Home > Mercy, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel > Not Very Good At Being Christians

Not Very Good At Being Christians


When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No. But I am the commander of the armies of the Lord.” Joshua 5:13-14

Ouch.  This picture stings. 

It’s easy to start thinking of all kinds of probably valid rebuttals.  People always think Christians should just feed the hungry and be nice and not stir up trouble.  Especially people who aren’t Christians think that.  And a lot of Christians think it too.  They forget some of Jesus’ other words, like, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  (Matt. 10:34)  Whenever conflict arises because of theology or for the sake of the confession of the Gospel, there are lots of Christians who think you shouldn’t get into fights if you are a Christian.  Such Christians become a great source of pain for their brothers who stand up and bear the hatred of the world.  Then the world accuses them, and meanwhile brothers in the church also say, “You’re not really confessing Jesus.  You’re just being a jerk.”

I’m assuming Jack is not a Christian.  I haven’t read the rest of the blog.  But Jesus didn’t say, specifically, that Christians should serve at soup kitchens or homeless shelters.  He did say, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  And, “If someone takes your cloak, offer your tunic also,” and, “give to the one who asks of you, and the one who would borrow from you do not turn away.”

But then again, it was Judas who was annoyed when a lady poured expensive perfume on Jesus; he said, “Why wasn’t that sold and given to the poor?”  And Jesus said, “You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have Me.

But here’s the thing, even though you could argue with this meme and get annoyed with it, it really should provoke our repentance.

The folks who went to Chik-fil-a and stood in long lines—isn’t it fair to assume that most of them were Christians?  And isn’t it fair to assume that most of them are probably committed and  conservative Christians, or more committed than many?  It takes some commitment to stand up and be counted in the culture war, not to mention spending an hour in a line in order to protest something.

What made all these committed Christians come out?  A business owner says that he opposes homosexual marriage and that he considers his company a Christian company.  Then he is boycotted and picketed by homosexual activists. 

In order to show the world how many conservative Christians there are who agree with the owner of Chik-fil-a, we have this massive turnout of people to spend their dollars in the store.  “We’re not going to be intimidated.  We’re going to let business owners who are vocal about their Christianity and their opposition to gay marriage know that they can continue to be so and they will still continue to be able to run a profitable business.”  That seems to be the message, or at least some of the message.

I have no problem with the owner of Chik-fil-a saying what he said.  Christians should vocally oppose homosexual marriage.  I’ve done the same, and every time I do something painful happens.  I keep doing it not to bash homosexuals but so there are still some voices telling kids, “No, not everyone agrees that homosexual marriage is right, and they aren’t all stupid, or Nazis.”  So that Christians will not be intimidated into denying the truth or believing lies.  So that there will still be space in public discussion for those who dissent from what is being rammed down our throats by the media.

I think Christians must do this.  But the problem is that if all we do is oppose moral drift in our society, that isn’t Christianity yet. 

Christians aren’t supposed to be known simply for rigor.  The light that is supposed to shine in us is not simply defining the moral law or preaching the law’s condemnation, or voting to uphold the moral law.  The light of Christ is not “family values,” even though it’s vitally important for our country and our churches to see “family values” come back, because our country and our churches are falling apart due to the decline of the family.

But Jesus didn’t come to preach the law of God.  He did preach it, but that’s not why He came.  Family values refers to the law of God concerning marriage and sexuality. 

What Jesus came to preach is the Gospel.  The good news.  What is the good news?  That because “there is no one righteous, no, not even one” (Rom. 3), God has provided a righteousness accomplished by Him on behalf of the unrighteous.  God assumed our human nature in the womb of the virgin Mary, assumed responsibility for the sin of Adam and all his children, and received the wrath of God against sin in our place on the cross.  Therefore everyone who believes that Jesus paid for sins with His suffering and death is counted righteous; God counts this faith that He receives us for Jesus’ sake as righteousness.

This good news means that all who believe in Christ are no longer condemned, even though sin still lives in them.  And if they are not condemned, they can live in this world without fearing their enemies—they can even love those enemies—because their enemies cannot harm them.  If you hate my guts because I’m a Christian, all you can do is cause me pain temporarily.  But Jesus will be with me and will enable me to bear it and to rejoice in it, because just as He was in this world, so am I.  And then, when I die, I really have lost nothing but gained everything, because Jesus rose from the dead after bearing my sin; and if He has borne my sin and it has died, then God no longer counts my sin against me and will raise me too.

Christians fight, but they fight a different kind of battle with different enemies.  The world fights with those who oppose their interests.  Homosexual activists fight those who oppose their agenda.  Lobbyists fight for their interests in congress. 

Christians’ enemies are God’s enemies—namely, the devil and demons.  But human adversaries?  God will ultimately decide who is to be cast away forever.  We may note when someone is not a Christian, but they don’t become our enemies even though they may hate us and Christ.  Jesus judged no one, but entrusted Himself into His Father’s hands.  He took no vengeance on earth, but only did good to His enemies.

Christians should be known for the gospel.  And even if the world doesn’t understand the gospel (which is likely), or if they slander us, Christians should have lives that reflect this love of God toward His enemies, which caused Him to humble Himself and die on their behalf, even while they fought Him, dishonored Him, or denied Him. 

Thank God that He did that toward His enemies?  Because in the flesh I am His enemy.  And my flesh has dishonored and hated Christ all my life.  I would not believe in Him now unless He was willing to endure abuse from His enemies.

In the verse I quoted way up at the top of this post, Joshua goes over and says, “Are you for us or our adversaries?”  And the guy with the sword says (by the way, that guy is the Son of God before the incarnation, I’m pretty sure)—“No.”  No, the Lord when He was about to go in with Joshua and slaughter the idolaters in Canaan and put the Israelites in that land—He was not fighting on the side of the Canaanites or the Israelites.  He was doing what He was doing for His own Name.

God is on the side of Christians when Christians are on His side.  God is on the side of repentant sinners.  God is for me in Christ, but that doesn’t mean God is on my side in the culture wars. 

He wishes to save sinners, whether the sinners are clinging to very ugly sins, or whether they are repentant and have the Holy Spirit beginning to destroy the old man within them.  Either way, we do not fulfill the law of God.  So Jesus seeks both.

He seeks to bring the unbelievers to repentance and faith in Him, so that they begin to keep His law.

He seeks to bring the true Christians again and again to faith in Him, so that they grow in holiness.

Our critic is right.  How much we lack in holiness, that you can find conservative, consciously committed Christians waiting in long lines to do what—stand with a man who confessed that homosexual marriage is wrong.

Good!  But even the pagans know that.  Muslims know it.  Hindus know it.  People who worship their ancestors also know it.

Where Christians should be conspicuous is in their pity toward the wretched, helpless, damned.  And toward their enemies.

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?  Do not even the publicans the same?  And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others?  Do not even the publicans so?  Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”  [St. Matthew 5:43-48]

Yes, if only we were as eager to pray for our enemies and to bear the suffering of the poor or endure the pain of trying to help a person caught in sin get free from it as we are to buy fast food in the name of Jesus, or condemn homosexual marriage in the name of Jesus!

Don’t misunderstand; it is necessary to say it clearly.  But at the same time the mercy of Christ that extends to us in the black hole, the depths of hell in which we were born in Adam, ought to move us to show the same compassion to those who are no different than we are by nature. 

If I hurt sound critical of anyone who was at Chik-fil-a, I promise you, all these things are preached to myself too. 

You are doing right to uphold the Law of God which worketh death.  It is necessary.  But when I hear it from someone who I cannot believe has struggled with sin and hopelessness in the way that I have, I am crushed into despair.  That’s what the Pharisees did to the sinners. 

I’ve been a Pharisee.  So was St. Paul.  St. Paul found—and so–that when we put all we have into serving God and are zealous and rigorous in the name of God–it’s then that we commit the greatest sins.  Unless the Spirit converts us, we can only do evil.  And even after we are converted, even when it is the Spirit who does the works in us, even then our works could not stand before God apart from His gracious covering of the sin in them.

That is how helpless we are in the flesh to please God.  And the worst is that after a person believes in Christ, our flesh and the devil often trick us into doing worse than we ever did apart from Christ–because now, so easily, the evil in our flesh is cloaked by the name of Christ.

let the recognition of every such attempt in the flesh which we have committed pierce our hearts, so that we are constantly driven to the pure mercy of God to us in Christ, for there is truly nothing good in us.  May Christians in this country carry weight in our society not so much for their capacity to buy things, but for their wealth of compassion, grace, and love for their enemies. 



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