In a society where the only thing intolerable is intolerance (as our society defines it), Evangelical Christianity will always be among the intolerable. Over the years our American culture has increasingly identified the primary ethical code of conduct to be one of “tolerance”. Tolerance is, “The ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular, the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.” This dictionary definition, however, has been twisted. Our culture has changed the concept of “tolerance” to include the necessity of agreement. In other words, one must be in agreement with lifestyles, choices, and beliefs of another or else one will be labeled intolerant. In this sort of worldview, holding to, living by, and arguing for an absolute truth/morality that contradicts with that of another is the ultimate moral wrong and is worthy of cultural excommunication. The only unacceptable view is the view which states other viewpoints to be objectively incorrect and/or immoral. This applies to issues of sexual immorality, gender, marriage, abortion, the church, salvation, the doctrine of God, and really any objective understanding of sin. Evangelical Christians take unique stands in regard to each of these areas. Their beliefs open them up to accusations of bigotry, ignorance, and intolerance, thus, making them intolerable to the mainstream culture.
This, however, is not a new phenomenon. Christianity, from its beginning, has always been an intolerable belief system invoking persecution and marginalization. Consider the apostle Paul before his conversion (also known by his Jewish name, Saul). He is described as one of the strongest opposers of the Christian faith. As the first Christian martyr is stoned to death, Saul stands by giving his approval. (Acts 8:1) He is described as ravaging the church and entering house after house, dragging off men and women and committing them to prison. (Acts 8:3) In Acts 9 he is described as breathing out threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord and he sets out on a 137-mile journey to Damascus just to capture and imprison anyone belonging to “the way” – a first-century shorthand for the Christian faith. What was it about “the way” that threatened Saul? The Christian stance was one of nonviolence. They were not forcing anyone to convert nor were they participating in illegal activity. Saul literally watched Stephen proclaim Jesus and willfully give his life for his faith in Jesus. Stephen was not violent. He did not retaliate, but rather with his dying breath he said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60) So what was so threatening about the way of Jesus that deserved such drastic opposition over and against any other view that differed from Saul’s? Furthermore, what is so threatening about the Christian worldview that evokes such drastic opposition today?
#1 Biblical Christianity is Exclusive
Jesus Christ made this incredible claim, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) He unapologetically stated, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.” Biblical Christianity claims that only those who believe in and follow Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins will have eternal life. This is the message that the Christians preached, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) This means that Christianity by its nature is exclusive. To be a Christian is to believe that all people are sinners and that all people need forgiveness and that forgiveness is only received through faith in Jesus alone. Christianity is not exclusive in the sense that all are not welcome to follow Jesus, but it is exclusive in the sense that those who do not believe will be excluded from eternal life.
If Jesus was the way then Saul was going the wrong way down a path headed for destruction. If Jesus is the way then Saul did not, would not, and could not have eternal life without following Jesus as Lord. This foundational belief of the Christian faith will always be intolerable to those who do not believe that their sin separates them from God. Christianity will always be foolish to those who do not believe that God ordained the cross of Christ as the place which God’s son took the punishment for sin on himself. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18)
#2 Biblical Christianity is Intrusive
If Christianity only demanded a prayer to be said or a ritual to be performed, then Christianity would not be so intolerable to the world. The call of Jesus Christ, however, goes far beyond ritualistic obedience. Jesus is not only the Savior, but he is the Lord of those who have faith. To become a Christian is to be radically changed by the Spirit of God. It is to be given new desires, new affections, and a new identity wrapped up in Christ Jesus our King. This newness of life (Rom. 6:1-4) creates in the Christian a new aversion to actions that God opposes in his Word. Christianity calls for us to give up our worship of lust, money, and prestige. In other words, the way of Jesus totally threatens one’s own lifestyle and life choices.
If Jesus is the way then Saul’s way was totally threatened. His way of life was threatened, his belief system was threatened, his profession, authority, position, power, pride – all of it was threatened. This new “way” was not just a way of salvation. It was a way of life that looked very different from the world’s morality. Jesus says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Mt. 7:13-14) There are few things more offensive than telling someone that they are living in sin and there are few things more intrusive than calling for someone to repent and to change that life of sin into a life of pursuing God’s standard of holiness.
#3 Biblical Christianity is Expansive
Not only is the way of Jesus exclusive and intrusive, it is expansive. It is a multiplying belief system. It is a converting belief system. Christianity is designed to grow and spread as a message of salvation to all the ends of the earth and to all types of peoples. These Christians believed wholeheartedly that Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection were the only way of salvation, so much so, that they were willing to go anywhere and endure anything in order that others might come to know the goodness of salvation. Genuine Christians are always evangelistic Christians. Upon coming to know Jesus, one immediately and inevitably wants others to genuinely know Jesus. Foundational to Christian faith is the command to go therefore and tell others about the forgiveness that may be found in Jesus. (Lk. 24:45-47; Mt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8)
If Christianity was not exclusive to those who believed in Jesus as the only way it would not have been persecuted. If it was an intrusive calling for a changed life and a new Lord, then it would not have been persecuted. If it was not expansive with its mission to spread the news of Jesus to the ends of the earth then it would not have been persecuted. We must ask ourselves if our Christianity is easily tolerated by the world around us. If your Christianity is not in some sense intolerable to those who refuse to believe, then it might not be Biblical Christianity.
If Christianity is this difficult to swallow for the world around us, however, then how will it ever expand? How do people who are naturally opposed to the exclusive claims of Jesus actually come to believe and proclaim those truths they once rejected? Saul is the prime example of such a conversion. Having once hated the claims of Christ, God in his sovereign grace revealed to Saul the resurrected Jesus. No matter how much he had sinned against the Lord and no matter how opposed he had been to God’s message, God showed his love and his patience and he drew Saul to himself. In a moment Saul transformed from a persecutor of Christianity to a proclaimer of Christianity. He beheld the resurrected Jesus and was forever changed.
Take courage. The cross of Christ may be folly to those who are perishing, but it is the power of God unto salvation for those who believe. There is no one who is out of reach of God’s saving grace. The Gospel may be gloriously offensive, but it is gloriously effective to save even the chief of sinners.
1 Timothy 1:15-17 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
By His Grace & For His Glory,
Pastor Brandon Langley
St. Rose Community Church