Christians, say critics, are primarily hypocritical, intolerant, and judging. That should bother us, dear Christ follower.
As Paul makes clear in his letter to the Corinthians, Christianity is a historical religion tied to the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus. These claims are testable, in that anyone can determine historically whether they are reliable.
As we said in last week’s blog post, Christianity is primarily based not on “personal revelation” or “blind” faith, but on actual, factual events recording in numerous religious and secular historical documents. Jesus lived so that He could die to demonstrate God’s amazing love for us.
Then He asked us to do the same on a daily basis.
That’s where things get tricky. If God is so amazing, and Jesus’ sacrifice so amazing, then shouldn’t we Christians be an amazing force in today’s crazy world?
“YOU BET!” scream our critics.
Let’s look at three arguments they give for why, frankly, we’re falling down on the job. Note: ain’t nobody gonna listen to us talk about the love of Jesus if His love isn’t clearly evident in us before we even open our mouths.
~ Argument 1: Christianity is Full of Hypocrites ~
Alas, they are right. Primarily because the Church is full of people who have yet to fully submit to Christ’s teachings.
For at least two reasons, the character flaws of the Church should not surprise anyone. First, God speaks of human nature as profoundly fallen and deeply flawed. Second, many “Christians” go through the motions of attending church, but they don’t truly know Christ with any depth or commitment.
Christian hypocrisy has done massive damage to the Christian faith, for sure, but there is good news: though society rarely highlights the good created through Christianity, Christ followers have been a tremendous source of societal good. In his book What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?, pastor and evangelist D. James Kennedy highlights some of the positive contributions Christians have made through the centuries:
~Hospitals, which essentially began during the Middle Ages
~Universities, which began during the same period
~Literacy and education for the masses
~The abolition of slavery
~The elevation of women
~High regard for human life
As philosopher John Mark Reynolds notes, “Humility about our history is in order, but extremists in the secular community insist we feel nothing but shame. This is unnecessary, since the good of Christendom far outweighs the bad, just as good and honorable ministers outnumber the hypocrites.”
Poor behavior on the part of Christians does not give non-believers a pass to blindly judge Christianity. Critics who demand perfection from the Church set an unrealistic standard that they themselves wouldn’t be able to keep. They would have to admit that even they have days in which they dump their worst selves on the world.
Still, Jesus hated hypocrisy. A committed Christ follower, then, should strive to quickly acknowledge his or her sin and make amends with God and those they’ve misused or hurt.
~ Argument 2: Christians are Intolerant ~
We can think ourselves so righteous for “knowing” Jesus. However, Christians who view themselves as superior to non-believers need to keep this truth in mind: when Christians act in an arrogant, judgmental manner toward others, they are not following Scriptural teachings. Pride is one of the seven deadly sins (Proverbs 6:16, 17).
Committed Christ followers don’t lead with condemnation. Rather, they aim to respectfully build relationships with others — regardless of creed, race, nationality, or sex — and strive to be humble and gentle. But they still recognize that sin is sin, and that God is not okay with it, even if that makes them seem “intolerant” in the eyes of the world.
But it’s important to note that critics who cry, “Intolerant!” have a distorted view of what tolerance really entails. True toleranace does not demand that one person accepts another’s views as valid. Rather, it demands that we show respect toward others who don’t share our values, beliefs, and practices. Charitably and kindly disagreeing is an act of genuine tolerance — on both sides.
Critics who find Christianity intolerant must also admit that in doing so, they are showing intolerance. Says author and speaker Mark Mittelberg: “What’s fascinating is that people who condemn Christians for acting as if they’re right and others are wrong are, in that very action, acting as if they themselves are right and Christians wrong.”
Christ calls us to standards of conduct that the world finds self-limiting and restrictive. Christ followers need have no shame for living to God’s standards. But do let us be ashamed of any moment in which we disrespect, mock, or condemn non-believers for their beliefs and lifestyle choices. Because they are as justified in having an opinion as we are. Christ won people’s hearts and minds through his respectful treatment of them. Let us follow His example.
~ Argument 3: Being a Good Person is Enough ~
Many people simply can’t accept that a loving and just God would send anyone to hell. Here’s why: they believe in the essential goodness of mankind. From their perspective, hell seems like total overkill for basically good people who commit a few small indiscretions. Noted Christian author C.S. Lewis rightly observed, “When we say that we are bad, the ‘wrath’ of God seems a barbarous doctrine; as soon as we perceive our badness, it appears inevitable, a mere corollary from God’s goodness.” In other words, until we rightly view our sinful state, we will never see our need for a savior.
The Bible offers a stark view of humanity. We are God’s most valuable creation, yes, but we have routinely offered Him utter rebellion. You and I might view ourselves as good because we don’t kill, or cheat on our spouse, or even cheat on our taxes. But God sees us completely affected by sin — from our intellect, to our emotions, to our motives, to our bodies. Which is why, Hallelujah!, He paid the ultimate price to fully reconcile us to Himself. God’s grace is a constant we can count on, even when we are, sadly, hypocritical, intolerant, and judging.
As Pastor Britt Merrick says, “Jesus treats us well and things well toward us even while we behave and believe badly. ‘God Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men,’ Jesus said in the Gospel of Luke. This characteristic is a core component of the character of God.” Adds Merrick, “God does not approve of the sin of the world, but He loves the world and forgives our sins by the blood of His son. This good news must permeate our beings until it forms our identity and shapes our relationships. People who don’t truly understand this good news harshly judge their fellow sinners.”
~ Effective Witnesses for Christ ~
Only God can work on the heart of someone to see his or her need for Him. We, at best, can be loving examples — which is what God calls us to be! Friends, let us strive to lead others to Him, without hypocrisy, without intolerance, without condemnation. It’s hard work, for sure, given our inherent pleasure in elevating ourselves over others (Lord, help us!). What steps will you take this week to grow your relationship with God, so that you better reflect Christ and serve as an effective apologist?
This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!