We should not give up Jesus because of his followers; nor should we give up on the church because of people in the church. I find that the following statement from Brennan Manning is quite true, but it doesn’t have to be.
The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.~popularized by the 1995 dc Talk track “What if I stumble?”
The Jesus we read about in the Bible is not the Jesus we often see exemplified by his followers, and this includes each of us. The plain teachings of Jesus such as loving one’s enemies, denying self, and seeking God with all our emotions, intelligence, and strength, is not an easy matter. In fact, I haven’t met anybody who can apply such principles perfectly. It’s a journey, and we are never promised that it will be easy. All Christians need to keep in mind what Paul wrote to Timothy:
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12)
Please notice, it doesn’t say “might be,” it says “will be.” The New Testament message for followers is not the message of comfort and living happily ever after. It is not the message of peace and prosperity. When we consider any of the great men of faith described in places like Heb. 11, we do not see people with cushioned lives. We see people who decided to trust in God regardless of the persecution that always resulted. Could it not be that the modern day evangelical message of: follow Jesus and you will prosper socially, politically, and economically; is mistaken.
Did God promise a trouble free life? Did he mislead us into thinking the good people would not suffer or even die? Quite the contrary. It promised persecution, it gave examples persecution, and it considered enduring hardships as an identifying characteristic of true discipleship. The world is not to be our home. We are not to love; we are to influence it, which means we are to be different. True believers are the ones who trust in God regardless of the situations they face. True believers trust God with what he provides. It is easy to trust in God when you have food on the table, money in the bank, and the security of worldly wealth. But what happens when our security is threatened? What happens when we lose our job? What happens when the stock market crashes? What happens if we find ourselves homeless or even in prison? Can we trust God then?
Like it or not; accept it or not; that is what we are called to do. People will hurt us. Even people trying to follow Christ will hurt others trying to follow Christ. It is a mistake to expect fellow Christians to treat us as they should. Do we treat others as we should? No, not always anyway. It is common for Christians to complain about other Christians. Christianity is about a personal commitment to our Lord Jesus. We are called to treat others as we desire to be treated. We are to love others, even enemies, as we love ourselves. But we will always appointed if we expect others to do the same. Just like we are imperfect; so are others.
The church is the community of God, and a true follower will always manage to find strength and encouragement within it. But we will also discover persecution and hardships along the way. One of Jesus’ first miracles was healing a demon possessed man in the synagogue. He was among God’s community. Satan’s influence is very much at work within the church and even at work within ourselves. We must guard against his influences, but this is not easy because it’s hard to recognize. I do think there are some red flags that should help us though.
- Anytime you have cause to hate; that is a red flag. You can hate a behavior, but hating and rejecting a person (even somebody who hurts you), is wrong. It is always wrong. Proof of this is the way Jesus prayed that God would forgive the very people who hung him on the cross.
- We should always be open to God’s direction. When we reach the point of thinking we have it all figured out, that is a sure sign we don’t. When we are afraid to hear what people have to say; when we can’t discuss things by considering different perspectives; when we feel the need to reject or silence others because we have already decided the matter in our minds; we shut out the process of learning. That is a red flag. We are no longer seeking God; we are seeking to remain loyal to traditional understanding. The desire for truth will never reject the possibility of being wrong. However, the desire to be right will resist learning out of the fear of being shown to be wrong. When people can’t discuss all matters in a rational way, it is a red flag.
- When you reach a point that you think you understand God so well that you can decide who he loves and who he doesn’t, that is a BIG RED FLAG. Consider Luke 18:9-14 as an example. This is called the parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector. Here we have a case of God accepting the sorrowful sinner while rejecting the self-righteous man. This flies directly in the face of how many people perceive the Christian life today. God does not see things on the outside as we do. It is always a mistake to think you know what only God can know.
It saddens me to see so many people giving up on Christianity because they are disappointed by other believers. I recently read another blog post entitled, “I’m tired of being a Christian,” that expressed a lot of the heart ache I hear among those who have kind of given up on the church and Christianity. I agree, it can be exhausting. But it is a mistake to give up on Jesus because of the behavior of other followers. Our commitment to Christ should never be contingent upon the behavior of others. When you respond to the pain of rejections by rejecting others. you are only repeating the behavior you consider to be wrong. Likewise, when you judge somebody for judging you; you are yourself judging, right? If we consider the imperfection we see in others as a mirror to our own perfection, it will keep the emphasis where it needs to be: on our own behavior.