There have always been misconceptions about what Christianity really is.
Kirk Cameron is a movie star that you might be familiar with. He pointed out a puzzling truth about the culture in his part of the country; which is increasingly becoming more the case throughout the whole country. He said, “In this town you can be a wife-beating, manic-depressive, crack-head, and everyone opens their arms to you. They say, ‘Hey, pal, don’t worry about it. We’ll get you into recovery. It’s all part of the journey.’ But if you become a born-again Christian and love Jesus Christ and want to share that with other people, they say, ‘You’ve committed the unpardonable sin.'”
It sounds a little bit like when Jesus was on trial and Pilate told the crowd, “I always release a prisoner for you this time of year. Would you like Barabbas (who was a thief and a murderer) or Jesus? And they said, ‘We’ll take Barabbas.’”
It seems, over just the last year or two, I have heard more than ever about people in this area who despise Christians and Christianity. Some of you have told me about such people who are regular customers of your businesses, or they’re your co-workers, or people you’ve gotten to know in other ways. They hate Christians.
I’ve tried to think why that is. Aren’t Christians generally honest, friendly, taxpaying, kind people? Why would people hate Christians? Is it because Christians make them look bad by the way they love? Well, in some cases. That’s partly why the Jewish leaders hated Jesus. But I think more often it has more to do with wrong impressions people have gotten about Christ and Christianity; either from what they’ve been told about us or from people who have worn the name Christian but misrepresented it and the Lord.
I tried to think of the various things I’ve heard about Christians today. It didn’t take but a few minutes to come up with this list:
- Christians by in large are hypocrites. That’s of course because of people who shouldn’t be wearing the name Christian.
- Christians are no more righteous than most, but they think they are, simply because they convince themselves something is true that others cannot convince themselves of.
- Christians are all illogical, unintelligent, anti-science, controlled more by their subjective feelings and emotions than by reason. Christians believe a bunch of stuff that there’s no good evidence for and reject ideas that are grounded in evidence. People think this sometimes because they’ve met Christians who say things like, “I believe because it’s how I was raised” or “I just feel it in my heart” or “this or that coincidence happened in my life, therefore Jesus has to be the real deal.” Or they’ve just never had anybody show them why our faith is more than reasonable.
- Christians trust an out-of-date book full of contradictions and inconsistencies.
- Christians hate people who are different, especially homosexuals.
- They are demeaning of women.
- They are a detriment to society because they’re trying to hold us back in the ways of inferior, less advanced, less informed times.
- And some people turn on the “Christian” T.V. stations or radio channels, and what they hear constantly from Christian media is that they should send money and God will bless them in return. They conclude that, like everything else in the world, it’s all about money. It’s just a big scam to make money off of gullible people.
Now, granted some who profess to be Christians are some of these things. And in some places, perversions of Christianity are practiced. But it’s sad that many in our world have gotten the impression this sort of stuff is Christianity at its finest, the Christianity that Christ taught.
It’s nothing new. Christians since the first century have always been misunderstood and hated by unbelievers to some degree. I want to read to you a description of the sort of things Christians, in the first couple centuries, were accused of. This was written by a renowned Scottish scholar of the past century named William Barclay, recognized as an expert on Jewish and Christian history. This comes from his commentary on I Peter.
- “They were accused of cannibalism. This accusation took its rise from a perversion of the words of the Last Supper, “This is my body. This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”
- The Christians were accused of killing and eating a child at their feasts.
- They were also accused of immorality and even of incest. This accusation took its rise from the fact that they called their meeting the Agape, the Love Feast. The heathen perverted that name to mean that the Christian feasts were sensual orgies at which shameless deeds were done.
- The Christians were accused of damaging trade. Such was the charge of the silversmiths of Ephesus (Acts 19:21-41).
- They were accused of “tampering with family relationships” because often homes were, in fact, broken up when some members of the family became Christians and others did not.
- They were accused of turning slaves against their masters, and Christianity indeed did give to every man a new sense of worth and dignity.
- They were accused of “hatred of mankind” and indeed the Christian did speak as if the world and the Church were entirely opposed to each other.
- Above all they were accused of disloyalty to Caesar, for no Christian would worship the Emperor’s godhead and burn his pinch of incense and declare that Caesar was Lord, for to him Jesus Christ and no other was Lord. Such were the charges which were directed against the Christians.”
Well, how were THEY and how do WE respond to the growing animosity toward us? What should we do if we find ourselves around people who misunderstand us? How do we deal with it? Shall we retreat into our own little Christian communes? Shall we parade through the streets with poster boards about us to clear up the misunderstandings? Shall we just accept it and do nothing about it? I’d like us to read and study a couple verses of Scripture that I think are just as relevant to us as they were to the Christians to whom they were originally written.
I Peter 2:11-12, “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.”
So Peter says, first of all, we should…
Remember who we are
When society wants to make us feel ashamed to be Christians we must remember who we are as Christians. And he mentions here a few different aspects of who we are.
First, that we are beloved. What did Peter mean by that, that he loves them? Maybe. Or did he mean beloved of God? Often in the NT when you see “beloved” applied to Christians it means loved of God. They are God’s loved ones. And not just like how everybody is loved by God. It’s true that God does not wish for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance (II Peter 3:9). He loves everybody in a sense. But like how you may love kids in general, but your kids are your loved ones. You have a special and greater love for them. And you may love everybody in a sense, but only some special people to you are your loved ones. Do you remember what God said of Jesus at His baptism and on the Mount of Transfiguration? “This my beloved son.” And He says of you and me, “This is my beloved son … my beloved daughter.” We are the favorite ones of the One who rules all creation, who can raise the dead, give eternal life, and much more. When the world wants to make us feel bad about being Christians, we must remember because we’re been made different than them and we are in the family of the God of heaven and earth.
Then Peter reminds us that we live in this world as aliens and strangers. These are terms that describe people who live in a place that is not their homeland; people whose citizenship is different than the general society they’re living among. It’s as Paul wrote in Philippians 3, our citizenship is in heaven. As Hebrews 11 describes it, we live here on earth with our sights set on a better country, a heavenly one, and a city whose builder and architect is God (Hebrews 11:10,13-16). We live here not to fit in, not to grab and get all we can and be as comfortable as we can here (like the people around us who see this as their home). We live that we might attain to that better country and city. We’re different not because of anything we should be ashamed of, but because we’re passing through this world to our home.
Then Peter mentions something in these verses that reminds us that we are the true Israel. In verse 12 he says this is how you are to live “among the Gentiles.” But he’s writing to Gentiles, Gentiles who are Christians. And he says, “Here’s how you live among Gentiles.” It’s to suggest that in a sense they are no longer Gentiles. As followers of Jesus, they are part of the true Israel, the real chosen people of God. As Paul describes it in Romans 11, if you picture Israel like an olive tree, those Israelites who do not believe in their Messiah, are branches that have been broken off, and Gentiles who do believe in Him are like wild olive branches that are grafted in. And that is wonderful and awesome because of all the promises God made in the prophets regarding Israel. There are all these promises in the prophets about how God will make a new covenant with Israel and forgive them and remember their sins no more (Psalms 130:8; Isaiah 44:3; Jerimiah 31;34); promises to save them from their enemies and free them from all that oppresses them, to shower them with blessings (Ezekiel 34:25-30), to give them good land as an inheritance… Paul says in Romans 9:6, those promises have not failed (see also Romans 11:26). Those promises still stand. They apply to the true Israel which we have been grafted into by believing in the Messiah.
When society wants to make us feel bad for being Christians we must remember who we are: loved ones of God, aliens and strangers in this world, and the true Israel, heirs of all the promises.
Then the first command here in our text, I could maybe summarize as…
Don’t go native!
Have you ever heard the expression, “gone native”? I heard a speaker recently talk about British troops, around one of the World Wars, who spent so long overseas that they went native, and when they came back to England they couldn’t adjust to English life again; they had gone native. They had adjusted so much to the country overseas, adopting their lifestyle and culture and customs and language and outlook on life, that their own country had ceased to be really home. And Peter warns us about letting that happen to us as Christians. As we live in this world as aliens and strangers, with a different citizenship than most, the danger is that we will go native.
Not going native involves abstaining from fleshly lusts. We hear fleshly lusts and immediately think of sexual sins. But the application is wider than that. In the New Testament, “the flesh” stands for far more than just our bodies. It stands for our nature apart from God’s guidance and influence. It is our own way of thinking and ambitions and passions that we developed in our ignorance and separation from God. Sometimes the NT calls it the old self. So to carry out the desires of the flesh means a lot more than just sexual sin. Galatians 5:19ff gives a good list of what all it can mean, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” The people who see this as home do that sort of stuff, stuff that may seem good for us, from our very limited perspective, but is contrary to the will of God. Don’t go native!
Then Peter gives us a perspective to have about doing things our way; what seems good to us (like most people), instead of God’s way. He says those desires wage war against the soul.
Now, when we hear the word soul we tend to think of the inner spiritual part of ourselves, our spirits. But the word in the original only sometimes has that sense. Quite often this word in the original simply refers to the whole person or to just someone’s life. It’s translated sometimes as person, self, or life. The idea is that the things we desire contrary to the will God are destructive to ourselves and to our lives. When we let the flesh or the old self run our lives we are letting an ignorant foolish person be in charge of us. If given the reins, self will have us ruining good relationships we could have, neglecting people we love, living for nothing of lasting value, pursuing futility, being angry and bitter, frustrated, unfulfilled, ashamed, never finding true happiness, and will ultimately keep us from eternal life. You see, God is a loving Father. Jesus is the good shepherd. Obeying God, following the Lord instead of the old self is not giving up fun. It’s not choosing a dull life where you miss out on a lot. It is rather letting someone much more qualified, much wiser, and who is passionate about our wellbeing, be in charge. It’s the way of abundant life. The other is the way of death.
Now, notice the second command here…
Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles.
That word translated “excellent” needs some attention. Some translations have instead the word good or honorable. There are two words for good in the Greek language of the NT. One generally has more the meaning of upright, clean, straight, beneficial. But that is not the word used here. The word used here generally has more the sense of attractive, winsome, beautiful. It means the kind of goodness that even the world will admire. Peter is not picturing here just being what we may call a “goody-goody”, or stiff-collared Puritanism, or just being one of those people who don’t do a long list of things (drink, cuss, smoke, gamble, watch any R movies, laugh at any filthy jokes, etc.) and goes to church a lot. That’s just going make us weird and nerdy to the people of the world. You can have a goody-goody avoidance of bad behavior that just turns people off and makes them say, “You’re just a stick in the mud. You’re just a party pooper. You’re a religious fuddy-duddy.” What we need is an attractive, vibrant, beautiful, compelling goodness. A goodness that makes people say “So and so is the most awesome person. I wish I could be like that.”
It was exhibited in the early church, Act 2:44-47, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people.” They had such beautiful character that it was attracting the people to them. It is what we see in Jesus and especially in what He did on the cross. In John 12:32 Jesus said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” There is a magnetism in the beauty of Jesus’ character, in the amazing love and patience and grace displayed, especially on the cross. It draws people to Him. I want to show you a little video. Some of you may have seen it, but I enjoy it every time I see it. It attempts to describe the indescribable glory and beauty and “drawing” goodness of Jesus which we are to reflect.
Oh, we all fall short of His glory, don’t we? But if we can reflect some of His glory, some real self-sacrificing love toward our neighbors, some true compassion, some surprising patience, forgiveness, honesty, courage, inextinguishable joy, it will not only likely change some people’s minds about us who hate us, but likely even draw them to the God we reflect and who has made us such people.
The way Peter words it, “so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.”
The day of visitation is a little ambiguous. Many think it means the day of judgment when God visibly visits us. But I think it refers more to a time when God works in the lives of the people who slander us to bring them to repentance (I won’t get into all the technical reasons, see Luke 1:68,78; 7:16; 19:44, Acts 15:14 ). And on the day of visitation, they may think, “I should probably consider this stuff because I know so-and-so and he’s a Christian and he’s the most awesome man I know. There’s something incredible going on in his heart. I should probably see what this Christianity thing is all about.”
I heard a story about the great gospel preacher some of you have heard about, Marshall Keeble. He preached in the early 1900s. After one of his moving, but plain-spoken, sermons, he was standing at the front of the auditorium greeting those who were responding to the invitation (because people actually responded to the invitation back then). A man came rushing down the aisle. Brother Keeble stepped forward with a smile and hand outstretched to greet the man. The guy hit Keeble with a blow that knocked him over the communion table. The man then spit in his face. But Keeble just looked up at the man and said, “I wish I could wipe the anger from your heart and the sin from your soul as easily as I can wipe this spittle from my face.” According to the account, the man broke down in tears and his heart was opened to the gospel.
That’s what Peter is talking about. When we have people around us who misunderstand and dislike us, we are to conduct ourselves so attractively, so beautifully, so unselfishly, so Christ-like, that they realize they’ve been wrong about us and they’re drawn to the Lord we reflect.
- Treat your wife in such a way that your buddies think, “Wow. That’s really admirable. I want to start treating my wife like that. I want to be that kind of man.”
- Treat your kids in such a way, and kids respect your parents in such a way, that when friends come over they see love and respect and peace and harmony; so they’ll think, “I wish it were like that at my house. This Christian home is beautiful and I want a home like that.”
- Conduct yourself around your boss and your co-workers in such a way that they shake their head and say, “I don’t how you do it. The whole atmosphere is brighter when you are here. You’re always so positive and looking to help in extra ways or lift someone’s spirit. Everybody is in a better mood when you’re on shift.”
We can be like that folks. We have the Spirit of the Almighty God living in us to help us be like Jesus and to draw people to Him (if that’s who we want to be and what we want to do). He would like to use us in His mission to save souls.
II Chronicles 16:9, “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.”
Give Him your heart completely. Decide, “Lord, I want to be like Jesus, everything you want me to be. I want to honor you with the way I live, with my money and all I have. I want to have compelling conduct at work and home and everywhere I go. I want to draw people to you.” And if we really mean it and try, the eyes of the Lord are not going to overlook that kind of heart, and He’s going to help us.
Let’s just read it one more time to impress it on our hearts and then go out and live it this week: “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.”