“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” Acts 11:26
It seems that perhaps this title was not given out of respect. Some speculate this to be a derogatory name for followers of Christ. In any case, I find myself quite indifferent to the title. So long as it means I have accepted Jesus then that is sufficient. It is sad that many unbelieving people have no idea what Christianity really is. Certainly if you say it is a religion you are incorrect. Christianity is not just a set of beliefs including the belief in God; it is also an ongoing relationship and growth process. The definition of religion does not include these last two details.
Jesus himself disagrees with religion in Matthew 23, but I already spoke about these things in a prior post called The Worst of Sinners. Refer to that post if you like, or better yet, just read Jesus’ words. He kind of explains things better than I do, you know?
“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:26-27
This is very interesting because if you haven’t noticed no one can keep a rein on her tongue all of the time. It is impossible to keep one’s words consistently good.
“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” James 3:6-8
Sinful creatures beget sin. So you see any person’s religion is worthless. No matter of appearance, skill or reputation is able to mask the existence of sin in a person’s life. However, ritually helping orphans and widows is seen by God as goodness. God’s commands should be habitually acted out in order to live well, not perfectly. As for being polluted by the world, how does one avoid that?
Being in the world, but not of the world…
You’d have to leave this world to avoid sinful, unbelieving people (1 Corinthians 5:9-10). If you have Christ you have overcome the world (John 16:33, 1 John 5:4, 1 John 4:4). But still you need to be careful.
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial (Satan)? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?”
“What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ (Leviticus 26:12, Jeremiah 32:38, Ezekiel 37:27) Therefore, ‘Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.’ (Isaiah 52:11, Ezekiel 20:34, 41)
And, ‘I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.’ (2 Samuel 7:14, 7:8) Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1
I’ve heard this “don’t be yoked with unbelievers” verse used before in reference to marriage. Paul specifically talks about unbelieving wives or husbands in 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 so if you’re wondering about those things it’s easier for you to read them yourself. They’re pretty clear cut. Basically, the unbelieving spouse may come to accept Christ, but if not, the unbelieving spouse is still sanctified through the believing spouse. It mentions children too, and that they are holy.
I must admit that I am often grieved by my unbelieving friends. It is inexplicably difficult to have relationships with people who are incapable of understanding Christ. I mean, the gap between us is far more immense then I could ever hope to measure. And by no means am I content with that. God, I think, is also distraught over people’s rejection of him.
The Old Testament can frustrate me with its repetition and long lists of names and the like. But I cannot ever forget these verses, “‘Son of man, say to the Israelites, ‘This is what you are saying: ‘Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?’ Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’” Ezekiel 33:10-11
Verses like these perplex me. If God is in complete control over whether a person believes or not, how then can he be upset when people reject him? This ties into the debate of freewill and I’m just not going to go there. However, I will offer this as comfort: God is good and in him there is no sin (1 John 1:5). I would expect a sinful God to tyrannically withhold faith from people. I would anticipate a monstrous God who uses favoritism (Galatians 2:6, Romans 2:11, Leviticus 19:15) in selecting people to receive his son. Let there be no fear or frustration in you as God is not wicked.
God times things in impossibly complex ways, but that’s just how he is. It’s like God has a giant pocket full of random items and he has to root around for his pocket watch to determine when something’s supposed to happen. He’s probably got like planets and trees and other stuff jammed in his pocket so it takes a while to find the time. To us it takes forever for anything to happen, meanwhile, God’s just trying to find the bloody pocket watch.
“What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:9-11, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 lists a variety of things that happen at different periods of time. I encourage you to read those as well.
Don’t be yoked with unbelievers! So what does that mean exactly? Take Jesus as an example. The guy spent quality time with sinners.
“When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him (Jesus) eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” Mark 2:16-17
All of the poor bring them forward. All of the prostitutes and tax collectors find your place at his feet. All of the disabled, the injured, the sick and the disreputable people, Jesus calls you to be his friends.
Those who struggle in weakness, those who see themselves for what they really are, sinners, it is these people who turn to Christ. Now, the point I’m trying to make is this: Jesus was among the sinful, but he was not influenced by the sin. Jesus, of course, is the exception. He never sinned (1 John 3:5). He was the only one of us who could have made it out alive, but as it is, thankfully, he did not.
We are being made like Christ, but the work being done in us will not be completed during our lifetime (Philippians 3:14, Colossians 3:4). It is after death that the process is finally completed. Since we are weak and sinful we are prone to influence from unbelievers. Sin, no matter how insidious, continues to draw us in like a forbidden piece of fruit. Just like Eve, and just like Adam we are forever drawn to the snake in the tree. We are captivated by the things that God warns us to avoid.
And we fall.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:1-2
So here’s what I’m thinking. The Bible instructs us to spread the Good News about Christ (Matthew 28:19). The Bible is full of commands to follow and faith demands works. We cannot be stagnant and only whisper that we know Christ. We must be able to stand up before others and say, unshaking, that we accept Christ. Christians are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). We must change our lives. We must devote our every word and deed to the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:31).
With all of these things in mind it seems impossible to avoid unbelievers. In fact, we need to be near them because we are the light of the world that shines out of darkness (John 1:5)! How would any unbelieving person be saved if all of the Christians stayed away? How could an unbeliever even have a chance at knowing Christ if all of the Christians took off? I’m not putting the power into Christians’ hands. God has sovereign control and authority and he does not need or rely on people, but as it is, he has asked us to preach his word. That’s a command from him.
We may have forgiveness through Christ, but if we drag our spiritual feet there will be painful consequences.
“‘Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked person, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person to turn from their ways and they do not do so, they will die for their sin, though you yourself will be saved.’” Ezekiel 33:7-9
All scripture is useful for teaching. Sometimes there are commands that seem to be specific to certain people. In this case I see all of us entrenched in the instructions. If we don’t help others to know Christ then we are abandoning God’s word. The Lord has told us to go and speak about him. We cannot be silent (1 Corinthians 9:16, Psalm 30:11-12). We would simply burst. Would not creation start singing if we kept our mouths shut? (Luke 19:40)
We will always have Christ’s forgiveness, but we will not always have time to tell others about this. We will all run out of time and be converted back into dust.
I’ve said many things, but I want to come back to the title of this post: Label Them. There are so many denominations of Christianity and friends it was never supposed to be that way. There is only one Christ and one God and only through the power of Satan could everything get mucked up and confused over the past couple thousands of years.
“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” 1 Corinthians 1:10-13
“Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: ‘Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.’” Luke 11:17
What I want to say to you is this: Christian is just a title. You don’t know if a person is a Christian, not truly, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7) and weighs a person’s motives (Proverbs 16:2). Only he knows those who are his. Still, you can judge if a person is likely to be a Christian based off of their words and actions. Faith needs to be exercised through action (James 2:26). Words can just be varying exhalations that float in the air. They can mean absolutely nothing if a person says one thing and does the opposite.
It is critical to know that there were false Christians walking on this earth before Christ even died. So I warn you to judge a person based on their actions and words. When I say “judge” I mean to determine between right and wrong. This does not mean to wrongfully compare ourselves to others or to condemn anyone. This simply means to decide if someone is living for Christ based off of her lifestyle.
Trust me if someone is a false Christian she cannot hide her true nature. Eventually the gold paint starts to chip off and you see what she truly is. I say this to warn you, but of course only God has the final say if someone is a Christian or not because he sees the heart.
I know I’ve met false Christians. These are people who accept ideas that are explicitly against God’s word. These are people who say they’re Christians when it’s convenient. These are people who say they’re Christians so long as they don’t have to change their lives even a smidgen. These are people who put on a show in church and then as soon as the service is over they’re drowning in their sins without any remorse or guilt.
The best you can do to purify yourself from the sin of the world is to readily pray to God. Confess your sins. Keep talking to God. What are you struggling with? What are you afraid of? What do you desire? Are you having trouble understanding something about your life or about God’s word? Are you unsure and need help making a decision? Do you feel completely alone and hopeless? Do you need wisdom to advise another person? Do you need financial support and don’t know what to do? What do you worry about? What are the temptations that you regularly fall victim to?
Whatever it is give it to God and do not try to hide anything from him. That’s stupid because he already knows everything about you so just tell him. If you don’t ask God for help then how can he answer you? You do not receive because you do not ask with right motives (James 4:2-3).
“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.” Psalm 139:1-4
Read your Bible. You cannot skip it for one day without seeing the darkness come leaking back into your life. Study Bibles are fantastic because they offer cultural notes and explanations to scripture that you otherwise cannot derive on your own. If you want to find a Bible I encourage you to get a translation such as the New International Version. Don’t get some version like King James if you can’t understand any of it. Also, as I have warned before, read the New Testament first. You need Jesus first.
Church and fellowship is important. I mean I’m really hurting right now because I keep avoiding these two. Oh, by the way, if you think I’m some uber-righteous Christian then let me be the first to say I stamp my feet like a toddler when I have to read my Bible. I mean seriously it’s every day I’m trying to avoid reading my Bible. I get frustrated and I don’t want to do it and I procrastinate. I always pay for it when I don’t read.
So there you are. Don’t lose heart just get started wherever you’re at. Don’t compare your walk to another Christian’s. There is no competition. There is only Jesus and we’re all on different paths with him. Don’t go looking at someone else’s path or you may walk right off of yours because your eyes weren’t on the lamp guiding your feet (Psalm 119:105).