Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Admonition In A Lost And Tolerant World

A few years ago our street witnessing team was joined by a visitor. He wanted to go with us, to help spread the good news of Jesus to the lost and dying world, so we let him come along. We went down to our area and “got busy” talking to people, when I suddenly heard our guest (Bible in one hand, tracts in another) use the most foul string of four-letter words as he was talking to a couple of guys. I can’t even remember what I was doing at the time, but I do remember spinning around and was like, “Hey! Watch it, bro!” Needless to say, our witnessing opportunity was over right then and there.

I was asked recently about what I would do if I saw someone doing something that was clearly wrong. The first thing that came to my mind was, “are they a Christian?” We then proceeded to talk about our position in Christ and the “one another’s” of scripture: we don’t confront people because we are better than them, but because of our position in Christ. We use the law to point out sin and lead to repentance, not ourselves as a standard. But it still comes down to it: what is a typical response to wrong-doing? Are we even aware of wrong-doing that takes place around us?
Then we have this wonderful thing called “tolerance” that dictates how we are to confront others with the truth. Is it tolerant for me to allow a pagan to worship any god he chooses, if any at all? To him, yes. But it is intolerance to him if I tell him of the true and living God and salvation only in Christ Jesus. In the same way, when we practice this “live and let live” policy, are we being tolerant of God’s commands? Spinoza said that doubt was the spring of tolerance and social good. James said that doubting is to be in two minds . . . and to be undependable . . . like being a wind-tossed wave. Let’s not confuse Christian Liberty with disingenuine confusion.

Our society places so much emphasis on tolerance that tolerance itself has become deified. With this new idol in place, the practice of biblical admonition is stifled. Next we will find ourselves saying, “Of course I dislike the Nazis. But who is to say they’re morally wrong?”[i] But again, who am I to say.

You know what the problem is? We like to remain comfortable numb. We don’t like pain and confrontation, so we avoid it. You may not believe this, but I know of an entire Christian community that thrives on covetousness and actually steals from one another on a regular basis. I know that though activities are monitored, those “in charge” feel helpless to say anything for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. So they just “love” each other . . . (imposters). Grace comes at a price. This is why Jesus pointed out that the one who is persecuted in His name is blessed.

Peter had a problem. He was wrong. He was so wrong that the Apostle Paul gave him a severe case of “Opposed Face.” What did he do that was so wrong? Well, Peter used to eat and fellowship with Gentile Christians until he was visited by some folks who led him to believe he had to separate himself from them. Paul saw that Peter and others were not walking out the gospel, so he called them out on it (Acts 10 and Galatians 2:11-21). Paul had to remind Peter that it was not keeping the law of God that saved, but the law points out our helplessness. Separating himself from other believers on the grounds of nationality was no argument at all. Jew or Gentile, the law identifies every man a sinner and in need of the finished work of Christ Jesus for justification. Paul simply says that if righteousness comes by the law then the grace of God is void.

Gal 2:20-21. “I have been crucified with Christ, and I live; yet no longer I, but Christ lives in me. And that life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith toward the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself on my behalf. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness is through law, then Christ died without cause.”

Here’s the thing: when we are crucified with Christ, that’s where we end and He continues. God knows more about life than we do. He knows the future and He knows what is best for each of us. Any other addendum tells God that we are dissatisfied with Him and His way in inadequate. If He is indeed the Lord, we should want what He wants above and beyond our own wants, no matter how much it hurts. We cannot be people pleasers and man pleasers at the same time. If we have to let go of prejudices and preconceptions, then we must let go. If we have to cut loose, then by all means, cut loose.

Phillips Brooks wrote, “The soul that takes in Jesus’ word, the soul that through which the words of Jesus enters into the very person of Jesus, the soul that knows him as its daily presence and its daily law—it never hesitates.”

Acts 11:1–18 contains two lessons that jump out at me, the first being, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” God had showed Peter specifically what converting a Gentile is like and nowhere in his own preaching was the keeping of the law for righteousness. Second, go with the Spirit and go without doubt. Go without doubt and there will be no people-pleasing.

This becomes really important when I hear pastors agonize and say, “I’ve put so much time and energy into learning new modern techniques that I don’t think I can do things the biblical way.” I say: consider this conversation.

Romans 6:3-4 “Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father; even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

Those “as many of us” are the red and yellow, black and white. All who are precious in His sight. And we are on level ground. There is no race but “human.” Furthermore, this reinforces that “crucified with Christ”—where I end and He continues. My opinion of others actually reflects back on me and exposes my attitude of the Creator of all men and Savior of the elect.
Christ did not die for the righteous, but for sinners.

So what would I do if I saw or heard someone doing something wrong? I would open the law to tutor them to Christ and repentance. Our responsibility is not to declare men saved, but tell them how to be saved and admonition is continuing the work of gospel declaration.


[i] Anderson, J. Kirby. Christian Ethics in Plain Language. Nelson Reference & Electronic: Nashville, 2005

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