Does it ever seem like the world is just falling apart before your very eyes?  Everywhere I look, it seems that I hear more bad news about the state of our country, economy, society, etc.  I turn on the news and hear about how our country is in terrible debt and the outlook is grim.  I look at the youth of our nation and see kids who are lazy, unmotivated, and entitled.  And I see an education system that enables those kids.  I go to a lecture on the current issues in American medicine and find out that the government is passing regulations forbidding doctors to act on their consciences.  I look on facebook and the internet and am constantly reminded of those working against Christian marriage and those who are hostile to, even hate, Christianity and everything I believe and hold dear.

It paints a pretty grim picture, doesn’t it?  And that’s not even the half of it.  I look around and see little cause for hope, little reason to think that the world hasn’t completely gone off the deep end.  It’s even worse when I remember that I have to live here.  I’m only 24.  I’m going to have to deal with the consequences of all this for many years to come.  This is the world I will bring my children into and raise them in.  When I consider it, it is so easy for me to despair.

Yet, lately I have been convicted about this.  My nature is a melancholy one and easily disposed to pessimism and the “doom and gloom” mindset.  I’ve never had too much use for optimism because it always seemed to me to be a blind belief in the face of the facts of reality.

However, I think that both my pessimism and this kind of blind optimism are wrong positions to take for they both ignore reality in different ways.  Blind optimism fixes itself on future hope, but does not deal with our present, and dismal, reality.  Pessimism, on the other hand, fixes itself so intently on the present that it does not consider our future hope, which is just as real and sure as the present.

Here, I find the biblical metaphor of the race especially helpful and beautiful, partly because I was a long distance runner.  You see the life race the Bible talks of is a long distance one and in a long distance race, you cannot be a blind optimist or a pessimist.  If you are, you will never finish the race.

The blind optimists were those who sprinted off at the beginning of the race.  Confident in their speed, they burst off and usually led the pack for a while.  However, they inevitably wore out.  Why?  Not because they were not fast, but because they did not take stock of the reality of the course.  They knew their speed, but they did not see and adjust for the hills and grueling distance.  Though they led the pack in the beginning, they inevitably wore out and fell back.

Pessimism in long distance running is equally fatal.  It is as much a mental sport as a physical one.  The pessimist focuses too much on the struggles of the race.  They think about the aching of their legs, their thirst, and shortness of breath.  Too wrapped up in the obstacles of the present moment, they forget their goal.  They consider only the hill in front of them and not the finish line which is, most assuredly, ahead.  A runner who forgets why he’s running and that he is running toward something, will inevitably give up because he begins to believe that the cost and struggle of the race outweighs the worth of the prize.

The runner who will finish the race is the one who recognizes and deals with the reality of the course, but also fixes his mind on the reality that there is a finish line and that every painful stride leads him closer to that finish line.  He knows that the pain is real, but that if he perseveres it will end and when it does, he will have reached the goal and obtained the prize.

 

Why is this relevant to my earlier musings about the state of our world?  Because, my friends, the Bible tells us that we are in a race and that this race is most definitely a long distance one.  If we are going to run the race well and finish, we cannot be the blind optimist nor can we be, as I am prone, the pessimist.

We cannot be the blind optimist and ignore the reality of our present obstacles.  The truth is that the world is in a really bad way and we have to be prepared to deal with that, to live in the reality of that.

Nor can we be the pessimist and forget what we are running toward and the prize we hope to obtain, eternal rest and peace with Christ.  This prize is as real as our struggles and if we persevere, we will receive it.  

Christ is our model and our well of hope.  We take heart in the sweet truth that he has run the race ahead of us.  He has experienced every struggle and faced every mocker, but “for the joy set  before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” -Hebrews 12:2-3  We must remember His struggles so we can face our own.

As we face these present struggles we must also remember our future prize.  We must remember, like Paul, that we “do not run like a man running aimlessly” -1 Corinthians 9:26 but we “run in such a way as to get the prize” -1 Corinthians 9:24.  The length and obstacles of the race are very real, but so also is our prize and the prize is undoubtedly worth the cost.  “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” -2 Corinthians 4:17

As I consider these things, and look ahead to the future, to my life in this world however long or short it may be, I hope and pray that I will be the runner who wisely considers the course and also holds firmly to the reality and hope of the finish line.  My hope is nearand yet, far.  Christ is always nigh and able to give me hope and strength, but I know I may yet have long to tarry in a world that is lost and growing increasingly hostile to Christ, my Lord and so also, to me.

The promise of John 16:33 comes to mind, “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome theworld.”  It strikes me that this verse a twofold promise and that firm belief in both aspects of the promise is crucial to finishing the race.  We must know that we will, without a doubt, have trouble in this world, but nevertheless, we should not despair because we also know that we run the course that Christ has already run before us.  To do so, is a privilege and provides us with certainty that if we persevere and hold fast to our hope, we will overcome just as Christ did.  We will receive the prize and enter into His rest.  Though we know the course is long and arduous, we know someday, we will reach the finish line and “In that day we will say, Surely this is our God, we trusted in Him, and He saved us.  This is the Lord, we trusted in Him; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.” -Isaiah 25:9

runner

“Running the Race” in a World That Kind of Stinks

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Are Christians Hypocrites?

One of the main objections and roots of hostility toward Christianity is the claim that Christians are hypocrites.  Many people disdain Christians because they supposedly claim one thing and do another.  Because of this, they reject Christianity and the Christian message.  I would like to explore this thought process and examine whether or not it is legitimate.

To do this, it would be helpful to break down the argument in order to understand and investigate what those opposed to Christianity are actually saying.   It seems to me that the general argument can be broken down into two separate claims: 1) Christians are hypocrites and 2) Because Christians are hypocrites, the Christian message is not true.  I will examine each of these claims separately.

Claim 1) Christians are hypocrites.  

  • What is a Christian and What is a Hypocrite?

It seems to me that before you can determine the truth of this claim, you must understand the terms you are using.  For our purposes, a useful definition of hypocrite is “one who acts in contradiction to her stated beliefs or feelings.”  A Christian is, essentially a “Christ-follower” or “one who professes beliefs in the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

So if a Christian is one who professes certain beliefs and a hypocrite is one who acts in contradiction to those beliefs, it is easy to see that Christians easily could be hypocrites.  However, we cannot draw conclusions on these facts alone.  If the determining factor of whether or not a Christian is a hypocrite is the message that they profess, we must know what the Christian message actually is.

Working with the aforementioned definition of Christian, Christians profess beliefs in the teachings of Jesus Christ.  I think here, we have reached a point that is critical to our examination.  Before labeling a Christian as a hypocrite, we must determine if we can truly label them as a Christian.  In other words, is what they proclaim truly the message of Christ?  There are a lot of people in the world claiming things in the name of Christ that do not in any way, line up with the true message of the Gospel.

  • What is the message of Christianity?

This leads us to another critical point.  If Christians are Christians because they preach the message of Christ and others label them as hypocrites because they preach the message of Christ, but don’t live it, it follows that both the Christian and the accuser must know what the message of Christ really is.  If the “Christian” does not know it, he is not truly a Christian.  If the accuser does not know it, he cannot legitimately accuse the Christian of hypocrisy.

The message or Gospel of Christ and, therefore, true Christians, is often misunderstood.  This in turn, leads to confusion and sometimes, inaccurate accusations of hypocrisy.  There are certain things that the Gospel is and is not.  Establishing these distinctions will provide clarity.

 The Gospel of Christ is not “total tolerance.”

The Gospel is, without a doubt, a message of love and grace.  However, I think this aspect of the Gospel has been interpreted to mean something that it does not.  What the love and grace of Christ does not mean is “total tolerance” in the sense used today.

In today’s world, tolerance means absolute acceptance of anything and everything.  If it makes you happy, it’s right.  Ironically, tolerance claims to welcome any and all beliefs, yet adamantly rejects those who have beliefs that necessarily make other beliefs wrong.  In short, tolerance is intolerant of the intolerant.  To “love” someone and accept them, you cannot make any moral assessments of their life choices.

This is not the love and grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is not love or grace at all.  Grace itself implies that there is a debt to be paid for a wrong committed.  If it is not possible for an act to be wrong, there is no need nor even possibility of grace.

The Gospel of Christ is total forgiveness of and freedom from acts that are inherently sinful. 

What the love and grace of Christ does mean and what the message of Christ really is, is this:

1) There are acts that are inherently wrong (sin).

2) We have all committed such acts (Romans 3:23).

3) Therefore, we deserve death (Romans 6:23).

4) However, Christ died to pay our penalty (Romans 5:8).

5) Thus, if we believe in him, we are justified before God and saved from His wrath (Romans 5:9).

6)  Now, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1.

7) And finally, we are set free from sin and bound to righteousness (Romans 6:18).

In short, the Gospel is that our sin is great, but that God’s love was greater in sending His son to pay our penalty so that we could be freed from sin in order to live lives of holiness.  If the Christian lives a life of utter licentiousness because he can always  “fall back” on the grace of God, he is not truly a Christian.  The crucial point here is that the grace of God is not a ticket to continue sinning as we please without fear of punishment, but a means of forgiveness and empowerment to put our sin to death.

The Gospel of Christ is not self-righteousness but Christ’s righteousness.  

This is where I think things get tricky and where we Christians really do need to listen up.  We are most certainly called to stand for the truth of God.  Contrary to the world’s “tolerance,”  we must be those who claim that certain things are not right, no matter how “happy” it makes someone.  However, we must be careful how we do this.

The important key here is humility.  If we make claims condemning certain acts in a way that exalts ourselves and magnifies our own righteousness, we have missed the mark and misrepresented the message of Christ, no matter how truthful our claims may be.  In defending the truths of God, we must certainly be bold and unyielding, but we must also be humble and meek, not self-exalting, but Christ-exalting.  The crucial point here is that the Christian message is not “Christians are perfect, so be like Christians”, but the Christian message is “Only Christ is perfect, but we strive, and sometimes fail, to be like Him.”

  • So…are Christians hypocrites or not?

This leads us to what we have been trying to answer, the question of whether or not it is true that Christians are hypocrites.  The answer, I think, is yes and no.

First, the answer is no, at least not in the way that many people think.  I think many people accuse Christians of being hypocrites on false grounds.  As established above, the Christian message is not a message of “total tolerance.”  However, many people confuse the Christian claims of love and grace with total tolerance.

To them, it appears inconsistent for the Christian to preach the love of Christ while at the same time, preaching the inherent sinfulness of certain things.  So, they accuse the Christian of hypocrisy.  However, this is a fallacious argument because, as shown above, the love of Christ is not equal to total tolerance.  Thus, it is not inconsistent for the Christian to proclaim that Christ loves the sinner and also claim that the sinner’s sin is really sin.

Secondly, I think the answer is, in a sense, yes.  Christians sometimes are hypocrites. In their sin, they can misrepresent the Gospel for what we have said that it is not, a message that exalts their own, albeit false, righteousness and condemns others for their sin.  We all, to our chagrin, have a little bit of the Pharisee in us.

However, I believe that this in no way discredits the message of Christianity and plan to show why.  This leads us to the second part of the argument.

Claim 2) Because Christians are hypocrites, the Christian message is not true.  

  • This is not a valid conclusion.

In a strictly logical sense, this is in no way a valid conclusion to draw from the premise that Christians are hypocrites.  If it is true that Christians are hypocrites, that is, they don’t always adhere to the message of Christ that they preach, it still remains to be shown how this has any bearing on the actual truth of the message itself.

The smoker will probably say that they believe that smoking causes lung cancer and often, death and that death is something they wish to avoid.  Yet, they continue smoking.  In this sense, the smoker is a hypocrite.  Their actions are not in line with their professed beliefs.  However, this does not in any way change the truth that smoking causes lung cancer and often, death.

In the same way, you cannot logically conclude that because a Christian’s actions do not always line up with their professed beliefs, their professed beliefs are not true.

Furthermore, I would say that we are all guilty of hypocrisy.  Most of us would profess beliefs, Christian or not, that we should live lives of love, goodness, fairness etc.  However, none of us live these beliefs out all the time, every time.  In all of us, there is a divergence from what we wish to do to what we actually do.  Call it sin or not, we all fall short of our own standards.  We are all hypocrites.  To judge people for being hypocritical would be…well, it would be hypocritical.

  • More than Logic. The Heart of the Message.

Logic only gets us so far.  Even though the truth of Christianity may be logically preserved apart from the lives of its followers, it cannot be authentic and powerful without Christians who walk the walk.  Those real Christians are out there, but as I conceded, there will inevitably be times when their walk doesn’t match their talk.  However, in that instance, they are most likely presenting the distorted Gospel of self-righteousness instead of Christ’s righteousness.  As outlined above, this is not the true Gospel.

On the surface, it seems that the fact that Christians make these kind of errors weakens the message of Christianity.  In a sense, it does.  To be sure, it is certainly a hindrance in trying to present the true Gospel to a lost world.  However, in another sense, I think it actually reinforces the message of Christianity.  In falling short as they do, true Christians are showing they are nothing more than what they have professed to be–sinners.  It shows that Christians are merely sinners who have seen their need for the grace of God and though forgiven and justified before God, still have the struggle of flesh against spirit (Romans 7:21-24) and desperately need that grace from day to day.

As Christians, we must keep this in mind.  Ours is a precarious calling.  We are called to condemn sin as sin and yet love sinners as we ourselves have been loved.  We preach a message that is unapologetically offensive as well endlessly loving and we must not compromise either aspects of this message.   We must continually bring ourselves back to the pure Gospel.  If we do, we can, with boldness and yet humility, declare the absolute sinfulness of sin as well as the infinite love and grace of God, using our own stories of utter sin and total forgiveness as witness.  We must humbly admit our own sinfulness that we might exalt Christ’s righteousness.  In this, there can be no hypocrisy.

God is Always Watching. Good or Bad?

I recently stumbled across a video on Youtube that piqued my interest.  In the video, there was a panel discussion between four known Christians and Christopher Hitchens, a well-known atheist.  I can’t remember who all of the Christians were, but among them were William Laine Craig and Lee Strobel, published apologeticists (is that the right word? haha).   I must say, poor Mr. Hitchens, was considerably outnumbered, but this didn’t seem to trouble him at all.

I knew Hitchens to be one of the “new atheists,” but hadn’t ever heard him speak.  I am pleased to say I found him to be much more calm and rational than I expected.  Despite the fact, that I totally disagree with his atheism, it is always pleasing to find that you can have intelligent and generally friendly debate.  He had several objections to Christianity, many of which were reasonable objections that Christians can and must answer.

However, it was more his underlying or implied objections that I found particularly intriguing.  After watching the video, I chewed on the things Hitchens had said.  One of the main reasons he objected to God’s existence was because God was always watching.  He said this invaded our right to privacy.  This seemed to me to be a very weak and petty objection.  Just because God is always watching doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist.  What I think Hitchens was really saying is that He didn’t like that God was always there and always watching what everyone was doing.

It is in this, that Hitchens gives himself away, as most atheists do.  He betrays the real reason that he doesn’t believe in God.  The real reason is that he doesn’t like God.  He doesn’t like that He’s there and that He’s watching.  But why?  I was struck by how Hitchens and I could have such different reactions to the fact that God sees everything.  For him, this was a terrible thing, terrible enough for him to willfully deny that God was there at all.   Are his feelings merited?  I think to some extent, they are, though denying that God is real is hardly an appropriate solution.

Indeed, God is omnipresent and omniscient.  He sustains the world from day to day and a sparrow does not fall to the earth without His knowledge.  There is nothing He does not see, nothing He does not know.  This truth will either inspire in us great fear or great hope, fear if we are not in Christ and hope if we are.

I must say Mr. Hitchens, you are partially wise to recoil at God’s “all seeing eye”, but the truth is that you should be much more afraid than you are.  God is watching and this is, indeed, a terrible, fearful thing.  However, trying to wish Him away will not help.  Whether we believe in Him or not, “they eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” -Proverbs 15:3  “His eyes are on the ways of men; He sees their every step.  There is no dark place, no deep shadow where evildoers can hide.” -Job 34:21:22  Nevertheless, many of us still try.

The other day, the little boy of the family I babysit came home from kindergarten.  Upon getting home from school, he quickly ripped open his backpack, opened his folder, took out a green slip and ran to the trash can to dispose of it, all right in front of me.  I was, of course, suspicious and fished the note out of the trash and surely enough, it contained a report from his teacher that he had been misbehaving at school.  Obviously, he was trying to hide the evidence so he could escape the displeasure and discipline of his parents.  Needless to say though, he needs to work on his sneakiness.

While this was amusing, it is revealing of our human nature.  It struck me that we are often much like him, foolish enough to think we can hide our misdeeds from the God who sees all.  Or, more foolishly and also, arrogantly, we suppose that He doesn’t see, saying with the wicked of Psalm 73, “How can God know?  Does the Most High have knowledge?” -Psalm 73:11  But the truth is that He does see and He will deliver judgment upon our misdeeds on this earth.  “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” -Hebrews 4:13  This is a sobering and fearful truth.  Whether or not we acknowledge His existence, He is there and He will judge.  If we are not in Christ, we will receive the just penalty for our sins: the wrath of God.

However, if we are in Christ, the reality of God seeing and knowing everything is transformed from a dreadful reality, to a precious one.    God is ever watching us, but with a gaze of love and not of judgment.  I delight in the truth that God sees me.  I rejoice that “He guards the course of the just and protects the way of His faithful ones.” -Proverbs 2:8  I hope in the reality that His eyes see all and “range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” -2 chronicles 16:9  I do not fret over the trials and injustice of this world, because I know that “the foundations of the earth are the LORD’s; upon them He has set the world.  He will guard the feet of His saints.” -1 Samuel 2:9  Because I trust in Him, because I love Him and am called according to His purpose, I know that He will watch over my every step and ensure that all will work for my good.

It is important to note that this is not a truth that should feed our pride, but rather, our humility.  The only reason we can delight in God’s omniscience is not because we have done such righteous deeds.  This is not a delineation between the wicked and the righteous based on their deeds, but based on their hope in Christ.   We see in Psalm 37 that the difference between the wicked and the righteous is that the righteous put their hope in God and take refuge in Him.  “The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; He is their stronghold in time of trouble. The LORD delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in Him.” -Psalm 37:39-40  Were it not for the cross, we should be just as terrified as the wicked because we would still be the wicked, but because of God’s grace to us in Christ, we who put our hope in Him find salvation from our sins and delight in God’s oversight of our lives.  

So, if we are in Christ, let us celebrate that God watches over our every step. We know that with His own sovereign hands, He has planted the seed of our faith in the soil of His grace and salvation, given us in the death and resurrection of Christ.  He will watch over it with care, tending it with the nourishment of His promises, protecting it from threat and harm that it may grow into completion and receive all that has been hoped for. If we experience trials or injustice while we tarry on this earth, we shall not despair for we know that He sees and His gaze is not a passive one.  He is not indifferent to our struggles for as His children, we are called by His name, and He will always bring glory to His name.  He watches over us, eager to do us good and to supply all our needs.    Let us then, find hope and strength, knowing that He knows our course and will graciously give us all things in order to persevere, to run the race marked out for us until one day, our faith will be our sight and we shall see Him, the God who sees us, face to face.