Real deal Christians do not seek compromise with pagan beliefs and practices:
We live in a culture that no longer believes in truth and absolutes. People are quite happy therefore to mix and match their religious and worldview components in any way they please, no matter how contradictory or mismatched they might be.
So spiritual and religious pursuits for most folks today becomes much like a visit to a smorgasbord: you pick and choose what you want to consume, and simply ignore or reject that which is not to your liking. These folks are not concerned about truth or intellectual consistency. They simply want to run with whatever feels good to them.
This combining of various divergent and often completely contradictory religious beliefs and practices is what is known as religious syncretism. One dictionary definition says this: “Noun: the amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought: ‘interfaith dialogue can easily slip into syncretism’.”
As I say, this is how most people in the West operate nowadays. But anyone who actually has read the Bible knows that syncretism is just not on. Plenty of texts can be appealed to here. One passage I came upon just moments ago in my daily reading is quite representative. Leviticus 18:1-5 says this:
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.
The other day I wrote a piece about one religious syncretist who thought her love affair with witchcraft was fully compatible with Christianity. She was dead wrong of course. And in that piece I mentioned the biblical response to such matters: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2022/01/31/look-within-and-be-deceived/
One passage I featured was Acts 19:13-20. I want to look at this text in a bit more detail, so here it is again:
Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists attempted to pronounce the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I command you by the Jesus that Paul preaches!” Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. The evil spirit answered them, “I know Jesus, and I recognize Paul—but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them all, and prevailed against them, so that they ran out of that house naked and wounded. This became known to everyone who lived in Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. Then fear fell on all of them, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many who had become believers came confessing and disclosing their practices, while many of those who had practiced magic collected their books and burned them in front of everyone. So they calculated their value and found it to be 50,000 pieces of silver. In this way the Lord’s message flourished and prevailed.
A number of things can be said about this. One is the radical nature of Christian discipleship. When you have an encounter with the living Christ, and turn from sin and self in faith and repentance, you really do want to make a clean break with the past.
That was certainly the case with me. When I got saved at age 18 after living a wild hippy life for the previous three years or so, one of the first things I did was go to the local city rubbish incinerator. I had some 300 record albums and probably 400 books, so I took them there and tossed them all in. That was radical. But I needed to make a sharp break with all things from my past.
That is what these folks did at Ephesus. When the Holy Spirit gets a hold of you, no price is too great to pay, and no action is too hardcore to perform as you turn from a dark past and embrace a bright new future. So these folks did not sell their occult books – they voluntarily destroyed them, and in public.
As James Montgomery Boice comments, there were very real changes in the lives of these new believers. While the occult once held a big grip on them, no more:
As the gospel was preached and the lordship of Jesus Christ emphasized, the believers saw that it was not possible for them to confess Jesus as Lord and still cling to their occult practices. They could not keep one foot in the church and the other in the world. So they repented of that sin (v. 18) and then brought their occult objects together and had them destroyed, particularly the magic scrolls that contained incantations.
Luke puts the value of the objects at fifty thousand drachmas. A drachma was a day’s wage. So if we can assume that a day’s wage in the United States in our time is roughly a hundred dollars (annual income $25,000), the equivalent of fifty thousand drachmas would be about five million dollars in our currency. That may be a high estimate, but by any estimate it was a large sum of money. What these Christians did as they heard the gospel and came to understand what they owed to Jesus Christ was to “lay it on the line,” as we would say. Anything in their lives that was holding them back or indicated a divided allegiance was rejected.
If you have something in your life like that, it is important that you get rid of it. If there is something you are hanging on to and do not want to give up but you know is inconsistent with your following after Jesus Christ, you need to get rid of it, as these Ephesian Christians did.
And verse 20 tells us just how powerful all this was: “The word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power” (NIV). Says Boice:
Verse 20 tells us that when the Christians really “laid it on the line,” the Word of the Lord not only spread widely but also “grew in power.” It was at this point that the people of Asia not only heard the gospel but also believed it and began to follow Christ. What happened in Ephesus should be a challenge for Christians in cities everywhere.
Exactly right. True conversion is demonstrated by turning from known sin and renouncing known evil. Sure, sometimes this can take a while as the new Christian comes to understand what Scripture teaches, and then makes further moves away from a sinful past.
But sometimes God shines his light on the newly converted soul right away. After a rocky start to my own conversion experience, which included being involved in a cult which still did drugs, when I was alerted to what the Bible actually says on such things, I instantly stopped. I have never touched a drug since then – and that was 50 years ago. See more on my story here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/06/27/coming-home-my-testimony-part-1/
So the bottom line is this: the biblical Christian will never seek to amalgamate pagan and occult beliefs and practices into his faith. Instead, he will steadfastly renounce them and turn from them. What Joshua said long ago to the Israelites in Joshua 24:14-15 is not hard to fully apply today:
Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.