In the years that I’ve been writing publicly, a common contention is that pointing out and knocking down certain worldly viewpoints might be hurtful to people. The frequent rebuff I’ve seen is that Christians are supposed to be loving, not judgy and all that. Or some keyboard warrior will ask, “Why did you pick a fight on this or that issue, shouldn’t Christians be Gospel centered?”
Confronting some cultural nonsense, whether in the church or outside it, will often earn you the chiding of other Christians implying that you need to be more gracious, sweet, and kind. I’d like to address some of these objections, showing why we need twice the courage and half the niceness.
First of all, too often claiming to be “Gospel-centered” has become an excuse to confine the Gospel to the size and scope of a linen closet. You’re not gospel-centered if you’re embarrassed by the Gospel as it is found in Leviticus, or in the hard sayings of Christ, or in the biting rhetoric of the Prophets, or in the salty stories of Judges. To be Gospel-centered actually requires us to be Bible-centered. We must read and receive the whole book.
You can think that John 3:16 is the only verse you need to hop up and down on, but even there, in that famous verse, Jesus clearly lays out the consequences of not believing in the only begotten Son: you will perish. Jesus seems to be implying, trigger warning, that outside of faith in Him there is no meaningful life.
It does no good to be Gospel-centered with an impotent Gospel. The Gospel of Christ is that He demands the whole of your life, your neighbor’s life, and Saudi Arabia’s life. He is Lord of all the earth. It all belongs to Christ. He has commanded us to disciple the nations, not coax them to join our religious LARPing club. Our Gospel is to the whole world, for the whole world.
The Godly Virtue of Picking Fights
Others object that picking a fight, by writing on a controversial topic (which I have been known to do), doesn’t seem very grace-filled. This all depends on if you define grace Biblically, or if you have had it defined for you by the sort of books with the author’s face taking up 90% of the front cover. Grace is proclaiming that God looks upon those in Christ with favor, having forgiven them all their sins. Grace is not molly-coddling folly or sin. Numerous examples of Prophets & Apostles, let alone our Lord Jesus, show that picking a fight can be the most godly course of action. Through these instances of godly fights, we see God’s grace displayed to sinners.
Take Paul for instance, in Acts 23:6-7 “But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question. And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided.”
Paul would have known that he was launching a topic of vigorous dispute into the midst of the gathered crown. He took a side on a heated topic, and went straight for the hottest point of contention. This sort of action, if it took place at some denomination’s General Assembly might be deemed by some as being quite partisan, giving way to the sin of Christian Nationalism.
Was this Paul being gracious? Could Paul have been a little less controversial? The Lord Jesus seemed to quite approve of Paul’s actions, for the Lord himself appeared to Paul the next night with a divine “Attaboy” (Act. 23:11). The Lord’s response to Paul picking a fight isn’t on many Evangelicals’ BINGO card. Paul displays for us what grace does. God’s favor rested upon Paul, and so he did not fear to face the mob, he provoked the crowd to pick a side. This is grace in action.
Slow Motion Compromise
I’ll grant that you can pick fights in a “Sons of Thunder” sort of way, which Jesus rebukes. You can also be divisive in a way that grieves the Spirit. You can also happen to be fighting for an unbiblical position. In all these instances, a humble man or woman of God should be open to correction and repent when they see from Scripture that they’ve either been incorrect or truly unkind. You can also be a coward and not be willing to suffer for the sake of the truth of God’s Word, that’s an option that escapes far too many K-LOVE listeners.
Many Christians hold to a doctrine of slow motion capitulation. They’re like a football team who respond to one of their players committing a holding penalty by kneeling down on every play for the rest of the game. They tell themselves this is how they love their neighbor, proud in their display of grace to their opponent. Christ calls us to stand with boldness for the whole counsel of the Word. We do this by suffering when afflicted, but we do not obey His command by capitulating to the worldliness which He came to deliver us from. Just because some cage-stage Calvinist once rubbed a whole church the wrong way, doesn’t mean that we must never face conflict in holding to the Gospel once delivered to the church.
Imitating all of Christ
Christ was not gentle towards wolves. He was not particularly nice towards self-righteous sinners (Pharisees), power hungry sinners (King Herod), or to slutty sinners (the woman caught in adultery). What He was was the Word of God made flesh. He came to deliver us from sin, and He addressed it righteously and pointedly at every turn.
We are to imitate the Lord Jesus in His mercy and in His truth. He mocks the gay wardrobe of Herod’s courtesans. He gives a pointed barb at the woman at the well. He teases the nonsense of the Pharisaical fussiness. Then, He dies for the sins of the world. Everything He did was to glorify the Father, and the Father pronounces that He had been glorified in the Son (Jn. 12:28).
Should we imitate our Christ? Or should we merely treat our Lord as a buffet of moral virtues which we can take or leave. We live in a moment of sweeping national transgression. We got here by imitating a Hallmark version of Christ. If we would recover our nation, we must return to the Christ declared on every page of Scripture.
As a concluding observation, when the godly oppose wickedness, it is rare that the wicked turn and say, “Gee, thanks!” But when the fool is struck by the Word, those with understanding will understand and beware (Pro. 19:25). The lost have seen plenty of capitulation and flip-flopping all around them. What often sets them back, awakening them to grace, is seeing men and women of God stand with conviction for the whole counsel of God without getting red in the face for those portions of Leviticus about shell-fish. The world has seen plenty of cowardice, perhaps it is waiting for Christians who are actually courageous to believe, live, and declare the Word with boldness.