Over the years, people have reacted in a variety of ways when I was able to share with them that I was a Christian. Some immediately asked questions in order to learn more, while others quickly became agitated or uncomfortable. But, in my experience, by far the most common response is somewhere between indifference or expressing that they were happy that I found some type of spiritual fulfillment.
We live in a society that doesn’t really care what you believe; as long as your beliefs don’t affect what they themselves have to believe. Most will allow Jesus to be just another means to scratch our spiritual itch, and are often even encouraging regarding your religious convictions. And really the only time that problems begin to arise is when we press the conversation a little further and insist that Jesus is not only God, but that repentance of sin and faith in Him is the only way we can be reconciled to our Creator. This should not come as a surprise to us, as the exclusivity of the one true God and Christ has historically always been the primary issue for people and societies.
A TREK THROUGH HISTORY
In the ancient world it was common for a people groups to worship a number of gods (polytheism), and often these gods would come and go depending on who was in power at any given time. But, during the events of the Exodus where God rescues His people from slavery, God purposely sends plagues that undermine the gods of Egypt and display His sovereign power as the one true God. From the beginning of Israel’s history, God made it clear that there was only one God, and that Yahweh was His name (Deuteronomy 6:4). And every time Israel compromised on this point (Which unfortunately happened frequently) and began to worship Yahweh alongside Baal, Asherah, or Molech, they often gained a level of acceptance from the neighboring nations, but condemnation from God Himself.
In Daniel chapter 2 we see King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon acknowledging the existence and power of the one true God, and in the very next chapter setting up a golden image of himself to be worshiped. When Daniel’s friends refuse to bow down to it, the king promptly has them cast into a burning furnace. Nebuchadnezzar seemed fine with people in his very palace worshiping Yahweh, but he would not tolerate the fact that Yahweh insisted that His people only worship Him alone.
The Roman Empire had the same issue with the early Church and were frequently frustrated by Christian’s insistence on worshiping Christ alone, and not bowing the knee to the Roman pantheon or Caesar himself. Polycarp, the second-century bishop of Smyrna and disciple of the Apostle John, was murdered because he refused to confess that Caesar was lord. He and many early Christians were killed because they were dogmatic that only Jesus was Lord and worthy of worship. It was common Roman practice to allow the worship of the local deities of the nations they conquered. The primary problem Rome had with Christians, was there unbending view on the exclusivity of Christ.
AN INTOLERANT MESSAGE OF HOPE
When we examine history it should come as no surprise that we face similar attitudes in our own society. While we do encounter some hostility directed at a belief in Jesus, I tend to think these individuals are simply the most vocal about it which makes it seem more common than it may actually be. A more “tolerant” view of religion seems to be the most common attitude I encounter personally; one which is accepting of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and whatever else it may be…as long as you do not “impose” your beliefs on them.
As Christians, we recognize that this innate desire to worship comes from our nature as image bearers of God. And that sin has corrupted our nature, causing us to rebel and worship everything but God; aside from God Himself removing our heart of stone and causing us to come to Him in repentance and faith. But, even as Christians there is a tendency to soft-pedal Jesus’ message lest we hurt our reputation at work, or potentially even damage a friendship. What is important to realize is that Jesus Himself warned us that His message would bring division to our relationships. This does not mean that we should seek division, but to understand that the intolerant message of the gospel grates against our sinful human nature even when it is delivered with love.
“For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Imagine you are walking and you see someone you know sleeping on some train tracks. Do you continue walking, fearing that your firm warning of their imminent danger may damage the relationship? Or, do you rush over and tell them that they are in danger of what will soon come? Knowing that you are risking offending them because they do not want to be told they are doing something not only wrong but foolish. This is the position all of us are in as sinners in rebellion against God, and the most unloving thing we as Christians can do is ‘keep walking’.
We have been entrusted with the intolerant message that all of us are sinners and rebels against our Creator. But God, in His grace and love sent His Son Jesus to live perfectly under God’s law and to die the death we deserve; paying the penalty for our sin, and placing His righteousness on us and adopting us as His children. When we repent of our sin and place our faith in Christ and what He did as our only means of salvation. Such a black and white message is what causes divisions with us and our culture, but if we know it to be true, then the most unloving thing we could do is remain silent.