The Christian life can be quite hard, but it is the only way to go:
The other day I wrote a piece in which I said we must hold on to the two sides of the biblical coin: on the one hand we must urge ourselves and others on in the Lord, seeking to become more and more like Christ. But on the other hand, we all have issues, we all have struggles, and we are all on a journey and have not reached our final destination.
So we need to affirm both things simultaneously: aiming to be perfect (as Jesus told us to do) while also being patient, forgiving and gracious to others who will struggle, fall, make mistakes, and so on. We should all aim for perfection while knowing that none of us will attain sinless perfection in this life.
But with these two biblical truths that we must hold on to and affirm, there are also two unbiblical extremes which we must fully avoid. We do not want to go to the extreme of loveless judgmentalism and condemnation of others, often in Pharisaic style.
Nor do we want to go to the extreme of a sentimental and saccharine Christianity which never stands for truth and holiness, and always makes excuses for sin and selfishness. That extreme also must be fully avoided. Let me speak to each in turn, but first explain why I write this.
Much of this came up when I posted parts of my earlier article on the social media. I could see many folks agreeing with me, but I could also see some folks who risked going to one extreme or the other. So that is the reason for this follow-up article.
As to the self-righteous condemning of others, I have spoken about this before – often in relation to the heresy-hunters. As I have said so often, orthodoxy certainly matters, and we should reject real heresy. But too many folks are going around as self-appointed heresy-hunters, condemning everyone else who dares to think just a bit differently from them on theological matters.
Sometimes called ‘discernment ministries,’ if done properly these can be a real blessing to the Body of Christ. But so often they are far too Pharisaic, judgmental and bitter, condemning everyone who does not toe THEIR line. They are far too quick and easy to condemn everyone else if they have the slightest difference of opinion.
I have often found these folks to be among the most unloving, ungracious, and un-Christlike folks around. They really need to be avoided like the plague, as they are causing far more harm than good. Yes, we must stand for truth, and yes we must point out real heresy, but we must be very careful here in doing this.
But let me look at the other extreme. As I said, a lot of folks argued with me when I spoke about how we are all on a journey, we all carry burdens, we all suffer, and we usually do not know what the other person is going through. I shared a few quotes about this, and said that it is vital indeed that we extend grace, withhold judgment that is too quick to come, and seek to understand where others are at.
But we can go way too far in this regrettably as well. And we see it all the time, especially among those of the religious left. While they like to talk about compassion and love and so on – all very important things indeed, when biblically informed and understood – they too often just end up making excuses for sin and winking at evil.
They will always run with the ‘we must never judge anyone’ line, betraying their misunderstanding of what real biblical judgment and discernment are all about. They will go on and on about how we must not judge, yet all the while they will be judging you and attacking you!
Seeking to be Christlike
The longer you are a Christian and the more you are hopefully growing in biblical truth and Christian grace, the more you begin to see all sorts of these extremes. You can see various dangers all around you as unhelpful and unbiblical extremes are pushed.
Not that any of us will get things entirely right, and we all can still have our own unbiblical emphases that we must correct. We can all have weaknesses and blind spots that need to be dealt with. But hopefully as we mature in our own Christian journey we become more like Christ and can see where certain dangers are found in the church around us.
Let me here speak a bit more to just one aspect of all this. Our Lord is our example, and what he went through we too will likely go through. For example, he went around doing good and loving people. Some people really responded well to this and were drawn to Christ. Others, sadly simply remained hardened to him, and they hated him all the more.
We too will experience this. As we seek, by God’s grace, to love others and do good to them, not everyone will respond favourably. Some will be receptive, but some will actually get upset with you. We of course expect non-Christians to often reject you and what you are doing, and to turn on you, and so on.
So often they will lash out at you and Christianity, not so much because biblical faith is unreasonable, but because they are dealing with their own past hurts with the church and so on. The anger and bitterness they have will be taken out on Christians.
But here I am speaking of other Christians. Some will misunderstand what you are doing or saying, or miss the spirit of what you are on about. You may be seeking to share truth and bless others, but they will just get angrier and more upset with you. Now that certainly hurts.
You may mean the very best for another believer, but they just will not see things that way. They will turn on you and criticise you. That can be one of the most difficult things to endure as a Christian. It can happen to all of us, and it is not easy to properly respond. But we must not become bitter or resentful.
Sometimes all you can do is pray for the other person. They are just not with you at all, and are missing what you are seeking to do. The more you try to explain things, the more defensive and irritable they seem to become. It is at this point that you begin to realise that the particular discussion at hand is no longer the issue.
Instead, they are likely responding out of unresolved hurts and needs within, and they are lashing out at you instead of letting God do some healing work in their own lives. I have been through this quite often. It might be on the social media where I post something, and a person comes along and makes a stink about what you tried to say.
And the more you seek to explain what you were saying, the more they seem to be upset with you. They are just not hearing you – they are responding out of their own personal situation. Instead of the truth of the issue being the focal point, they are allowing their own experiences and feelings be the platform from which they respond.
Now none of us can separate who we are and what we believe from our own personal experiences, upbringing and life situation of course. But as biblical Christians we should increasingly want the truth of God to determine how we think and respond to things, not our own past situations and experiences.
Sometimes if I know a bit about the person who is responding like this, and know that they have been through some tough things in the past, it is easier to cut them some slack. Often all I can do is seek to wind down an increasingly heated debate, and just pray for them. The agitation is not so much about any facts or truths being shared, but comes from their own background and struggles.
When rational discussion seems no longer possible, you just try to wind that up, and keep the person covered in prayer. They likely have issues they are dealing with – or need to deal with. Of course we all have issues, and we all can respond from hurts or struggles we have.
Becoming more Christlike involves trying to deal with those issues. We seek to deal with them in our own lives, and seek to show grace, love and forgiveness to others as they seek to deal with their issues. We are all on a journey. Some are further ahead – closer to Christlikeness – than others. We need to be patient with others and forgiving of others.
Yes, sometimes the right thing to do is to let a person go if need be. Some of them it seems will not be reachable. For others we seek to still reach out to them. Christ reached out to everyone, even his enemies. We are called to do the same. And some of these folks who seem so antagonistic toward you now might become close friends and brothers and sisters in the Lord in the future. So we keep the bridges there when we can.
We need ‘bold love’ in other words, as a book title from Dan Allender and Tremper Longman put it (Navpress, 1992). That involves a willingness to both confront, and to forgive. It means being willing to be vulnerable, and to be hurt. As the authors put it:
“Bold love is courageously setting aside our personal agenda to move humbly into the world of others with their well-being in view, willing to risk further pain in our souls, in order to be an aroma of life to some and an aroma of death to others. . . . Forgiving love is the inconceivable, unexplainable pursuit of the offender by the offended for the sake of restored relationship with God, self, and others.”
It may not be easy, but it is the way of Christ, and it is how we must proceed. Perhaps the best way to avoid some of the unhelpful extremes I have mentioned above is to judge ourselves harshly, while being willing to show much more grace and patience to others.
That will not solve all our problems, nor win everyone over, but it is a good place to begin. Jesus was despised and rejected by men. That will be our lot as well, but we can try to respond as Christ responded.