If you’ve ever been overseas, you may have some idea about what it feels like to be an outsider. A bit homesick, no taste for the local cuisine, uncomfortable with various cultural practices, always sticking out, unable to fluently converse in the local language… it’s tough to deal with all of these things.
We feel some of this same strain as Christians living in this world. When we are born again, we become citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20), and then the Bible refers to us as sojourners, exiles, ambassadors, and even strangers. Though this earth is not our home, here we are. And the more we become like Christ, the more we feel this tension.
Our culture presents us with tons of different scenarios that highlight who we truly are, in all our strange glory. It’s tempting, at these junctures, to distance ourselves from our heavenly country and align ourselves more with this one by acting more ashamed of the gospel than of the culture’s many shortcomings. Sadly, we often justify doing this with terrible reasoning.
Ways We Distort the Gospel
Here are twelve bad reasons to hide, downplay, or distort the truth of the gospel and our new, otherworldly identity.
1. I need to stay relevant.
While being able to read and address your culture means having some level of familiarity with it, we should always avoid sin and we should never distort truth. We must remember that we are set apart as holy and different so that we can lead people to the truth. Being holy and speaking the truth of God’s ever-relevant Word – even the parts that sound crazy – will always be the most relevant thing we can do.
2. I don’t want to jeopardize the relationship.
If you had to forcefully shove your friend off the road so that he didn’t get hit by a truck, you would not hesitate for fear of bruising his shoulder with your push. Even more so, we must ask God for grace and wisdom to lovingly call our friends and family to repent and trust in Jesus even though they may object and take offense.
3. I can’t make a difference.
This sentiment simply reveals a prideful view of ourselves, because, in reality, none of us can make a heart of stone into a heart of flesh (Ez 36:26). God is the one who transforms and redeems. We are simply called to faithful obedience.
4. The end will justify the means, even if it involves compromise.
We must remember that God ordains both the end and the means. I’ve heard it said that what you save someone with is what you save someone to. In other words, you cannot proclaim the gospel (which means dying to self and following Christ) with things other than the gospel (self-help, prosperity, entertainment, etc.).
5. I’ve seen it work before.
God is faithful in all things, and he uses good and evil alike for his great purposes. Remember, he often speaks through unlikely means (e.g., Balaam’s donkey and evil rulers) and uses people’s sins to accomplish good (e.g., Joseph’s brothers and the crucifixion). So just because we’ve seen God work in a particular situation or use a particular model of ministry doesn’t mean he is endorsing it. God’s Word is always our standard and ultimate example.
6. What I do doesn’t change who I am or what I truly believe.
It’s tempting to try to justify acting in ways that are contrary to our Christian beliefs in order to avoid alienating someone we are trying to engage (e.g., going to a sexually explicit movie to try to build a relationship with an unbelieving friend). But “every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit” (Matt 7:17). And, “the good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Lk 6:45 )
7. I don’t have a choice, so I distort the gospel.
Caught in the furious current of our culture, it may seem like we don’t have a choice. But continually before us is the choice to fear God or to fear man, to follow him or to reject him. Even in environments that are greatly hostile toward Christ, we must count the cost and follow him no matter what. Peter gives us a good example of making this choice in Acts 5:27-32.
8. I may endanger the good that exists if I’m too bold about sin.
For example, if someone becomes convinced that Jesus is worthy of worship but doesn’t see anything wrong with sleeping around, we could be tempted to ignore their sin so as to not “turn them off” to Christ. It’s true that not all battles are worth dying over. But the gospel is. And for the sake of the gospel, we must boldly uphold and proclaim biblical truth. If we ignore or excuse sin, then there is no apparent need for a Savior.
9. God isn’t that concerned with X, so I distort the gospel.
We can easily downplay controversial issues as insignificant. However, issues like the sanctity of marriage and life are just as near to God’s heart and just as tied to the gospel as issues like ending human trafficking and poverty alleviation.
10. God will forgive me, so I can distort the gospel.
Paul debunked this one best when he said, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:1-2).” God never condones or excuses sin.
11. Other Christians are okay with it.
It sometimes seems like “Evangelical Christians” everywhere are being pressured into accepting and justifying cultural trends, even those that are clearly contrary to Scripture. We must stay true to the Word, though, and resist the temptation to follow a Christian leader just because what they’re saying is popular or easy to hear.
12. I can appeal to a passage of Scripture.
All Scripture is God-breathed and inerrant. But because of sin, this is not true of human interpretation. We should be wary of seeing something in Scripture that hasn’t been seen or accepted by the church in the 2,000 years since it was established. What we believe about a certain verse or passage must fit with the whole counsel of God’s Word.
May the Lord find us faithful and true.