Acting Against Your Better Judgment

Peter's Vision by Henry Davenport Northrop, 1894 (Domain) Wikimedia Commons
Peter’s Vision by Henry Davenport Northrop
Wikimedia Commons (Domain)

I enjoy provocative dialogue. The topic and interlocutor don’t matter; if it’s exploring theory and ideas, I’m in. What I like even more is leading those conversations and debates and challenging people to consider various aspects of the subject regardless of their stance on it. It forces people to think more broadly and engage where they otherwise would not.

That’s how our minds grow. For instance, most people don’t like reading dictionaries and encyclopedias, something I enjoy doing. But they would be hard-pressed to take away nothing from doing so; learning is the point of those books. Further, building vocabulary and adding new information extends one’s range with language, knowledge, and, importantly, concepts and boosts intelligence. Yet what we’re not exposed to can never be understood.

“That’s How I See It—Next Point!”

Clearly, I like discussing the Bible and faith matters. I recall an exchange between some persons in which I presented Pauline injunctions in the Pastorals regarding church order. I asked for their assessment and opinions of Paul’s instructions for contemporary church life. I quickly noticed something peculiar. They were adamant, even defensive, about their interpretation and application of Paul’s admonitions.

The conversation was surprisingly difficult. I found myself struggling to make these people think deeper and address other implications. Trying to be a good interrogator, I fought to keep back my own opinions from being too quickly apparent; but that failed because the messenger was getting shot! I was saddened that we ended frustrated over the scriptures, but I also hated the fact that they didn’t allow themselves to think from all angles about the topic. Instead, they looked at it and sized it up too quickly.

I was disturbed about their attitude on many levels: How will one relate well with people in an increasingly pluralistic society? To what degree do you expect your own opinions and beliefs to be respected? Are there things that you could be missing? And when it comes to God and spiritual things, what happens when God leads us out of our comfort zones and against our personal rules? Intransigence, or being uncompromising, can render a person incapable of being led by the Spirit. They will close themselves off from illumination and the Spirit’s impressions on the heart.

It is no less a form of being unteachable and fleshly. Consider it: when God puts it in one’s heart or mind to act in a certain manner, to assist one or speak something to another, that person might think to do it but will fight it or justify an excuse to act contrary to what he heard from the Lord; and that’s all because we know what we know and don’t sway from our position.

A Vision Worth Remembering

Peter’s dramatic vision of the sheet of unclean animals (Acts 10) is a worthy reminder that we probably shouldn’t be too quickly set in our ways and close-minded when there are other viewpoints and options. The vision is really interesting because God corrects Peter on the revelation of grace to the Gentiles, to whom one might assume God was calling Peter. Instead, Peter was called to the Jews (cf. Gal. 2:7-9).

It’s important to God to get our general thinking straight and speaks to the personal constitution he expects of his people, indeed humankind.

In my post entitled “Rogue Conviction” I write, “Perhaps a belief is to be possessed or espoused, not vice versa, lest believers (in anything) risk being driven by their beliefs and so become fanatics. People who sacrifice themselves to their convictions often become instruments of those ideas to beat others into subjection.”

You know, this is the attitude that put Christ to death, and it is critical for us Christians to get it right.

Toward a Christian Worldview

CC BY-NC, Michele.oliveira82, Flickr

Part of the reason we attend school is to learn how to think critically. The better we are able to reason, to answer deep questions and solve problems, the more our maturity develops, and we become capable of handling a future of responsibilities. I would like to put this same idea in a Christian context. Christians profess thinking with a Christian worldview in order to better solve spiritual problems and answer deep moral questions and to grow spiritually mature and capable of meeting life head-on. I think this is a reasonable assumption.

Now why would we not learn to think for ourselves? Even our earliest ancestors had to think, naturally so, just to get food in their bellies each day, not considering their self-awareness to ponder their role as humans in the world. The truth is that civilizations arose, some faster than others, according to people’s ability to think. We are much further along today in most places. The Stone Age is now the Information Age. We know more in this age than in all the earlier ones combined, consequently owning a quality of life inconceivably better than the earliest humans.

I often grow concerned that I do not observe this priority and progression of thought with many of my fellow Christians. Christianity, they would say, defines their approach to life morally, ethically, and religiously; however, many don’t seem to think with a Christian worldview.

When I say “think with a Christian worldview,” I mean to think through the deep meaning and implication of their Christian heritage and doctrine tackling the easy and difficult issues therein. I mean to approach the entire sphere of life, its various ideologies and moral dilemmas, with the guidelines they claim God has revealed in life and through Christ. I mean to read between the lines of scripture to find where life situations then might corroborate with life situations now to support authentic answers about what the Lord requires. So to me a Christian who does not think Christianly turns the point of learning on its head.

The apostle Peter wrote that we should make every effort to add to our faith various godly virtues in order not to become ineffective and unproductive (2 Pet. 1:5-9). I think what we should first assess in his words is the possibility that we can march along the Christian path without a clue that our way does not please the Lord. Peter charges this person with having “forgotten that you have been cleansed from your past sins” (v. 9).

The stew of religions, cults, and immorality that the fledgling church faced in the first century was much tougher to deal with than what we face in the Western world today. The Roman world was highly polytheistic and without dogma. Religion was personal and unorganized. There was no need for heretics or martyrs because it was unthinkable to deny another’s god or way of worship. One was free to worship, as he pleased and what he pleased. Many religions came with perks, especially those with gods whose identities were associated with vice, like sex, debauchery, or revelry.

We should also take from this that the church would have been comprised of an array of converts that now served Christ with the pangs of sinful appetites reverting back to their former days. Imagine it—a church of former gambling addicts located in the greatest casino city in the world! Think on it though: Men who patronized temple prostitution in Ephesus or Corinth would have still lived in town. There is something to learn from our spiritual ancestors and scriptural admonition.

What we learn is that if we don’t take Peter’s advice and continually build onto our faith—like adding onto a house—we risk taking our cues from the prevailing worldviews around us and our former lifestyle will resurface. This is why the New Testament writers warned the churches about sliding back into sin: It was easy to do without clinging to Christ. So Peter continues his exhortation: “If you do these things, you will never stumble” (v. 10).

I believe that God gives us a faith worth having that profoundly addresses every area of life. Therefore, it ought to guide our practice in word and deed. For example, it assures me that God is providential. Part of what this means is that God has not flown the coop but is present among us guiding and controlling all things to achieve his will even when we don’t understand him. This is built into my Christian conscience, into the worldview by which I evaluate life, and grounds me so I don’t fly apart when things aren’t going well. To put it another way, it prevents me from doubting God. Sometimes, however, it seems that I am overrun by people whose faith has never informed them of such basic knowledge of God and the faith, at least their behavior tells me so.

The point is we must be aggressive with the ideas that vie for our attention and watchful of the words we speak. What enters our minds and hearts should support and add to our faith in Christ. We are less Christian when we allow carnal ideas dominate our thinking and decision-making.

I should also extend this to any Christian music that elevates plight and hardship and keeps us living at the mercy of life. Christians aren’t excluded from the troubles of life, yet the abundant life Christ offers inspires and assists us to overcome everything oppressive life can throw at us. A dirge just isn’t helpful.

I’ve heard people lament, “We never know what state we’re gonna be in before we leave this world.” Well we all know this. Wouldn’t it be interesting though to see how our biblical heroes met their end? Who among the persecuted died valiantly and who didn’t die so bravely? Who grew feeble and senile? Who suffered the agonies of cancer or emphysema? Who passed away so suddenly, maybe even tragically, that it sent shock across the land?

Death can be difficult to handle but eventually we reckon it a natural part of life. So why let its somberness distort our Christian perspective? A Christian worldview offers me a splendid hope regarding death. Christ says death is only the beginning. The Fathers explain that death makes an end of sin. The apostle Paul challenges our faithlessness outright—”If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all others” (1 Cor. 15:19).

I feel that it’s important for me to qualify my expectation. I am not requiring that we become Christian intellectuals; if that is what you hear me saying, you are mistaken. It is not necessary to be a scholar any more than any of us need to learn Hebrew or Greek to get the real message of the scriptures. I consider myself a follower of Jesus, a student of the scriptures, and an examiner of Christian history and doctrine—in that order. My hope is that every fellow follower would move toward becoming devoted students and researchers, feeling it their reasonable service. And if one day they stand as Christian intellectuals, we should suppose it but one possible result of a life aflame with God.

Our Christian worldview is important in many regards but especially as it relates to those who might become Christians one day. I refer to those who live at the fringes of Christianity, Christian sympathizers and seekers and those who may have deep religious or philosophical questions. If we Christians do not possess a mature, wholesome, life-giving relationship with Christ that thoughtfully addresses life’s questions and issues in superior fashion, why should any outsider want what we have?

Our lack will be evident when we don’t understand Christian ideology ourselves; when our superficial answers only produce more frustrated questions; when we haven’t spent time mining to the heart of our scriptures. Where it will show is in the marketplace of ideas—and are we ready to publicly put Christ to shame?