TOUGH QUESTIONS AND STRAIGHT ANSWERS
PART 2: WHY SHOULD I HAVE TO BE SEEN TO BE LIVING DIFFERENTLY AS A CHRISTIAN?
PREFACE TO THE SERIES
This is a seminal moment in the life of the church…not just our church but THE church in the UK!
Assaulted from every side by a society that is increasingly secular, increasingly post-modernist, increasingly anti-Christian (or, at the very least, increasingly non-Christian) we need to know how to answer their “Tough Questions” – their challenges to our beliefs. In order to RISK all, in order to RESIST the call of the world to become “like them”, in order to rebuild the broken down “walls of the church”, we need to know where we stand – and to stand firm – not condemning the world, but showing the world a better way…God’s way…
Tough Questions demand Straight Answers. And, right from the get-go, we declare that as His followers, His disciples, we KNOW that the answer to any-and-all of these questions is…JESUS! As the old song says, “Jesus is the answer for the world today”. And He is the answer because He HAS all the answers, and they are all there for us to access at a time of information overload and societal pressure and confusion. And these answers are accessed in two places:
- Through the Word (the Holy Bible)
- Through the Spirit (The Holy Spirit who is God with us, in us, our Counsellor in all situations, our Comforter in all difficulties, the One who teaches us all things)
Tough Questions demand Straight Answers – and we will be looking at Scripture that gives us these answers. But sometimes, just sometimes, the straight answer is… “I don’t know – but I will do my best to find out”. And sometimes, just sometimes, we will not know the answer to that tough question until we get to Heaven. When a person cries: “why did my husband die!?” we must accept that we may never know why God did not answer our prayer for healing or for a relationship or for food or whatever…
WHY SHOULD WE LIVE DIFFERENTLY TO THE WORLD?
In 1982, in the deeply philosophical song “Goody Two Shoes” (LOL) that guru of popular music, Adam Ant, asked the profound question “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?” Are we afraid that when the world looks at our Christian lifestyle, they might mock us as “goody two shoes”? Do we want to be more like them so that we might be more acceptable to them? Do we want to be more like them because their lifestyle seems to be so much more exciting than ours? Do we cry out: “Why should I have to live differently to the way that the world lives?”
Michael – my friend – for more than 20 years resisted the Gospel saying that his business friends lived lives more “godly”, more caring, more charitably, than those of many of the Christians he saw around him. He saw so many Christians as hypocrites in the way they lived. This is why I know that we have to be seen to be living differently as Christians.
Gandhi famously declared to a church minister friend that he would be a follower of Jesus but for this one thing: “I like your Christ but not your Christians” – he saw the “Christian” English as being cruel and arrogant rulers. This is why I know that we have to be seen to be living differently as Christians.
Anton LaVey, the founder of the worldwide church of Satan declared that he was disgusted as a child, when he played piano in the Baptist church, and as a young man, by the hypocrisy of “Christians” who would attend bawdy shows on a Saturday night, weep in a tent crusade on a Sunday and then abuse their wives and children on Monday. Sickened by what he saw as hypocrisy he became a satanist. This is why I know that we have to be seen to be living differently as Christians.
It is truly said that our words do not have power to change lives for Jesus when our actions belie them. This is why it is truly said that people “don’t care how much you know till they know how much you care”.
In past years, countless adverts on billboards across the world, most famously the “Marlbro Man” campaigns, promised health and pleasure through smoking. The truth is that this was a lie and that the truth was that of “smoking woman” – why would I ever want to smoke if this was the result!? People always look at how we live – and the fruit of how we live – as the motivation to what they believe.
Why should we live differently to the way the world lives?
- Because we are called to live differently – we are called to live as Jesus lives, as the Bible commands.
- Because the world will never believe the words we speak about the Good News if they see no difference in the way that these truths cause us to live.
This question becomes massively significant, and oh-so-much tougher, when we turn it around the other way: rather than asking “why should I be living differently?”, if we ask the question from the world’s point of view it becomes: “why are you living differently? Why do you not agree with our views on same-sex marriage and gender realignment and identity? What is wrong with you? How can you be so cruel and bigoted?”
AND HOW SHOULD WE BE LIVING DIFFERENTLY AS CHRISTIANS?
- The great commandment:
‘The most important [commandment],’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” 31 The second is this: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.’ (Mark 12: 29-31)
- Whatever the world says, we must live the truth that there is only one God – His Name is YHWH – there is no other – there is no other way to eternal life except through Jesus.
- As such we choose to live by His Law, His way, His Truth, His life – as the Bible says.
- Our love, our commitment, our service, our worship, our whole lives, must be given to God.
- We must love all others – with the sacrificial love that Jesus showed, with the faithful love of God – whatever the others might do, or say, or believe…we must just love them.
- The fruit of the Spirit:
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5: 19-24)
- The world is always trying to get us to live their way – which is summarised in verses 19-21 and which we do not have time to go into in any way in this session. But, let me say at this point that I was challenged recently by the words of the great teacher John Mark Comer, a very modern-minded man, but passionate Christian, who challenged the young of his church who increasingly adopted the speech of their contemporaries in the world – swearing and profaning – and saying it was OK because they had been freed from the Law. A little thing maybe, but an act that was showing their world that there was no difference between them and the others – so why would the world see any need to be like them?
- But when we allow the Spirit to fill us with His fruit and we live out the love that Jesus commanded us to live, THEN we are seen to be different. Not criticism of the world but love for the world. Not condemnation of the world but love for the world. It is then that the world will say “I don’t know what you have got, but I know you are different, and I want what you have got”.
WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF NOT LIVING DIFFERENTLY TO THE WORLD?
God has called us to be a separated people – by that He means a people who are different to those who live around them. We are to be like Him. We are to be His witnesses by our differences to all those around us. Through our living different the world must see the love and goodness of God.
But what happens when we DON’T live differently to the world around us? What happens when we live like the world? What happens when we adopt their ways? As I pondered this I was encouraged to listen to the excellent teaching of Nicola Neal (who with her husband Simon are the founders and CEOs of “Every Life” in Uganda) which was only brought to Ashford last week. Let’s read the passage she taught from and then this is my interpretation of what she said:
Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig-tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard him say it.
15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it “a den of robbers”.’
18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig-tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig-tree you cursed has withered!’ (Mark 11: 11-21)
- Reading verse 11, Nicola declared “that sentence makes me feel a bit nervous!” You see Jesus is always looking at His people – with love, yes…but also with spiritual eyes asking “what are you doing? Where is your heart? How are you living?”
- And having seen what is happening in the Temple he heads towards it the next day and sees a fig tree – in full leaf. He wants fruit from that tree – but it has none – and so He curses it! That feels VERY uncomfortable! That feels very much like an over-reaction! Until, that is, you realise that Jesus is giving us a metaphor for what is about to happen. For, He then goes into the Temple and finds moneychangers and people buying and selling. He drives them out and declares: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it “a den of robbers”.
- The fig tree looks wonderful. It is full of leaves. It appears to be full of life. But there is no fruit. Now, understand that although there IS a season for figs, the natural state of a fig tree is that if it is in leaf then it should be bearing fruit. But this tree had none. It looked as if it was thriving – but in fact it was useless! It had the appearance of life but in the things that mattered it was dead. And Jesus cursed it…and it died.
- The Temple looked to all the world like it was fully alive. Beautiful, brand-new buildings – the best in the land. It was full of people. It was full of priests conducting services, making sacrifices. It looked thriving but it was not fulfilling its God-given purpose of being a place of worship and a centre of outreach to a world that was lost. So Jesus drives them all out and later prophecies that not one stone will be left on top of another (which was fulfilled in ad 70).
Are we growing fruit? Or are we just leaves? What are we most focused on? Is it on looking good to others and to the world? Or are we bearing the fruit of the Spirit that is so different to the way of the world?
In John 15 Jesus declares that He is “the Vine” and that we “are the branches” (verse 5) and that we were grafted into Him in order to “bear much fruit”. But He warns that if we do not bear fruit – if we do not look different to the world in which we live – then He will “cut off every branch… that bears no fruit” (verse 2). He loves us, He wants the best for us. He will prune us to become even more fruitful. He reminds us that without Him we can do nothing. But, the full Gospel is not all “lovey-dovey”, He states that any branch that is rotten will be thrown into the fire (verse 6).
We are privileged to be His people, called by His Name. But we must humble ourselves, and pray, and seek His face, and turn from our wicked ways. Then He will heal our land! (2 Chronicles 7: 14).
The tough question is for us. Why must we live differently to those in the world? It is our precious calling. It is the way of joy. It is the path of peace. It is the evidence of our witness to the world. And if we don’t…then there are always consequences.
Let us remind ourselves of what was said at the beginning of this session:
‘In 1982, in the deeply philosophical song “Goody Two Shoes” (LOL) that guru of popular music, Adam Ant, asked the profound question “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?”’
What IS our different lifestyle? We have spoken of loving God and loving our neighbour and bearing the “fruit of the Spirit”. But what does that ACTUALLY look like? The challenge for each one of us is to now go away and look at our lives and ask the question: “How should I be living differently from the way that the world lives?”
HOW SHOULD MY LIFE BE DIFFERENT TO THAT OF THE WORLD?
TO THINK ABOUT ON YOUR OWN OR IN YOUR HOUSE GROUP
Who should be first in my life? Consider again Mark 12: 29-31
What should my attitude be towards others? Consider again Mark 12: 29-31
Both these talk about love. What should my “love language” be? Consider 1 Corinthians 13
What should my character be like? Consider again Galatians 5: 19-24
How should I use my eyes and my ears? Consider Matthew 5: 27-30
How should I use my mouth? Consider James 3: 3-12
How should I use my body? Consider 1 Corinthians 6: 18-20
How should I use my talents? Consider Matthew 25: 14-30
How should I use my time? Consider Ephesians 5: 15-20