Monday, 24 June 2019

The Importance of a Good Reputation in the Eyes of Non-Christians

The Bible makes it clear that Christians should aim to cultivate a good reputation among non-believers. As long as we don’t compromise on our values, we should go out of our way not to cause offence and to try to get people to think highly of us.

Here are some relevant passages:

1 Corinthians 10:32-33

In 1 Cor. 10:32-33 the apostle Paul tells the Christians in Corinth: 
32 Give no offense to the Jews or the Greeks or the church of God, 33 just as I also try to please all people in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, so that they may be saved.”

(Scripture readings in this article are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)

The Jews and Greeks Paul refers to here are non-Christians. Note how he instructs his readers not to offend these people, and also how he says that he tries to please all people so that they may be saved.

2 Corinthians 6:3

In 2 Cor. 6:3 Paul tells the Corinthians: 
“We give no opportunity for stumbling to anyone, so that the ministry will not be blamed.”

In this verse Paul is saying that he takes care in what he does, so that the reputation of his ministry may not suffer. What he says here applies to how his ministry was viewed both by fellow Christians and by non-believers.

1 Thessalonians 4:10-12

In 1 Thess. 4:10-12 Paul says to the church in Thessalonica: 
10 . . . But we encourage you, brothers, to do so even more, 11 to seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, 12 so that you may walk properly in the presence of outsiders and not be dependent on anyone.”

In v. 12 “walk” is a metaphor for live, and “outsiders” refers to non-Christians. So in this passage Paul is encouraging the Thessalonians to live in such a way that their reputation among non-believers is a good one.

Attracting people to Christ

In the passage in 1 Corinthians that I quoted above, Paul gives a reason for why he wants Christians not to cause offence and please everyone: so that people may be saved. And we can be sure that the same reason motivated his instruction in the other two passages, even though he doesn’t make this explicit.

Part of what we are called to do as Christians is attract people to Jesus and the salvation that is in Him. If we have a good reputation among non-believers, this helps to give the Christian faith, and also Jesus Himself by extension, a good reputation in their eyes. And the better the reputation of Jesus and the faith, the more people will come to Him for salvation.

Of course, a great many people will not come to Christ regardless of how we live and act, and this is only to be expected. However, for some, being impressed with the lives of Christians will make the difference between a decision to accept or not accept Him.

Being good neighbours

There are various ways in which Christians can try to cultivate a good reputation among non-believers.

For a start, we should be second to none in how considerate we are to our neighbours.

There have been a few times, for example, in recent years when one of my neighbours has raised an issue with me about something, and I have decided that it would be good if I went out of my way to do what they wanted.

On one occasion, a woman who lives near me had a concern about a small tree in my garden that was next to her fence. She asked me if I would remove parts of it, although I could tell that she would have preferred if it wasn’t there at all. So I went beyond what she asked and got rid of it completely.

I can also think of a time when the people living in the apartment below me complained about a noise coming from my kitchen. So I moved appliances around, and this succeeded in solving the problem. The new layout of my kitchen was less suitable for me, but I reckoned that pleasing my neighbours took priority.

When asked by neighbours to do something, most people will do the minimum possible in response, and will put themselves first. Christians need to be very different in this respect.

Siding with people in their concerns

We can also cultivate a good reputation by siding with people in their aims and concerns.

Most people have strongly-held beliefs about various issues. For example, someone may be passionately against racism. Someone else may be deeply concerned about drug trafficking. And another person may feel strongly about climate change.

If we learn that someone has a strong view on something, and if we believe that this view fits with Christian values, we can let the person know that we share their concerns. Being open about holding similar views can help us to have a good reputation in the eyes of non-believers and can draw them nearer to salvation.

There are more than a few Christians who fail to recognise this. Many downplay the importance of trying to make the world a better place, because they think that we should focus all our efforts on evangelism and ministering to those who are already saved.

Ironically, however, when non-Christians see believers who seem to be uninterested in tackling the world’s problems, it actually often puts them off the faith and hinders evangelism.

Avoiding extreme statements and actions

Something else that damages the reputation of Christians is when they say or do certain extreme things.

For example, from time to time we will all have heard Christians – or at least people claiming to be Christians – who predict the date on which Jesus will return. When the date arrives without this happening, the damage to the reputation of believers and the Christian faith is huge.

Only a few dare to predict the actual date of the Lord’s return. However, it is not uncommon for Christians to predict a time-frame within which this will occur. For example, you will often hear believers say that He will return within 20 years, or something like this. Again, when these predictions fail to materialise, the damage done to the reputation of Christians and the faith is significant.

We should all avoid giving any confident predictions of time-frames for end-times events.

As well as off-putting statements, there are various actions that can seriously damage the reputation of Christians.

For example, there are some believers who refuse to get medical help for illnesses and other ailments. They think Christians should look to the Lord alone for all healing.

It is certainly right to expect God to act often in supernatural healing. But this in no way has to conflict with healing often taking place through ordinary medical means.

When someone refuses medical treatment because they are looking to God for healing, and then this person dies from their illness, the damage done to the reputation of believers and the Christian faith is enormous.

We all need to be on our guard against believing extreme and unbiblical things. And we need to be just as careful about what we say publicly.

Avoiding going public about attempts to claim things in faith

Another way in which the reputation of Christians can be unnecessarily damaged is when they go public about claiming things in faith.

There are times when we pray for things that are, humanly speaking, more or less impossible, and we attempt to claim the answer in faith.

This is a very biblical thing to do. For example, in Mark 11:24 Jesus teaches: 
“Therefore I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for - believe that you have received them, and you will have them.”

Realistically, however, attempts to claim things in faith in this way are only sometimes successful.

You will occasionally see Christians who are clearly trying to claim something in faith and who publicly declare that they will get the thing they are praying for. Wanting to be as bold as possible, they say openly that they are sure that their prayer will be answered. However, if it isn’t answered, their reputation is seriously damaged.

I can think of a good example of this from the build-up to the 2016 American presidential election.

At this time, many Christians were supporting Ted Cruz as the Republican candidate. I saw a TV interview with a young Christian man who said he was confident that Cruz would win the Republican nomination, despite his relatively poor standing in the polls, because he was the most God-fearing candidate and God would find a way for him to win. It seems clear that this Christian was trying to claim Cruz’s victory in faith.

It is not my intention here to comment on whether or not Cruz was the most God-fearing candidate. Nor do I want to criticise this man for trying to claim Cruz’s victory in faith.

My point is simply that he made a big mistake in going public with his prediction that Cruz would win the nomination. Cruz, of course, didn’t actually win, and making a false prediction that God would make this happen, even if it came from good motives, was very harmful to the reputation of Christians and the Christian faith.

When we attempt to claim things in faith, then, we should usually not go public about what we are trying to do.

Summing up

I have given a few examples of how Christians can try to cultivate a good reputation in the eyes of non-believers, and I have highlighted some of the pitfalls to watch out for. There are many other areas of life too, where we can take steps to foster a good reputation. It is up to each Christian to seek God personally to ask Him what they should do.

The more people there are who think highly of us, the more people there will be who think highly of the Christian faith, and by extension of Jesus Himself. This means that the better our reputation is, the more people there will be who accept Jesus and the salvation that is in Him.

Another part of the picture

Although Christians should take steps to have a good reputation among non-believers, this is not the whole picture.

The Bible also makes it clear that it is normal for us to cause offence by what we believe and do. Devout people of God in Old Testament times, Jesus Himself and the early church can all be found repeatedly on the pages of Scripture offending people.

In fact, in Mark 13:13 Jesus even goes so far as to say: 
“. . . you will be hated by everyone because of My name.”

“Everyone” here should be understood as a hyperbole, i.e., a deliberate exaggeration for effect that involves no attempt to deceive. In reality, not every single non-believer hates Christians.

Nevertheless, this word does show that it is very common for us to be hated.

Similarly, in 2 Tim. 3:12 Paul says: 
“. . . all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

Obviously, causing offence will always precede persecution.

So it is normal for us to ruffle feathers, offend people by what we say and do, and be hated. We must never compromise on our values, and standing firm on these will inevitably mean that many non-Christians take offence. In other words, choosing to do the will of God will inevitably mean that in some ways we gain a bad reputation in the eyes of many non-believers.

The truth of the matter is that non-Christians tend to react to us in very different ways. For many, their dislike of what we believe will outweigh any other factor. However, for others, their overall attitude to us will be positive if we are taking steps to foster a good reputation, and some of these will be drawn to the faith.

So, as long as we stay true to our values, we should go out of our way to cultivate a good reputation in the eyes of non-Christians and thereby make the Christian faith seem more attractive to people.

Avoiding unnecessary differences from the surrounding culture

On a related note, it is important to understand that in morally neutral issues Christians should be as similar to the culture they live in as possible. There are some Christian fringe groups that live very differently from the surrounding culture, even in matters that involve no moral issue. However, this is a big mistake.

When someone becomes a Christian, their life will change radically. The upheaval will be significant, and we shouldn’t ask people to change in any way that isn’t necessary. We should want the transition from unbelief to faith to be as obstacle-free as possible.

To demand, or even request, that people live in counter-cultural ways that are not required by Scripture is a very harmful thing to do.

For those who become Christians, it will make their life more difficult than it needs to be.

And it is also bound to put some off becoming Christians in the first place. Many people have a limit to how much change in their lives they think they can endure if they become a Christian. For some, the prospect of giving up a sinful lifestyle is about all they can face. If such people are then told, or led to believe, that they should follow various (unbiblical) customs as well, it is inevitable that some will choose not to become Christians.

When people choose not to come to Christ because they are not prepared to renounce their sins, pick up their cross every day and follow Him, then so be it. However, when people choose not to come to Him because Christians are demanding that they follow unbiblical customs as well, that is a real tragedy.

I would suggest that on the Day of Judgment many Christians among fringe groups will have a lot to answer for in this respect. They are putting unnecessary obstacles in the way of people receiving salvation.


See also:




Getting the Balance between Expecting Too Little and Too Much from Prayer

Thursday, 20 June 2019

There Will Be No Hiding in the Crowd on the Day of Judgment


The Bible is clear that a day is coming when God will judge people (Acts 17:31; Rom. 2:16).

At the present time the Day of Judgment is a very unfashionable idea, but it will certainly happen nevertheless. And everyone will participate in it.

What will happen on the Day of Judgment?

On this day, two things will happen.

First, those who are saved and those who are unsaved will be separated and consigned to their fate (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43; 25:31-46), the saved to eternal life on the new earth (2 Pet. 3:10-13; Rev. 21:1), and the unsaved to hell (Matt. 24:50-51; Rev. 20:15).

Which group we are in depends on whether or not before death we have received by faith the salvation that is in Jesus Christ. Those who have done this will be saved, and those who haven’t will be unsaved.

Second, God will judge every person for what they have done while on earth. In other words, He will put each of us on trial for how we have lived our lives. The Bible teaches that this trial will involve a detailed assessment of everything we have done, including every word we have spoken (Eccl. 12:14; Matt. 12:36).

For the unsaved, what they have done wrong will form the basis for their being sent to hell (Matt. 25:41-46; Rom. 2:5-9).

For the saved, what we have done right or wrong will form the basis for the rewards we gain or don’t gain in eternity (1 Cor. 3:12-15; 2 John 1:8).

Those who follow mainstream culture

In every society and culture around the world it is extremely common for people to go with the flow, to adopt the values and lifestyles of mainstream culture without really stopping to think very hard about whether these are good things.

And people often seem to feel that there is a kind of safety in numbers. If they side with the views of the majority, they think there can’t be much wrong with that. If they act in the same way as most others do, they reckon that they can’t be doing a lot wrong.

To put it another way, people often seem to feel that they can hide in the crowd of popular opinion. Even many of those who believe in the existence of the Day of Judgment apparently think that that day will not pose any great danger for them, since they are just ordinary people with mainstream values, who live as most others do.

We will all be on trial alone before God

In reality, however, any notion that there is safety in numbers is just an illusion. The number of other people who believe and act as we do counts for nothing in God’s sight. What counts is how we measure up in His eyes.

And the Bible teaches clearly that the average man or woman is thoroughly sinful (Rom. 3:9-19). Jesus even describes ordinary people as “evil” (Luke 11:13). And He also teaches that most are on the road to hell (Matt. 7:13-14). Being an ordinary person, who has ordinary values and lives an ordinary life, will be no protection on the Day of Judgment.

Something that we must understand clearly too is that we will all stand alone before God when we are judged. Each of us will be on trial on our own before the Lord. There will be absolutely no hiding in the crowd on that day.


In Matt. 7:22-23 Jesus says that on the Day of Judgment many who are condemned will try to defend themselves by making feeble excuses. I expect that many will argue that they just acted in the ways that most people did, and that that shouldn’t be held against them. If they do try to use this as a defense, it will be a very poor one.

We need to be ready

It makes sense to think that in some respects the Day of Judgment will be an unpleasant experience for all of us, since we have each done so many wrong things in our lives.

Nevertheless, those of us who have taken hold of Christ and the salvation that is in Him will be ready for this day.

However, those who have not taken hold of Christ will be completely unready. For them, the Day of Judgment will be a terrible day indeed.

The good news for all the world is that Christ, in His great love for us, paid the price for our sins when He died on the cross. When we turn to Him in faith, all our guilt is washed away, and we will then be free to live our lives for Him.


See also:





Thursday, 13 June 2019

James 5:19-20 and Apostasy

One area of disagreement among Christians concerns falling away from the faith, also known as apostasy. Some say that God will never allow a genuine, born-again believer to apostatise and finally end up in hell. Others say that this does sometimes happen.

Personally, I much prefer the view that genuine Christians do sometimes apostatise. I think this view fits best with the overall teaching of the Bible.

AN IMPORTANT PASSAGE

An important passage on this topic is James 5:19-20, where James says the following: 
19 My brothers, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins.” (Holman Christian Standard Bible) 
In what follows, I will argue that this passage is a very strong piece of biblical evidence that genuine Christians do sometimes fall away from the faith and lose salvation.

The discussion will proceed in two stages.

In the first stage, I will argue that in this passage James almost certainly refers to a class of people who move from a state of being saved to a state of being unsaved, i.e., they lose salvation. At this stage I will not yet be asking whether James is teaching that such people actually exist or if he is just referring to a hypothetical class of people.

In the second stage, I will argue that the class of people James refers to in this passage is not just hypothetical but that such people do actually exist.

DOES JAMES REFER TO A CLASS OF PEOPLE WHO LOSE SALVATION?

Let’s begin, then, by considering whether in this passage James refers to a class of people who lose salvation. As I have just said, at this point we are not asking if he is referring to people who really exist or to a hypothetical group of people. We are simply asking if the class of people he has in mind lose salvation.

Actually, in this passage James refers to an individual person who strays from the truth and is then turned back, so for the time being we will stick to thinking about a single person.

In this passage, then, James refers to a person whom he describes as a sinner, and who also strays from the truth, is turned back by someone, is turned from the error of his way, has his life saved from death, and has his multitude of sins covered.

A timeline

If we think about a timeline for what happens to this person, it is clear that there are three significant points on the timeline:

First, there is the state that the person is in before he strays from the truth. I will call this the person’s initial state.

Second, there is the state that the person is in after he strays from the truth but before he is turned back. I will call this the person’s post-straying state.

And third, there is the state that the person is in after he has been turned back. I will call this the person’s final state.

We need to ask whether this person is saved or unsaved in his initial, post-straying and final states.

The person’s final state

Let’s think first about the final state of this person, his state after he has been turned back. Is he saved or unsaved at this point on the timeline?

Note how his final state involves him having his life saved from death and his multitude of sins covered. This must mean that after he has been turned back, he is in a state of having been saved from his sins. So there is no doubt whatsoever that the final state of this person is one of being saved.

The person’s post-straying state

Next, let’s think about the person’s post-straying state, his state after he has strayed from the truth but before he has been turned back. Is he saved or unsaved at this point on the timeline?

Note that when this person is turned back and is turned from the error of his way, James says that his life is saved from death and his multitude of sins is covered. This clearly implies that one or other of two things must be true before this person is turned back, i.e., in his post-straying state:

Either (a) his life is not saved from death and his multitude of sins is not covered, which would mean that he is unsaved.

Or (b) he is currently saved but going down a road that will lead in the future to his life not being saved from death and his multitude of sins not being covered if he continues down this road. In other words, he is currently saved but going down a road that will lead to him being unsaved if nothing changes.

These are the only two possible ways of understanding the person’s post-straying state. Nothing else would make any sense at all of what James says.

I will come back to these two possibilities later.

The person’s initial state

Now let’s think about the person’s initial state, his state before he strays from the truth. Is he saved or unsaved at this point on the timeline?

There are some who say that this person is a nominal Christian, i.e., a Christian in name only, and that he is therefore unsaved in his initial state.

There are, however, no good reasons for identifying this person as a nominal Christian, and a number of reasons for identifying him as a genuine, saved believer:

(1) Note how James starts this passage by saying, “My brothers,” and then says, “if any among you.” Most naturally, we would expect someone among the brothers to be a genuine, saved Christian and not just a nominal Christian, although this point is admittedly far from conclusive.

(2) This person strays from the truth. This must mean that his starting point involved being at the place of truth. This sounds much more naturally as if he is saved than just a nominal Christian.

(3) If James is referring to a nominal Christian in the church, the way he has worded things is very strange. If this is what he meant, it would have been so much easier for him simply to have said something like:

“My brothers, if any among you shows signs of not being genuinely saved and one leads him to the truth, let him know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins.”

(4) I noted above that in his post-straying state the person must be either unsaved or going down a road that will lead to being unsaved if he continues on this road.

Importantly, the passage gives a strong impression that the reason why the person is in the mess he is in in his post-straying state is precisely because he has strayed from the truth. In other words, the passage seems strongly to imply that before he strayed from the truth, he was in a saved state. This is a very strong point.

(5) Note how the text says in v. 19 that the person is “turn[ed] back” when he moves from his post-straying state to his final state. When someone is turned back to something, this suggests that he is getting back to the state he was in to begin with. So it makes sense to think that this person’s final state is the same as his initial state.

Because, as we have seen, his final state is one of being saved, we would therefore expect this to be true of his initial state too.

It is true that the Greek verb here, epistrepho, literally means “turn” without any specific connotation of “back.” Nevertheless, it does seem good to understand the meaning in this context to be “turn back” or “bring back” as nearly all English Bible translations translate.

In view of the combined weight of these points, we should have no hesitation in saying that the initial state of the person James is referring to is almost certainly one of being saved. It is almost certain that before this person strays from the truth he is saved.

More thoughts on the post-straying state

I have already noted that in the person’s post-straying state, i.e., after he has strayed from the truth but before he is turned back, he must either (a) be unsaved or (b) be saved but going down a road that will lead in the future to being unsaved if he continues on this road.

Although James refers to a single person in this passage, let’s expand his thought to refer to a group of people who stray from the truth and reach the post-straying state. I need to do this to allow for potential differences in the salvation status of people in the post-straying state.

So, if we think about a group of people who stray from the truth, there are three possible options for how we understand their salvation status in their post-straying state:

Either (1) all those in the post-straying state are unsaved.

Or (2) some of those in the post-straying state are unsaved, and some are saved but going down a road that will lead to them being unsaved if nothing changes.

Or (3) all those in the post-straying state are saved but going down a road that will lead to them being unsaved if nothing changes.

If (1) or (2) is correct, then there are people in the post-straying state who are unsaved.

However, importantly, even if option (3) is the correct one, it is very implausible to imagine that none of those who reach the post-straying state would continue down the road until they were unsaved. In other words, the text seems quite strongly to suggest that some who stray from the truth don’t end up being turned back and don’t have their lives saved from death and their sins covered. So even if, as in option (3), none of those in the post-straying state are yet unsaved, it makes sense to think that some of them will continue down the road they are on and become unsaved.

This means that, regardless of whether (1) or (2) or (3) is the correct way of understanding the post-straying state, the text envisages people who are unsaved after straying from the truth.

So, given, as we have seen, that those in the initial state are almost certainly saved, the text almost certainly envisages people losing salvation.

Summing up

In conclusion, then, James is almost certainly referring in this passage to a class of people who move from a saved to an unsaved state. In other words, it is almost certain that at least some of those who stray from the truth in the way James describes lose salvation.

DO THESE PEOPLE ACTUALLY EXIST?

Next, we need to ask if the class of people who lose salvation in this way is just a hypothetical group of people or whether such people actually exist.

Reasons to think that they exist

There are a number of reasons to think that they do exist.

First, to suppose that James is referring merely to a hypothetical situation that never actually occurs looks a very unnatural way of taking his words.

Instead, he seems to imply that what he refers to in this passage will happen from time to time. He seems to think that now and again Christians will see those who have lost salvation or are on the road to losing salvation and that they need to try to do something about it. Nothing in the passage suggests that it should be taken as something merely hypothetical.

Second, if James’s concern is about nominal, non-genuine Christians in the church, then he has chosen a very strange way of expressing himself. Why would he say that a nominal Christian strays from the truth? Instead, we would expect him to say what he means and write something like:

“My brothers, if any among you shows signs of not being genuinely saved and one leads him to the truth, let him know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins.”

Third, if James’s concern is to try to stop genuine, born-again Christians sinning and he has no real expectation that any of them could fall away and lose his salvation, again, he has chosen a very strange way of expressing himself. Why would he say that a Christian who strays and is then turned back has his life saved from death if he didn’t believe there was any danger of this person losing salvation?

Fourth, if James is just trying to warn genuine Christians about what would happen hypothetically if they fell away from the faith, although he expects his readers to know that God won’t allow them to fall away, then the warning seems pointless. A warning is a psychological thing, and it is very difficult to understand how a warning is supposed to psychologically impact people if they know that God won’t allow the thing that is warned against to happen.

Summing up

It seems, then, that James did expect his readers to understand that the class of people he refers to, those who lose salvation, does actually exist.

CONCLUSION

All things considered, therefore, this passage is a very strong piece of biblical evidence that it really is possible for genuine Christians to fall away from the faith and lose salvation, and that this does sometimes happen.

Importantly too, there is nothing in the rest of the book of James that looks like it might conflict with this conclusion at all.

So we can say that the book of James stands as a very strong piece of evidence that it is possible for genuine Christians to fall away from the faith and lose salvation, and that this does sometimes happen.


For a broader discussion of this topic, see my article:



See also my articles:



Does 1 John 2:19 Prove That Genuine Christians Never Fall Away and Lose Salvation?