Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Musings: The Evil Within

"Why are you a Christian?"

I grew up in a Christian family, so it stands to reason that I might think I was a Christian without ever having to address the topic of salvation.
I remember that day; I remember knowing that there was a difference. I knew that I liked doing mean things, and I didn't care about being punished—and I knew this was no way to live my life. I saw my older siblings, who seemed to enjoy good things that were helpful to other people, and they seemed happier and more responsible and more privileged.
I became a Christian because I wanted to understand more about living a better life; I wanted it to hurt when I did things to hurt others. I wanted the strength to say "No" when the ideas came—I wanted to be trustworthy, responsible, dependable, and according to everything my family believed, Christianity was the way to get that strength.
As I got older, I learned the strength and the grace I now had. I also learned the depth of the darkness I had turned to Christianity to escape from. I learned more about this Hell that was the place I would have ended up if I had not received the Gospel. I learned that the Devil was a roaring lion who never gave up, and was committed to making the world more evil and Christians' lives miserable, but as long as I was sure I was a Christian, I was not in any danger of going to Hell.

But was I sure?

Bad things were happening in the world; bad people rose to power in the government—even churches were compromising the Basic Principles that would have ensured their success and vitality! There was so much that suggested that surely the End was coming, because how could we as Christians survive when so much conspired against us?
When I was fourteen I'd had enough. I expressed a tear-laden prayer that was more sincere than the prayer I'd said six years prior at the start of my acquaintance with Jesus, and I recorded that date and clung to its memory as my assurance that YES I was saved and YES I was certain I would go to Heaven.

Turns out that was the easy part.

After that it was a confusing whirlwind of learning and knowledge acquisition. I needed to put certain practices and safeguards and "principles" in my life that would enhance my Christian walk and open the door to perhaps sharing the Gospel with the people around me. But even then, there wasn't much time for going out and seeking, and I wasn't naturally the type to strike up a conversation with someone next to me. So I kept "training." I learned inspiring truths about the nature of true success and the power I now possessed because I was a Christian, and the purpose God had for me, and I was given things to consider doing, whenever God presented me with the opportunity. Till then, I just had to be ready. Soon, God was going to put me into play, with this amazing plan that was His plan that He had equipped me for. The more I kept coming to church, the more I realized how vital church was in making sure that I wasn't the dreaded "savor-less salt" that no Christian should be, but that so many of the "compromised churches of our day" had become.
For years I sat with my notebook and pen in hand, scribbling notes from the power-point slide as the pastor rattled off profound Scriptural truths that would aid me in my eventual quest in the world--even as the world became darker and more dangerous as time went on. "We" the church stood firm in a world of compromise, a cloister of light on an indomitable hill that only the ones who were like us--mature, committed, pure, and unspoiled, well-versed in all things "Christian-ese"--could surmount. We weren't "hidden under a bushel" as the saying goes... but we might as well have been unavailable, for all the effect we had.

It's one thing to be rendered "savor-less" by compromise... but what is the flavor of salt that does not leave the mine? Is it any more useful than the tasteless white dust?

I struggled with this doubt until I started attending another church. Suddenly, I felt conviction--and I saw conviction happening. Leaders repenting, honesty between members, new faces every week, and Biblical teaching that not only taught me to consider things about the Christian life that I had always taken for granted, but still managed to be relevant to my every-day life. For the first time in a very long time, I felt more connected to my community, to other believers in other churches, and I think it occurred to me that the crowd of "sanctified saints" who were "qualified" to worship in Spirit and in truth was a lot bigger than I'd ever thought possible.

The other day, I came across this quote in the status of a friend on Facebook:

"Whenever you believe that the evil outside you is greater than the evil inside you, a heartfelt pursuit of Christ will be replaced by a zealous fight of the 'evil' around you. A celebration of the grace that rescues you from your own sin will be replaced by a crusade to rescue the church from the ills of the surrounding culture. Christian maturity becomes defined as a willingness to defend right from wrong." -Dr. Paul Tripp, How People Change

In light of my experience, the quote made a lot of sense upon reflection.

I realized that a lot of the ideas that I had ascribed to in my early years were indeed devoted to "fighting the evilness of the world." Sometimes, it wasn't even about very much of the fighting, but about building my defenses and "walls" so that I would not be "overcome" or be tempted to "compromise" the beliefs I already had. I was too focused on making sure that I wasn't going to be "led astray" by things I knew to be wrong, that I never bothered to affirm or confirm the things I took for granted to be right.
In recent years, however, the church community I joined encouraged me in the 'heartfelt pursuit of Christ', instead of getting wrapped up in "proving how wrong and evil the ways of the world are." It is a practical application of all the "head knowledge" I'd amassed. The key to being "successful" in living for Christ was not "entrenching" myself against whatever anyone on "the outside" might say; it is considering and pursuing what Christ says. The evil that I hear about other people doing is no worse than something I am capable of doing, myself, if I allow my sin nature to flourish unchecked. I cannot get so wrapped up in proving that everyone else is wrong that I convince myself that I am wholly in the right.

The key to reconciling all this is recognizing that God is sovereign. It is not that I am advocating ignorance of world events. But if God is sovereign, I don't have to "batten down any hatches" or dig my feet in to be able to "withstand in the evil day" that I am certain is coming. No matter how horrible things are on the other side of the country, as long as I recognize God is sovereign, these events will not worry me. I am free to focus on pursuing Christ because He has done the work of fending off evil by His death on the Cross. I am salt, free to be mined and scattered and spread out and used to benefit other people because I have already been sifted and "purified" by the sanctification of salvation. I don't need to get caught up with everyone else's faults and I should not let the prejudice over the "compromise" of another Christian prevent me from being willing to praise Christ with them, because we are ONE Body, under ONE Head, by ONE Baptism into ONE Faith. Any follower of Christ is a brother or sister of mine. We are all members of the Church under the Pastor Jesus Christ.

So what is a right perspective in all this? Are we not called to be "wise as serpents, gentle as doves"?

At a Bible study I attend, someone made this distinction: "There is a difference between wisdom and judgment." Wisdom looks at the behaviors and the outside and makes decisions in the present based on these. Judgment assigns motives and extrapolates the future based on assumed intentions. Wisdom has the moral security to be a friend to nonbelievers, to gain that trust before using that influence to turn the person to a deeper relationship with Christ; judgment "won't even go there" because of a deep-seated, insecure fear of "all appearance of evil." When we are caught up in judging others, it's usually evident by the way we convince ourselves that others are judging us. 

We might also "take up a cause" as it says in the quote, to create for ourselves the sensation of "suffering for Christ." Why do homeschooling families get up in arms about public school curriculum? In a country with a higher overall standard of living and more freedom granted to its citizens than any other nation in the world--why are there Christians with their big, angry signs and the big, angry crowds, posting big angry articles about legislation in other states that have little to do with actually hindering Christ-centered activity, and almost no effect on their own state's legislation whatsoever? Can it be true that we inflate and trump up the issues to a scandalous degree so that, in picketing our local state leaders, we can "relate" to the Christians meeting in dank basements and flipping hastily through patched-up Bible pamphlets in whispered voices, looking over their shoulders in case of police?

In reality, we have a lot to be grateful for. As Christians in America, we can carry our Bibles in the open; we can talk to our friends about Jesus--out loud and in public. We can meet in large buildings in full view of the street that proclaim "THIS IS A CHURCH WHERE PEOPLE TALK ABOUT AND PRAY TO GOD!!" 
So why doesn't this happen more often?
 
The issue is not whether modern government is killing Christianity; Christians are dying from self-inflicted malnutrition, like the child who starves himself because of the hungry children in Africa--but he does nothing to affect change in the African children. When we as Christians stop fretting about how "our rights are being taken away" or "the Church is being compromised", would we realize that the legislators made those calls to remove Christian practices from public circles because we made our faith a private thing? How easy would it be to make a law against praying in schools if everybody did it anyway? Everyone knows that the best way to learn something for certain is to teach others; how much "compromising" do you suppose would happen if we took the time to discuss the Gospel with fellow believers on a regular basis? Perhaps we might find theories and beliefs where we ourselves have gone astray. And once we realize and identify these misapplications, then we have the opportunity to practice the grace that Jesus showed us in His death on the cross, and repent of our own sins, while extending forgiveness to fellow sinners. Does this not sound like the purpose and the goal of the Gospel? To transform lives and renew relationships?
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I'm still working through some of the thoughts prompted by this quote, trying to figure out some answers to the questions that come up. What I have written above should be accompanied by a great big "THUS FAR." Thanks for "reading" my heart. I'd love to hear other thoughts on the matter; what was your impression from the quote?