As I have begun this adventure known as apologetics, I have been able to meet people from different walks and various perspectives. I have had the opportunity to converse with atheists and I have learned a little more about their beliefs and perspectives. One thing that stands out to me is that many, if not most, atheists are not atheists due to intellectual problems with the existence of God and the reliability of the Bible (although there may exist different beliefs about certain passages and various interpretations), most of the atheists that I have met seem to have chosen that worldview because of a bad experience that they had with Christians…especially abusive Christians. In this brief article, I would like to provide some insights about this problem. The fact is that Jesus is just as much against Christians acting in an ungodly manner as the unbeliever is…in fact, He is in a greater degree against the problem. So, what do we do with abusive Christians? Can they be spotted? Are they representations of Christianity?
THE NECESSITY OF LIVING WHAT YOU PREACH
In an interview leading to the release of The Blind Side, lead actress Sandra Bullock said of Leigh Anne Tuohy, the actual mother who inspired the film The Blind Side, that Tuohy was one of the few legitimate Christians that she had met. Hopefully Ms. Bullock will meet more genuine Christians. Why are there self-professed Christians who have no change in their lives? The Bible makes it clear that there is supposed to be a change in the heart of one who comes to faith in Christ. Yet, many self-professed Christians act no differently than they did before they claimed to have an experience with God. Some even act worse having a little Bible knowledge. But, it is wrong to blame Christ or the writers of the Bible for the actions of those who behave in such ways. For one thing, Christ demanded that His followers love. This is not a wishy-washy love that does not stand for truth. But, it is a love that genuinely cares for those around them. Those who are concerned about the human condition and seek to make things better. Jesus said, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35, NLT). Jesus gives us the command to love one another. God has showed the greatest love of all to those who are open to receive His grace. Those who have received the love of God should be able and willing to show love to all people. Understandably, it is difficult to love some people. But, the great thing for the Christian is that when we show love to another and that love is rejected, we can leave those circumstances in the hand of God. So, where is room for judgment and hostility when the Christian knows that God is in the process of working all things out? (See Romans 8:28). Therefore, abusive Christians may not be actual Christians at all.
“WOLVES IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING”
It may be that it gets worse when thinking about abusive “Christians.” Jesus warned us long ago that there would be false Christians mixed in with genuine Christians. Jesus said,
“Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws’” (Matthew 7:15-23, NLT).
How does one decipher one who has had a legitimate encounter with God from one merely puffing smoke? I feel that I have beaten this to death, but it bears repeating that the genuine Christian will meet certain criteria. Jesus shows as much in the previous paragraph. The Christian should have a legitimate change. The Christian should, because of the Spirit of God abiding within them, produce, those attributes described by Paul when he wrote, “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there” (Galatians 5:22-24, NLT). Jesus said that we could identify a true Christian from a false Christian. Paul gives the litmus test to do just that. Does the person live in accordance to those attributes listed above? It is impossible to do so without God’s Spirit. Quite frankly, even the best of Christians are going to trip and fall from time to time. But, do these attributes identify the overall walk of the person? If they do, then the person is probably a genuine Christian. But if the person constantly hates others, caustic, a troublemaker, impatient, unkind, bad, untrustworthy, harsh, and is self-destructive, that person cannot be said to be a true Christian. Such a person is by no means a representative or an ambassador of genuine Christianity.
JESUS’ CONFLICT WITH PSEUDO-RELIGIONISTS
The mantra of many a person who abstains from church is, “That church has hypocrites! They do not live what they preach!” Quite frankly, Jesus’ standards are extremely high. No one could live by those standards because if one could, that person would be perfect. That is just the point! We need a Savior because we cannot live up to the standards of God. A genuine relationship with God should bring humility. That being said, it must also be known that Jesus fought against “pseudo-religionists” in His day just as genuine Christians should, too. What are “pseudo-religionists?” These are individuals who hide behind religion. They have not had a real encounter with God, but they hide in the shadows of the structure and safety of the religious institution. They are individuals who look nice on the outside, but dead on the inside. They are like a walnut that I once tried to eat. The walnut looked nice on the outside, but when one cracked the hard exterior of the shell, nothing but worms and emptiness were found. Jesus fought against this type of religion. Jesus even said of the pseudo-religionist Pharisees, “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28, NLT). You don’t like hypocrites? Guess what, you are more like Jesus than you thought because Jesus doesn’t either!!!
What do we take from this? For one, Christians should be on guard. Christians should realize that not every profession of faith is legit. Not everyone singing in the choir is truly singing for the glory of God. Not everyone working behind the scenes does so for the Kingdom of God. Not every leader is qualified to lead. Not every preacher is an actual preacher from God.
Two, if you are a skeptic, consider that maybe there is a God and there is a Devil. Wouldn’t this be a good strategy for the Devil? Provide Trojan horses that manipulate situations so that others would think that evil actions are acceptable to God? Isn’t that the sign of a coward and a manipulator? Isn’t that at the heart of disingenuous Christianity? For the unbeliever, you should simply take from this that not every self-professed Christian actually is a Christian. Their deeds speak for themselves.
Many atheists have become atheists due to wolves imitating sheep. In this writer’s opinion, it is time for the church to take a stand for genuine Christianity and allow God’s Spirit to flood us so that we can produce the fruits of the Spirit and show the world how true Christians should look. May genuine Christians seek to follow the genuine Chief Shepherd…Jesus Christ.
Seeking to display the fruits of the Spirit by the power of the Holy Spirit,
Pastor Brian Chilton