In my teen years, as I was becoming more aware of the wider world, I began to understand that the Christian world is a lot messier than I realized.
Rather than contradicting what Jesus taught, this mess actually fulfills it. But no one ever told me that.
Here are a few things I wish someone had told me about the Christian mess. Perhaps this list can help you in your own life, or in your discipleship of your teen.
1. True Christians will always be a minority. Jesus said, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life and those who find it are few.” (Matt 7:14). Truth is never determined by the majority. Just because you are in the minority does not mean you are wrong or have anything to be ashamed of. In fact, Jesus predicted the majority are wrong when it comes to understanding the truth.
2. Not everyone who says they are a Christian is. Jesus taught this when he said, “Not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom,'” (Matt 7:21). In addition, the kingdom is like a field with weeds in it that the owner chooses not to pull out at this moment (Matt 13:24). There are plenty of false professors and sinful true Christians. Leave it to Jesus to sort this out.
3. Not everyone who uses the Bible to teach is a Christian. There have always been those who distorted and mishandled Jesus’ message. Jesus tells us to beware of false teachers. (Matt 24:4) And Peter warns about those who distort the word (2 Peter 3:16). They are professing Christians but not handling the word well (2 Tim 2:14). Robust gospel Christianity marches on around the globe, Churches that water down the gospel inevitably fade over time.
4. There will always be those who tear down. Among those who attack Christianity from the outside are scoffers (2 Peter 3:3). Their words want only the destruction of Christianity and offer no real positive alternative. Don’t be lead astray by their mocking. There are good answers to anything they bring up.
5. Christianity is not anti-intellectual but anti-intellectualism, not anti-science but anti-scientism. Both of these –isms involve naturalistic assumptions and worship of the mind. Though there are plenty of brilliant Christians, intellectuals en masse will not embrace Christianity. Jesus said the Father has “hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children,” (Matt 11:25).
6. Christianity has the best answer to suffering. Scoffers (#4) like to bring up the issue of evil in the world. Know that Christianity has the best answer. You may not like the mystery of the Christian answer but it sure beats the other answers. Don’t be intimidated.
7. Those who have held to true Christianity have committed injustices.This is due to the darkness of mankind’s heart not the darkness of Christianity. Again, don’t be intimidated. This is not because of Christianity but in spite of it. It is a correlation not a causation. If you want to see real atrocity and cruelty, look where there is no influence of Christianity. For example, Communists killed 100 million people in the 20th century.
8. While faith is required, our hope rests on a rational proof – the resurrection. Believing in Jesus is not like believing in Santa Claus or Bigfoot. We have overwhelming rational proof. That’s why we can be confident even though we are in the minority (see #1).
9. Listen to the critics but don’t drink the poison. The very strength of Christianity is it’s self-evaluation and self-critique. But this needs to be balanced with realizing that many critics desire to destroy Christianity. Faultfinding is a sin. Until Christ returns, his bride will always be imperfect. But she is his bride, his beloved.
10. Be very careful with your own criticism. Though you are young, you are not immune from self-righteousness. Pride and self-righteousness are the premier sins of unbelievers. It is as you build, you will discover how difficult it is. Charles Spurgeon said, “Idlers may indulge in a fond conceit of their abilities, because they are untried; but the earnest worker soon learns his own weaknesses. If you seek humility, try hard work; if you would know your nothingness, attempt some great thing for Jesus.” Or in my less eloquent words, stop being a film critic and start making a movie. Turn your critique into a zeal to beautify the people of God.
11. Most entertainers are beautiful, attractive fools. Turning our attention to Hollywood, we need to understand the seduction of entertainment. The camera lies, leaving out the destruction and emptiness that sin causes. Biblically most of Hollywood are fools whose god is their stomach (or appetites). They build their lives on the sand, not the rock (Matt 7:24ff). As a pastor I have seen the destruction of sin first hand. But the camera never shows it. Don’t envy those who are happy without Christ. Pity them.
12. Trust the Christian sexual ethic. Sexual expression is a radioactive power that our Creator has designed for safe use in heterosexual marriage. Those who open that power and ignore the “radioactive” warnings will be harmed. The damage will be hidden and cumulative. But it will be there.
And a baker’s dozen:
13. There will always be Christian leaders you admire that abandon their faith. As heart-wrenching as it is, this is nothing new. Paul had teammates like Demas (2 Tim 4:10), Phygelus, and Hermogenes (2 Tim 1:15) who abandoned their faith. Whether direct abandonment or simply drifting away (Heb 2:1) this is called apostasy. It has happened before and will happen again.
Jesus said that “Many will fall away and betray one another….the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved ” (Matt 24: 10, 12, 13). Again, this apostasy doesn’t disprove the rightness of following Jesus. He actually predicted it would happen.
Life is messy. The New Testament church was messy. Those who call themselves Christian are messy. But that is not the fault of following Christ but of the nature of sin. In the words of G.K. Chesterton, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult, and left untried.”
Don’t believe the critics. The true church is vibrantly growing around the world. Don’t get sidetracked by our Western mess. Follow Jesus confidently, to the best of your ability! Let Jesus figure out the mess at the final judgment. Giving yourself to Jesus, the gospel, his Word, and his church will alway put you on the “right side of history.”