answer is a resounding “no.” Contrary to the conclusions of some Calvinist theologians, God is “patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).”  He illustrates this love by the story of a father who runs out to welcome home his rebellious son (Luke 15:11-31). After all, Jesus died for sinners (Romans 5:8), not people who were already holier-than-thou. (Mark 2:17)

Does a Christian deserve God’s grace more than a non-Christian does? If the key word is deserve, then the answer is “no,” yet again. A Christian is not someone who has earned their salvation. It is a free gift (Ephesians 2:8, Romans 6:23). This fact led Paul to conclude, “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all” (Romans 3:9). When it comes to deserving our salvation, we are not better than anyone else.

But there is a real sense in which Christians are better than other people. Or at least, we sure ought to be.

A chief aspect of God’s work in the life of a Christian is to conform him to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). There is no reasonable way to understand the concept of “being conformed to the image of Christ,” through a process of “transformation by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:1) that does not include becoming a better person.

Ephesians 4:22-24 states it plainly: “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

If you have not become a better person since becoming a Christian, something is seriously wrong.

In conclusion: Do Christians have more intrinsic worth than others? No. Does God love Christians more than others? When love is understood as an unconditional, active desire for the wellbeing of another, clearly not.   Do Christian’s deserve to be saved more than others? No.

But do Christians behave better than others? The answer had better be “yes.” We ought to be a people unusually full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. We ought to be a people unusually forgiving, unusually meek, unusually pure and upright and gracious and harmonious. Shame on us when we are not.

May we be growing in holiness in a way unlike anything that we experienced before our conversion. May we look more like our God every day. In that sense, may we be better than we were prior to our conversion.

A Story About a Sheep

When Nathan came to David as recorded in 2 Samuel 12, he came to a man guilty of lust, adultery, reckless endangerment, and murder. And yet David seemed totally oblivious to any of this. For your convenience, here is an overview of David’s recent actions, for which he showed no sign of guilt:

  • David stayed home when he should have been out protecting his people (2 Samuel 11:1).
  • He saw a woman bathing, and decided to sleep with here even after being informed that she was his friend’s wife. (3-4).
  • When she became pregnant, David tried to cover it up, but it did not work because of his friend’s own sense of duty and honor (5-13).
  • Ultimately David staged his friend’s death, sending the plan of action in his friend’s own hands. (14-17)
  • David put countless others in mortal danger in the process, all the while making it look like an accident (18-25).
  • David then saw fit to take this woman to be his wife (26-27).

The incredible thing about David’s state of mind after all of this, is that a made up story about one man butchering another man’s sheep enraged him enough to pronounce: “As the Lord lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die (2 Samuel 12:5).”

Adultery and murder were one thing, but the idea that a poor man’s beloved sheep might be butchered and eaten by his neighbor was simply too much to bear. In this way, I believe our society is a lot like David was in 2 Samuel 12.

Every day we legally put an end to thousands of precious human lives in their mother’s wombs, and millions of people see no problem with this. On the other hand, a U.S. felony conviction for “possession, sale, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export or import, of any bald or golden eagle, alive or dead, including any part, nest, or egg,” will result in a fine of up to $250,000 or two years in prison.

The law protects an eagle’s egg, but not an unborn child. What rationale could possibly justify this discrepancy?

Someone might suggest that it is important to protect the eagle because it is endangered, while humans are not. This is to suggest that the worth of a human life is inversely proportional to how many humans are currently alive. Surely human worth and dignity are not determined by “how many of us there are.”

Or maybe the eagle is important to the ongoing health of our ecosystem, while another human is not. This is to suggest that a human’s worth is based on their utilitarian value. Have we really come to believe that if a human is not really necessary to the preservation of our own comfort, then they no longer have any worth? Do we really want to live in a world where people only dignify each others’ existence to the degree that they find it personally useful?

Of course, eagles are only one example among thousands that reflect our cultural understanding of the worth and dignity of animals. Just as abortion is only one way among many that we undermine the much greater worth and dignity invested in human beings. What an incredible state we find ourselves in when we are willing to treat human lives in a way that evokes our outrage when applied to animals.

Yes, it is natural to feel affection for cute, fury creatures. And yes, it is right to go to great lengths to preserve the pristine dignity and beauty of God’s natural creation. But do not neglect your fellow man, woman, or child, born or unborn, “useful” or “not useful,” in the process. He or she was made in the image of God.

For the record, the story about the sheep brought David to his senses. Will we come to ours?

Ewe Lamb

Biblical Womanhood

If society is confused about what make a real man, it seems equally confused about the true meaning of womanhood.

Pop culture, even with its endorsement of “feminism,” still uses women’s bodies pervasively to sell products. Music videos, television, and movies reinforce the idea that a woman’s most valuable asset is her looks, and that this determines her worth.

Even those who are deeply concerned with women’s rights are often confused about the meaning of womanhood. Rather than arguing for a powerful and beautiful picture of strong, biblical femininity, they argue for the abolishment of “gender roles” altogether so that women are free to act and think like men, and men are free to act and think like women.

The truth is that God designed men and women to be different but equal, to compliment each other. Here are some Biblical insights into womanhood.

Women are:
Strong – “She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.” (Proverbs 31:17)
Helpful – “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’” (Genesis 2:18)
Capable – “She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens.” (Proverbs 31:15)
Deserving of love and respect – “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” (Colossians 3:19)
Compassionate – “She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.” – (Proverbs 31:20)
Submissive, yet persuasive – “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives.” (1 Peter 3:1)
Wise investors – “She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.” (Proverbs 31:16)
Modest – “Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control.” (1 Timothy 2:9)
Dignified – “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” (Proverbs 31:25-26)

There is understandable concern among some in regards to the Biblical model of wives submitting to husbands, but before we complain too loudly, let us remember that submission is a beautiful thing. The submission of men and women to governing officials preserves the peace. Each man and woman must submit themselves to Christ. Christ Himself submitted to His Father in His death on the cross.

Let us never be ashamed of God’s picture of womanhood. It gives honor and dignity to her body, her daily work, and her purpose in a way that contemporary society does not.

Beautiful Rose