Christians anxiously await the return of Jesus. But none want to hasten the next advent by repeating what prompted the Lord’s first two earth-shattering interventions. Malachi, the book immediately preceding the New Testament, reveals that it was mankind’s ignorance of who God is that led to Christ’s first advent. Jesus cleared up the confusion that had gradually pervaded all of humanity since the flood, even among God’s chosen people, about His true nature.
No one knows the Lord’s timing but seeing how rapidly our world is turning from Him, it would not be surprising if the second coming happens on our watch. If so and if history is any guide, then many of those who profess to know Jesus intimately will discover they have been either misrepresenting or misunderstanding who He is.
Although non-believers don’t worship Jesus, they observe Christians and churches to see if our actions and behaviors align with what they have heard of Jesus and what they imagine an infinite Creator would be like. Even avowed atheists and agnostics have a conception of who God, if He existed, would be. Many rejected Christianity at least in part because their conclusion (based on our misalignment with their expectations) is that we must not know God.
If There Really Were a God, Then…
Persuading the world that Jesus is Lord is largely contingent on Christians living as if we truly believed God is as loving, omniscient, omnipotent, and holy as non-believers would envision Him to be.
- If there really were a God, His interests would supersede ours – The will of a God capable of speaking the universe into existence would be much more important than the desires of those who follow Him. Our indebtedness to a God so loving that He forgives all our offenses by paying our penalty Himself would be so overwhelming that we would pursue only His glory, not our own. Instead, studies show non-believers don’t feel Christians are less self-interested than their non-Christian neighbors and coworkers.
- If there really were a God, we would seek to please Him at all costs – Our thankfulness for the generosity of an unconditionally loving Savior would convince Christians to forego creature comforts to serve Him and sacrifice popularity to lead people toward Him. However, churchgoers are generally reserved about vocalizing their beliefs in social and professional settings, careful not to offend anyone, content to be kind and well-liked by only bringing up “religion” if someone asks.
- If there really were a God, Heaven and Hell, we would be active in sharing our faith – Ironically, although our culture say it is wrong to push personal faith on others, the fact that few Christians do convinces them we don’t actually buy what we’re (not) selling. If we fully grasped the gravity of eternal life or damnation, it would heighten our sense of urgency to share the Gospel, not just our views on politics and morality, with friends and family.
- If there really were a God, He would be perfect but merciful toward those who aren’t – A holy, almighty God would have a standard of performance and perfection that humans could not possibly attain. Non-Christians cannot fathom how an omniscient God who sees the whole person, not just their sin, could be as judgmental as many of His followers appear to be. And if Jesus had no sin, they know we have even less reason to be judgmental. So they assume there is no God, and therefore no standard against which to disprove their presumed “goodness”, obviating their need for Jesus.
- If there really were a God, Christians would love everyone, including one another – Existence of an everlasting God would mean humans have an everlasting soul. Non-Christians wonder why Christ-followers focus so much on outward words and actions when they preach that those who don’t know Jesus are (inwardly) lost souls made in God’s image. Even more so, they watch the body of Christ divide over what appears to be petty disagreements as if our God wasn’t big enough to be worth uniting around a common mission.
- If there really were a God, we would know more about His Word – If the Bible were truly words spoken by the Creator directly to us (which it is) then how can Christians know so few Bible verses, read it so infrequently, study it so casually, and be unable to adeptly defend its authenticity? Our biblical illiteracy has caused countless people to doubt our faith and turn elsewhere (e.g. to professors, politicians and the Internet) for “truth”.
- If there really were a God, Christians would cling relentlessly to their beliefs – Non-believers enjoy tempting Christians to join the crowd in doing wrong, hoping we’ll give in, but secretly they admire us and are attracted to Christianity when we refuse to relent. When Christians change their viewpoints, adopt worldly perspectives and compromise biblical truths, society breathes a sigh of relief, now having validation that the beliefs we once held must not have been true.
- If there really were a God, He would not adapt to suit our preferences – Although modern society says Christianity has failed to keep up with the times, deep down non-believers know that a God powerful enough to form the cosmos would not evolve with the vagaries of culture. So when they see Christians and churches influenced by culture more than they influence culture, it doesn’t pull them toward faith but pushes them away.
- If there really were a God, He would care deeply about poverty and justice – Although non-Christians deny that Jesus was God, nearly all agree that He was caring and compassionate. They also question whether there can be a loving God if so many bad things happen to “good” people. A God they would consider worshipping would have a keen sense of fairness and heart for those less fortunate. They see those qualities in Jesus but not always in Christians, who too often fail to live and love like Him.
- If there really were a God, we would trust Him for our provision – Christians claim the Lord of all has a plan for our lives and far greater insight about the future. Yet when challenges like a pandemic come, society sees most take matters into their own hands, choosing self-preservation over self-sacrifice for others. We cite Scripture promising the Lord will give us all we need in this life and hope for the next one, but non-believers dismiss our faith when Christians insert their own plans in place of God’s.
None of those principles are about conforming to culture’s expectations of who God should be but aligning ourselves with the Lord’s expectations of His children. What we say and do as Christians reflect and exhibit characteristics of God that are either true or not true of Him. If we do not live in accordance with who God truly is, which Jesus modeled in the flesh, then we prove we do not actually know God and inhibit others from coming to know Him as well.
It’s Your Turn
Which of those 10 do you find most challenging? How have contemporary church growth models contributed to the growing perception in America that God must not be real if most Christians are so casual about their faith? (the subject of our next blog post)