American Christianity is becoming less compelling to the rest of our society. Many people cringe when we mention our faith. Now, we might like to think such rejection is because we’ve imitated Christ and sought to advance his kingdom on earth. After all, didn’t Jesus promise that all people would hate us for his name’s sake?
But it isn’t always faithful witness causing people to turn up their noses at Christians. Many are responding negatively to the church’s sins and failures. I don’t think they are expecting perfection, but they are expecting consistency. And so often we don’t even clear that low bar.
If we suffer, it should be because of integrity, not heresy and hypocrisy (1 Pet. 4:14–16). And yet in so many ways, the American church is suffering for the wrong reasons.
Known for Our Love
To be faithful witnesses to Christ, we must embrace the supreme Christian ethic: love. It’s easy to lose sight of the sacrificial love demanded of Christians, even to think it’s not possible in the real world. But in Christ we have encountered a greater reality that supersedes the status quo. Jesus has come and raised up a people for his own possession. When you entrust yourself to Jesus, you instantly become attached to his people. Our neighbors must recognize our unyielding commitment to one another, even when there’s tension among us. Our cultural allegiances must take a backseat to our commitment to the cross and the church (John 13:35). Our neighbors will not recognize us as Christians if our love hinges on personal and social ambition.
The Great Commission is hindered when the Great Commandment is disregarded.
The Great Commission is hindered when the Great Commandment is disregarded. If the Great Commission is the goal, we have to confront the obstacles that keep people from hearing the gospel (2 Cor. 10:4–5). We don’t need to recreate church; we need to live out the church’s calling in light of what Jesus has done (1 John 4:19–21). The world will know we are Christians supremely by our love.
Loving Truth and Truthful Love
Everyone can get on board with the idea of Christian love. But what does that love look like?
A friend recently told me he overheard close friends using racial slurs in conversation. He knew he should do something, but he didn’t know what. I encouraged him to pray for humility, start a conversation with one person, speak the truth in love, and leave the results to God. While the task was difficult, my friend was responsible for loving his friend by sharing the truth.
Charles Spurgeon once said that true love is measured by the degree to which the one loving is willing to subject himself to crosses and losses, to suffering and self-denials. With love comes responsibility, and that responsibility is grounded in truth. What disturbs and disillusions those on the outside is the imbalance of truth and love they often see in our midst.
“Truth” people tend to exert power over others. They’d rather lecture than listen (James 1:19). “Love” people, on the other hand, are prone to excuse hypocrisy (Prov. 27:5). Naturally, these different proclivities spark conflict between people scarred by sin. But as a family, the local church ought not merely celebrate the absence of conflict; we must pursue the process of working through conflict together. Our hope is that both love and truth will prevail because of the gospel’s invincible power.
Learn and Grow
We place our hope in God for these things to happen. He is sovereign, and his plans for his church won’t be thwarted (Matt. 16:18). When we are rightly challenged by the world for not living up to our calling, may we accept the rebuke and be sensitive to the Spirit’s call to holiness and oneness.
Right now the world isn’t seeing that holiness and oneness. We proclaim Scripture as the ultimate authority, but fail to apply it to our life together. Every believer must be committed to sacrificial love grounded in truth (Matt. 16:24–25). If we’re consistent in these things, God is pleased, and the gospel is advanced (Eph. 4:11–16).
And if we suffer, it will be for the right reasons.