Over the past few months, I noticed a crisis of conscience surfacing, particularly over watching what I promote or post. I asked my closest friends, dropping a lot on their heads at once. One assured me my integrity was intact and that I’m not being a hypocrite.
I have been writing about how we need to represent Jesus, have been breaking down a book into potential Sunday School lessons, writing about discipleship, etc. I promote this so I have to be cautious I don’t promote something contrary to it. My personal failings look hypocritical enough without me intentionally adding to it. So what should be off limits?
What Is Good?
I spent hours one Friday looking through 1 John, Galatians, Colossians, and 2nd Corinthians looking for answers. I started with a search for ‘worldly’, went into the Fruits of the Spirit, and then into application in the last two books listed. What can I promote that does not run contrary to my life as a follower of Jesus?
Love, the agape kind that is a verb —the kind found in 1st Corinthians 13; joy; peace, a content tranquility; patience; kindness; good; faithfulness; gentleness; and self-control. A rare person or law would honestly disagree with these. They are the same traits Jesus has and believers have when they walk in the spirit, in biblical terms these are the fruits of the spirit.
Then there is forgiveness, where you give up the right to get even; repentance, turning away from the destructive choices in life; reconciliation; humility, which is thinking of others before you think of yourself, which leads to acts of service for the needy. I found these in Galatians 4 and Colossians 3. The reason I do them is the natural outpouring of gratitude and the Holy Spirit working through me.
What Is Opposed to Good?
Great, now what opposes these, simply, so I do not have to consult a list? One of Jesus’s disciples, the Apostle John, summed it up in his letter 1 John from 85AD. The three attitudes he listed are just as prevalent today as it they were then. Most actions have the underlying attitudes of self-gratification, materialism, and power.
How many are preoccupied with self-gratification? What about ‘keeping up with the Jonses’ to gain bragging rights? Here is the one I am guilty of —obsessing over where I rank, how important I am; wanting power and achievement.
These attitudes when taken to extremes become people’s gods or idols in Bible terms. It swings both ways, too; therein is the danger. The opposite of self-gratification – lust – is self-control; the former makes you a slave to your desires while the latter can lead to pride in how controlled you are – asceticism. The line to walk is enjoying the good in moderation without making it something you live for. I should probably apply this to the sausage and biscuits from the church’s kitchen…
The danger of generosity is becoming so generous that you become a burden for others by neglecting your own necessities. The line to walk is not to be overly attached or greedy. There is a quote attributed to Wayne Gerard Trotman that sums up the two attitudes well: “Instead of loving people and using money, people often love money and use people.”
Even altruism has an extreme, where a chosen issue becomes your god or you put your faith in your good works to get you to Heaven. The good works come from the gratitude for what Jesus did for us on the cross; his traits grow as we serve out of love, loyalty, and to show Him to the world. That line I keep bringing up is moderation, instead of excess.
Why Should Christians Be Careful of What They Applaud?
I cannot appeal to lust, materialism, or ego-centrism, and the vices that flow from them. I don’t represent just myself anymore. Colossians 3: 17 says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Then I discovered 2nd Corinthians 5: 10 – 7:1, the same letter I referenced last week. In it, Paul gives us the model and reason to follow it. I encourage you to read the entire passage. For the sake of space, I will only highlight certain verses.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience.”
The Great Commission, our everyday walk with God, it is a big responsibility in reaching and teaching about Jesus. While we still get to Heaven because of Jesus’s work on the cross, we still have to answer for what we do.
“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
Bobby Conway phrased it this way in the Fifth Gospel: He died for us, is it too much to live for him?
“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:”
Instead, use the filter that I wrote about in Looking through God’s Eyes based on John Easter’s sermon. Using John 3:16 and personalizing it with other’s names.
“that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
I think Paul was off-handedly referencing the command, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” There are different and creative ways we can do this personally, working with others, or both. What stuck out to me was ‘We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors’. Like the ambassador of a foreign country and its government, we represent the Kingdom and Jesus here on earth.
“We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses…in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors… sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”
The Sad Reality of First Impressions
I rediscovered where I got the phrase “stumbling block” when I wrote Represent. People find many faults in Christians and use it as a reason not to come to Jesus. We have the Holy Spirit to help us display Jesus, yet we also have to be careful in how others perceive us.
We may not like the idea of first impressions but they exist and matter. The more we walk by the Spirit (Galatians 4), the easier it is. Some will celebrate, some will understand, some will not understand, and others may even work against us, yet we persist.
The Danger of Mixed Messages
“What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
This goes back to what I listed from 1 John, the attitudes are like big “I” idols. Modern idols these days are the many things people live their lives for. I cannot compromise and keep my integrity intact by willfully working towards self-gratification, greed, or power.
Former detective J. Warner Wallace in his book Cold-Case Christianity wrote that all the crimes he investigated had at least one of these three motives: sexual lust, greed, and power. Does this look familiar?
The Answer Isn’t Isolation or Limp-Wristed Christianity
When Jesus was here, he did not condemn the seekers and the open sinners, but he did not condone their behavior either. He often told them after he forgave them to ‘go and sin no more.’ He sure did not enable them to continue the direction they were going either.
I noticed two things in my studies that made Jesus angry or frustrated: self-righteousness–see Matthew 23 if you want to know how he feels about hypocrites—and getting between people and God. He literally flipped tables over that one, called Peter the devil, and told the disciples that it would be better to drown in a lake than keep the children from him – kids were treated differently then. I think enabling others to continue their line of thinking because a Christian is doing it would qualify.
Second Corinthians 6:18 leads into 2nd Corinthians 7:1:
“Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”
It is a process; I fail in my attempts and being like Christ is a life long journey. I just have to make sure I do not willfully decide to do anything that is sketchy. To make sure my own pet sin of self-righteousness is in check by remembering where I was, who brought me out of it, and not to condemn others personally, nor support their actions. Being salt and light won’t allow that.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
I’m to work for the good of others, to love them as people; following the golden rule of doing for others as I would like done for me.
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
At the start of the year, I wrote about simplifying your life by taking anything that does not help the goal and discarding it. Also a teaching of Jesus in the teaching style of hyperbole when he spoke of cutting off an offending hand, actually. The number one goal was “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” and sometimes it means a reevaluation on what works against that, is neutral, and works towards it. It is a lot to think about.