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DISCIPLESHIP SERIES: Being For People and the World Rather than Against

March 6, 2011
S. Michael Craven
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Last week I attempted to outline the daily life and duty of every Christian rooted in the two “great commandments” of Jesus and the kingdom principle of restoration. I wrote:

We enter the world each day as ambassadors of Christ and his kingdom—sensitized to the effects of sin—loving others by seeking their welfare through the proper ordering of things and relationships. We look for and respond to opportunities to bring relief to those who are suffering. We seek the good of others and when possible, we create systems and institutions that serve the common good and promote human flourishing. We work for remedy in the daily situations and when necessary, the reformation or abolition of whole systems that oppress. We disciple people in the Truth, showing them the way that leads to a life that thrives through having a right relationship to God, to self, to others, and the rest of creation.

However, to do this will require many of us to reexamine our attitudes and conduct toward the world and those outside the church. Too often, our attitude toward the surrounding culture and those who make it up is judgmental and condemning. We thoughtlessly criticize anything that isn’t distinctly Christian. When met with opposing ideas, we draw cultural battle lines and those on the other side are considered the enemy. We vilify and ridicule the representatives of “godless culture” and rather than engage with and love the lost, we take offense and withdraw into our Christian enclaves. Practically speaking, many Christians live as if they really don’t like the world or anyone in it!

We are often doing precisely the opposite of what Jesus did. He did not come to condemn the world but to save it (see John 3:17). Sinners didn’t offend Jesus! These were the very people to whom he was drawn and engaged with—the dirty, the broken, the vulgar, and the immoral. Zacchaeus the tax collector was the Bernie Madoff of his day, a traitor cheating his own people (Luke 19). The Samaritan woman at the well was the town “slut” (John 4) and the woman the Pharisees were preparing to kill was actually caught in the act of adultery (John 8). Jesus didn’t condemn these, he engaged them, ate and drank with them, defended them against their accusers—he loved them and because he first loved them, they in turn repented and followed him. Jesus wasn’t afraid of getting “dirty” by consorting with sinners.

In contrast, Jesus was offended by the self-righteous: the religious zealots who sought to keep themselves “unspotted from the world” by having nothing to do with sinners. The Pharisees criticized and condemned anything and everyone who didn’t conform to their standards. If we don’t see that we, too, are sinners—no better than others—then we are Pharisees judging others while deceived about our own condition.

Not only are we frequently judgmental, our thinking has become so clouded by political rancor and the cultural struggle that we refuse to acknowledge any contribution to what is true, good, and beautiful by non-Christians.

I recall publishing an article several years ago in which I praised Katie Couric, who, when asked by reporters if she would travel to Iraq, said she would not, “because a single mother of two had no business taking such risks in a chaotic war zone.” I simply shared in the reporter’s praise of Ms. Couric who “put the well-being of her two daughters above her career.” I received reactions from many Christians who expressed anger at me for praising a “left-wing liberal feminist” like Katie Couric. This attitude is contemptuous and self-righteously conveys the notion that only distinctly Christian conduct is worthy of praise. This is sheer nonsense lacking in grace; for Christians to diminish the good done by non-Christians makes us look narrow-minded, petty and hateful. This certainly isn’t consistent with the attributes of love that are listed in 1 Corinthians 13.

The consequence of this posture is devastating to the church and its mission. As a result, we increasingly find our message and ourselves unwelcome. In short, many Christians are not only rejecting Christ’s command to obey God by loving others; because of these attitudes and conduct, we are increasingly unlikeable! Sadly, this is becoming the predominant view of Christians by those outside the church.

In 2006, researchers at the Barna Group surveyed 16 to 29 year-olds and discovered that 38 percent claim to have a “bad impression” of Christianity and only 16 percent reported having a “good impression.” A full 49 percent reported having a “bad impression” of “Evangelical Christians” with only three percent claiming to have a “positive impression” (Kinnamon & Lyons, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity [BakerBooks: Grand Rapids, MI, 2007] 24). Only ten years earlier, a similar study revealed that 85 percent of those outside the faith held a “favorable” impression of Christianity. For the Christian who spends any effort trying to engage the lost, you are no doubt well acquainted with this sentiment.

Fortunately, there is a new movement of Christians rising to counter this condition (you may be among them); one hopes they will change this perception. Gabe Lyons refers to these as “restorers” in his recent book, The Next Christians: How a New Generation is Restoring the Faith. This growing group of believers has taken their impetus from their rediscovery of the gospel of the kingdom. Rather than withdrawing from the world waiting for evacuation, they take seriously Jesus’ command to occupy until he returns. They understand the extraordinary implications of God’s redemptive kingdom come into the world and so they work to infuse the world with God’s love, beauty, grace, and justice. They live, act, and speak as if they are for people and the world because Christ is. Where others take offense and withdraw, they are provoked to engage and remedy. Where others are prone to judge and condemn, they offer grace and mercy. Where others only see the profane, they choose to find the beauty that expresses the creative image of God. As Christians, we should look for common ground rather than focus on differences; we should build bridges that bring us together rather than walls that keep us apart!

Those compelled by their love for Christ and his world are shattering negative stereotypes and seeing the restoration of people and places. They are reaching a new generation through serious dialogue without moralism and judgment and drawing them into authentic communities of faith in Christ. People are in need of hope, not condemnation. As those who follow Christ, we know where and from whom this hope—our only hope—can be found. We are living in a potentially pivotal moment in history. If we are faithful to Christ and that which constitutes true Christianity (see Matthew 25:41-46), we can, once again, become the people of God animated by love and known for who and what we are for rather than who and what we are against.

© 2011 by S. Michael Craven

Michael's commentary, "Truth in Culture," is published every Monday on,, and The Christian Post. Subscribe via email or RSS.

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Response from : Ronald Newcomb  

March 7, 2011 10:19 AM

I am continually stunned by Michaels acute comprehension of how we as Christians respond in our culture, and why, at times, we have quite the wrong response, as in his March 7th post where he points out our poor response to our own culture.
It was personally corrective if not purgative when I think of ways I have responded at times.
There are, of course, a set of rules God requires of us, such as do not commit adultery, and then rules our individual churches may pile on top of those that take on nearly the same authority, and between those are rules our denomination has created to enforce ideas or even doctrines falsely believes to be scriptural. Having just reviewed the Sentencing of Galileo by the Inquisition, this strikes home as a somewhat softer version of the same inquisition, and, likely that much softer only because of that much less authority to impose judgment. In Galileos case the inquisitors accused and convicted him claiming scriptural grounds for the earth being the center of the universe, when it teaches no such thing, but Plato and the other Greeks did. Galileo was convicted for overturning a Platonic doctrine that had crept into the church. He was arrested and confined for the remainder of his life.
That wasnt the most damaging part. The most damaging part is that the Roman Catholic Church had the wrong response not only to Galileo but subsequently to how we know things (epistemology) and the interaction of belief in the Bible and the teachings of science. That set us back hundreds of year, and is still a problem today through Hagel, Kierkegaard, and Kant.
We can see that we withdrew from the debates of science and of culture and this withdrawal has not only slowed and harmed scientific development but also enormously harmed the church. Instead, we have rules based on our church subculture as to how things ought to be and we judge people by that standard. If a person is friendly might seem more important than if he is committing adultery. Whether he does daily devotionals more important than if he is obedient to God. The list goes on.
But it occurs to me that if he is committing adultery he is in one of two states: 1) he is not saved, and therefore needs to be end needs to commit to obeying God. Jesus said, if you love me, obey my commandments. Or, 2) he is saved and is disobedient to God. The same remedy applies to him, but only the second part, he needs to make God his Lord and King. As in Michaels earlier writing, he needs to give God his kingdom back. In both cases, submission to God is the answer.
It is the odd paradox that in either case, it is not our sin that is the real problem. It was Adam that set the final destiny of mankind to hell, estrangement from God, and it was Jesus that changes our destiny to heaven and the new earth, if we but accept that offer. Our destiny changed based on his work, not our own. We are not yet at our destiny, that is, we are previous to our destiny, but he is faithful. Let us be faithful to him so that others might see our good works (that is, allow him to rule our lives, to be both Lord and King) that they might come to this same realization, 1) that they are image bearers of God, 2) that they are not acting like it, nor headed toward Gods dwelling place, their relationship to him needs to be changed, and 3) that this destiny can be changed by acceptance of the free gift of God.
How will we do that if we remain locked up in our church? What did Jesus do? He went to Zacchaeus and said, lets do lunch. Remember, he was teaching a group of disciples to follow his example. I need to ask, am I following his example? The question of often asked, who is your Barnabas? Perhaps we need to ask, who is your Zacchaeus?

Response from : Bob Geiger  

March 7, 2011 11:53 AM

Michael, I hope you found you ball after hitting it out of the park again!
Excellent article!
If you remember, I wrote you some time back praising another of your columns. You would make a great Catholic, my friend!
you might appreciate a prayer written by Thomas More while awaiting his execution in the Tower of London:
Lord, grant me a holy heart that sees always what is fine an pure and is not frightened at the sight of sin,
but creates order wherever it goes.
Grant me a heart that knows nothing of boredom, weeping and sighing.
Let me not be too concerned with the bothersome thing I call "myself".
Lord, give me a sense of humor and I will find ahappiness in life and profit for others.
Keep up the good work!
Bob Geiger

Response from : Adam Nixon  

March 7, 2011 12:16 PM

I agree with and endorse nearly everything Michael says here. Certainly the principle he is exhorting us to is correct, however, I believe the situation to be more complex, and it's going to take more to fix than leaving moralism and judgment out of our serious dialogue with the unsaved world. Why? Because notice that the survey statistics Michael quotes are from 1996 and 2006. This is the period which precisely brackets the pre-internet and internet age.

Since internet use became mainstream around 1999, and particularly since 2003 or so when broadband high speed internet in affordable 'always-on' price packages enabled the worldwide transmission and sharing of vast amounts of political and cultural opinion, often in attractive, hard-hitting and manipulative video format, a Babel-like 'One-World, One-Language, One Thought' culture has emerged, er, no, "emerged" is the wrong word, because it was always there, it just lacked the means of expression Rather, this One-World culture has, through the internet, now brazenly revealed itself for what it truly is, (the Satanically authored culture of Christ-hatred) and consolidated and snowballed to become the predominant world culture. It's a creed now shared almost universally by anyone aged under 40, and it is pro-actively and strategically hostile towards Christianity.

Young people today do not have a bad impression of Christianity today merely because they've probably met a few uncharitable and unsociable Christians. In 2006 and beyond, they have a bad impression of Christians chiefly because the satanically authored propaganda of the 'One World' internet culture screams at them, from every corner, that despising Christianity is the 'right' thing to do. Most young people today have never actually met a true Christian, because the culture (and schoolteachers and college professors) has actually instructed them to keep well away. Therefore the only Christians they know of are the fictional ones which the ungodly media write into movies and television sitcoms as caricatured characters specifically designed to discredit Christianity.

Only this morning, before I received Michael's post, a staunchly atheist friend of mine posted on Facebook a quote from the outspoken British atheist Christopher Hitchens: "If I could change just one thing, it would be to dis-associate the idea of faith from virtue". And that is the root of the problem. The world will welcome virtue at any price, as long as it is completely divorced from Christ, who they hate more than anything, and would kill again if they got the chance. So as a Christian I am not going to run around in circles bending over backwards to be charming and accommodating to pure evil.

True evangelical Christians have been eloquently and sacrificially FOR the people rather than against, for centuries, and the thanks we get for it now in 2011 is that they expel and penalise our elementary schoolchildren who want to publicly thank God in a graduation prayer. No. It's Game Over. We're in a war and I'm preaching hard from now on. The World already had their chance with Mr Nice Guy, and they didn't want it.

Luke 7:31 "And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like? They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept. For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil. The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners."

This doesn't mean we shouldn't reach out to sinners and involve ourselves in charitable works. It means that while doing that, we shouldn't soften and compromise our message and doctrine for fear of sounding harsh and unattractive. If they're eating my bread, they can eat my words as well. It's the only thing that'll save 'em. As an evangelist, I should aim to be in the thick of world culture and be friendly and charitable with it, but while I'm in this foul world I'll also be as moralistic and judgmental as I need to be, to get the job done. That could cost me friends, my job, my freedom and even my life, but thus has it ever been with the people of Christ, as a reading of Foxes Book of Martyrs will quickly testify.

2 Tim 3:12 "All that will live godly in Christ shall suffer persecution".
We must therefore not confuse persecution with unpopularity, because as Christ said in John 15:18 "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you", or to paraphrase, "If the world hates us Christians, we must be doing something right".

Paul moderates and completes the doctrine later on in 1 Cor 5:9 when he says "I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators, yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world".
and Philippians 1:23 "I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better, nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you".

Meaning that much as we might prefer to lead separated lives in a 'safe', 'clean' and 'moral' Christian ghetto, it would be counter-productive to the work we have to do of mixing with, engaging and witnessing to the world of the risen Christ's propitiation for their sins.

Response from : wayne butler  

March 14, 2011 11:01 AM

Awsome, well spoken and a Blessing. I am a pastor I would love to have permission to use parts of this in a message or two. I believe this needs to be heard by God's people

Response from : Juan G. Flores  

March 14, 2011 11:06 AM

I agree with just about all of what Michael wrote but I feel I have to add a sort of caveat to my approval because I fear that it would lead some that read this in the wrong direction without it. Yes, we are to reach out to those who don't know the Lord but in doing so we must be clear on what we stand for and that is always going to bring out some type of backlash from a world that does not find what we stand for appealing or in keeping with their world view. Some of the differences in the way others look at Christians in the present and ten years ago may be attributable to the "self-rightiousness" of some Christians, however it is also due to a secular world view that rejects what we stand for, no matter how it is presented, simply because it does not line up with what they feel is right. To quickly demonstrate to the reader that that what Michael is promoting "isn't as easy as it seems", let me quickly relate an actual incident that was a news article in Fort Worth, Texas. It involved a female parent of a young girl who after searching out the different schools found a Christian privated school that was to her liking. After enrolling her child, the school became aware that she was a lesbian and due to her homosexual lifestyle, advised her that her daughter could not attend the school. The article had "other groups" condemning the school for their lack of sensitivity to the child's well being in that she had rejected by the school she had so joyfully enrolled in. So based on Michael's article, who was wrong here or is anybody wrong? In allowing the child to stay the school what have been seen by the rest of the students and their parents as being "Ok" with the mom's "lifestyle" but in rejecting the daughter, were they acting in Christian love? Perhaps Michael can address this.

Response from : S. Michael Craven  

March 14, 2011 12:01 PM

Dear Juan,

I appreciate your comments. However, I hear "conditions" scattered throughout your position. You write, "we are to reach out to those who don't know the Lord but in doing so we must be clear on what we stand for..." I take exception to your conditional "reach" based on first asserting what "you" stand for. This implies that if sinners accept your conditions, God's moral standards, etc., that then and only then are they qualified to be in relationship with you.

There is nothing in the life of Jesus that echoes such a conditional love. Jesus doesn't love you only after you've embraced him as Lord, he loves you even while you were a sinner (cf. Romans 5:8). Nowhere does Jesus display such a conditional response to anyone. Quite the contrary, Jesus continually transgressed the cultural/moral conditions of the religious Jews by consorting with the very sinners they condemned. It was because Jesus first loved them that they followed him. Did he confront their sin? On occasion he did but he did not lead with condemnation of their behavior. He was much more concerned with the sin that separated them from God and not their moral failures. He knew that reconciling the former would address the latter. By imposing the condition of "being clear on what we stand for" you are putting a moral standard first in your relationship and by implication telling others that if you do not accept those standards then you won't befriend them. This is simply wrong in every way and denies the love of Christ to others.

With all due respect, I would encourage you to love without condition and trust the Lord to bring about the conviction of sin in others. If they profess faith in Christ, then you are called to rebuke sin and encourage faithfulness under the authority of the church body. But until such time that they are converted by the Holy Spirit, we are commanded to simply love them and disciple them (which includes instructing them in the truth about how to live).


Response from : Mike Meyers, Sr.  

September 28, 2012 7:21 AM

Michael, I don't think I've had the pleasure of reading your material up to this point. Thank you for such a concise, direct article. I personally accept your challenge to be truly Christ like. I shared (a link to) this article on my Facebook page and with my Pastor who challenges us to show the love of Christ rather than just calling ourselves Christians. I am glad to have this opportunity to thank you personally.

Response from : Ken Obi  

October 1, 2012 9:01 AM

Well said. We most times forget that our Lord sent us to these people and there is no way we can witness to a people we do not interact with. We lock in ourselves in our church clicks rather than "go ye" as commanded. We are not of the world but as long as we are flesh and blood we cannot escape being in daily contact with the world around us.

Response from : David C. Davis  

October 4, 2012 8:20 AM

1. As a consultant, one of the first "rules" is to never criticize your client for needing you. As a consultant for Jesus Incorporated the rule is commanded. 2. Next time you make a To Do list, start with #3, as #1 & 2 are spoken for in Mark 12:30.

Response from : G  

October 4, 2012 8:46 AM

I have read lots of your blogs and have always enjoyed them for your insights. Your blog on "Being for People" has lots of good thoughts as well. My concern is words like "common ground," "build bridges," and "engage" are sometimes misunderstood to mean we are compromise our beliefs and principles. Your blog was well written but I went away not sure where you stood.
Either way I always appreciate your work.

Response from : Wendy  

October 4, 2012 11:03 AM

Is it my imagination or is the tone of this article riddled with exactly the kind of judgement and condemnation that the piece is criticising. That's my feeling anyway. Not a good piece.

Response from : jackie dallos  

October 4, 2012 12:31 PM

This is a beautiful article that is as true as it is obviously heartfelt. I agree completely with it and will be sharing with the members of our small home church group. Thankyou for sharing here.

Response from : Wendy Reichelderfer  

October 5, 2012 1:45 AM

As I was taught as a new Christian going on 17 years ago:
"Hate the sin,
But love the sinner".


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