“Some Christians are really bad people. Some non-Christians are really good people. How will God judge between the two?”
She raised such a good question, that I asked for her permission to post our correspondence on my blog, so long as I use an alias. So, let’s just call her Becky.
I had a question for you, when you have a second. I hung out all weekend with a couple of guys and they had this certain attitude that I found, 1.) Disappointing; and 2.) Annoying. I wanted to know what you would say about it.
Pretty much, these “gentlemen” spent the entire weekend verbally rating the looks of every woman who walked by, and spent the whole time trying to “hook up” with girls. But, because they are “Christians,” they just wanted to make out with girls, not have sex with girls.
It came out that a girl not being a Christian was a deal breaker for them. These guys would never be interested in non-Christian girls, because they weren’t marriage material. The guys said that non-Christian girls are whores. So, pretty much as long as these guys kept themselves from actually sex, they felt like they were above and beyond everyone else. Everything I pointed out that they were doing – which I felt was very wrong – they’d just say, “Oh well, we have grace for that and we feel very judged by you.” That was their response to every point I brought up. “We are covered by grace.”
So does that mean that Christians can get away with pretty much anything? But the non-bible believers are whores?
I know there are many non-Christian guys out there who treat woman and relationships with respect, understanding that the heart is a sensitive and precious thing. And if they choose to have sex with a girl whom they sincerely love, I have a lot more respect for those people than for these guys who seemed to have no regard for the women that they were using, even though they stopped (just barely) short of actual intercourse. [Some Christians are really bad people. Some non-Christians are really good people. How will God judge between the two?]
I was thinking that since you are a college pastor, you probably had a couple good things to say about this. It isn’t the first time that I have run across this type of thinking and I was just was curious what you would say. No hurry to answer.
Thanks for being patient with me getting back to you. I didn’t want to offer a five cent answer to a million dollar question, so I set my afternoon to reply adequately.
Not sure if you read my recent interview on my blog. I really like how the grad student, Zach, answered my question, “What comes to mind when you think about the Bible?” He said, “I feel like it gets misinterpreted a lot, and that causes a lot of problems and misunderstandings. It turns a lot of people off to faith. Like that church that goes around protesting the soldiers when they come home. People see that and extrapolate that to [all Christians]. I think that’s unfortunate for the people who don’t think that [way].”
As a Christian, I cringe a lot when people who don’t follow Christ encounter people who do. Many times, those encounters give non-Christians one more reason not to become a Christian themselves. That’s why I have extra respect for people like Zach who are trying to sort through all the misrepresentations of the truth in order to find the truth. Your email reminded me of Zach, and I appreciate you asking for my perspective.
The encounter you had with some Christian guys was, in your words, disappointing and annoying. I don’t blame you for getting upset. In fact, I think God is right there with you.
If God had a movie night with you and these two guys, he’d probably rent Shallow Hal. LOL. Hal (Jack Black) and his buddy (George from Seinfeld) were totally doing what your friends were doing – superficially rating women based on their looks. A lot of guys view woman as object only to satisfy their desires. They use women and destroy their self-image.
The moral of the story is: pray that God puts a curse on these guys (like Hal), so they only see woman based on their inner beauty.
Becky, I agree with you that their attitude is wrong, and I’m glad you called them out on it. I also agree that their response, when confronted about it, is an abuse of God’s grace. It’s certainly not what God had in mind.
After reading your email a few times, I’m pretty sure you’re not merely looking for me to comment on what I think about their attitude toward women or grace.
The question I think you’re getting at has to do with the fairness of God, and how He will go about dealing with people who do and do not follow Christ, when they break His commandments.
On Judgment Day, will God be more concerned with right beliefs or right behavior? For example, suppose two men stand before God: on the left, a non-Christian who lived a moral life; and on the right, a Christian who lived an immoral life.
Will God ACCEPT the Christian who believed the right things, but did the wrong things?
Will God REJECT the non-Christian who believed the wrong things, but did the right things?
Some would say God will only accept those that believe rightly AND behave rightly. I on the other hand, don’t believe that’s how it works. But before I expound on that, I want to share a couple examples of people whose beliefs and behaviors didn’t match up.
- The Pharisees: These were the Jewish religious leaders in the time of Christ. A lot of them memorized the entire Old Testament. Their outfits were impressive; their prayers were impressive; they tithed; they fasted; and they spent a lot of time in the temple. However, they made up traditions of their own and judged others by them; and they neglected to care for the poor. Jesus constantly confronted them about their hypocrisy. He even said, “You honor God with your lips, but your hearts are far from Him.”
- Simon the Magician: Acts 8 records the account of a sorcerer who was baptized into Christ. When he saw the apostles giving the Holy Spirit to others, he offered them money so that he could give the Holy Spirit too. The apostles responded by saying, “your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.”
- The Israelites: One of my favorite stories is in 2 Chronicles 30. King Hezekiah called the tribes of Israel to come to Jerusalem, consecrate themselves, and celebrate the Passover. However, “a majority of the people…had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than as prescribed. For Hezekiah had prayed for them, saying, ‘May the good LORD pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the LORD, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.’ And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people.” They didn’t do what was “prescribed” according to the “rules,” yet God saw in their heart that they would have if they could have.
- The Thief on the Cross: Jesus was crucified alongside a couple of thieves. One of them confessed about himself that he deserved to die because of his crimes. He also professed that Jesus was an innocent man. This thief asked Jesus, “Remember me when you come in your kingdom.” To this, Jesus replied, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” This man’s circumstances would not allow him to get down from the cross and be baptized (as John the Baptist had instructed people in that day). But he had that heart that would have if he could have.
These are just a sample of the many examples in the Bible that record God’s dealings with people, not necessarily on the basis of how their beliefs and behavior match up, but rather, by taking into consideration the attitude of their hearts.
The first two examples (the Pharisees and Simon) tell of people, whose circumstances allowed them to follow God’s commandments, but they failed to do so with a sincere heart. These, God opposed. The last two examples tell of people (the Israelites and the thief on the cross), whose circumstances did not allow them to follow God’s commandments, but because of their sincere heart, God accepted them.
God cares about our hearts. Who God accepts or not is His prerogative. As a Christian, when I teach others about how to have a relationship with God, I teach what He has told me to teach, and leave the rest up to Him. What He’s told Christians to teach is that we’ve ALL sinned; that we cannot save ourselves by striving to live a moral life; that we must repent of our rebellion God; and that we must trust in the death of Jesus to appease God’s justice on our behalf. He wants us to be born again.
The Uniqueness of Christianity
Bear with me as I go on a tangent I think will help. All world religions appear to be similar on two points: 1.) There is a moral standard; and 2.) We fail to live up to it. Where religions part ways, however, has to do with what can be done about the fact that we fall short. Every religion, with the exception of Christianity, teaches that peace is obtained by doing what is right and not doing what is wrong. Thus, according to these religions, peace must be earned on the basis of human merit.
Christianity, however, teaches that peace with God cannot be earned. Grace (as mentioned in your email), by definition, is “undeserved kindness”. And grace is given by means of the death of Jesus, because God loved us. So, while other religions teach that we must be moral people TO BE saved by OUR merits, Christianity teaches that we are to be moral people BECAUSE we’re saved by JESUS’ merits.
So, just as people of other religions, Christians acknowledge certain commandments given by God. But the Christian motivation is not DUTY but DESIRE. In other words, obedience is a response of gratitude.
So what of the Christian and non-Christian who loses his or her virginity (to bring it back to your email)? The Bible makes it clear that this is a “sin.” (Let me know if you want me to expound on this later). In God’s wisdom, He put a boundary on sex to be experienced only in marriage, so as to ensure the best relationship possible. But, when people lose their virginity before marriage, how does God deal with it? Does that make the Christian a hypocrite and the non-Christian a “whore”? It depends.
As a College Minister, I meet both types of people all the time. My approach really depends on their response to sin.
When Christians Sin
When Christians sin, the Bible instructs them to humbly confess it, and partner with God’s Spirit to allow that area of their life to be transformed over time. By definition, this is not hypocrisy. It would only be hypocrisy if they PRETENDED that their words and actions were consistent. If, however, the Christian who has sinned does not respond in humility and confession, God may step in with some form of discipline. What that looks like, I cannot say. Like a loving parent, He does this to help His children get back to a healthy relationship and state of spiritual growth. The longer a Christian goes on practicing a lifestyle of sin without confession, the more discipline they store up for themselves; and the greater the likelihood is that their heart will eventually turn away from God altogether.
All that to say, the test of a good Christian is not necessarily whether they sin or not, but how they respond to sin when they do. A great example of this is King David who actually committed adultery. When God confronted him about it, David was broken and remorseful (see Psalm 51). What did God do? He forgave him, even calling him “a man after My own heart.” David did experience a measure of disciple, but he went on to become the great patriarch of faith that we know him as today, whose psalms were evidence of his closeness to God.
When Non-Christians Sin
My approach to people who are not Christians is a bit different, as they have not made a commitment to God that I can appeal to. Instead of addressing the sin of fornication or adultery, I would address the heart first. An illustration I often use is that of a leaky pipe. To fix the crack where the water is leaking would be premature. The real issue is a clog inside the pipe that’s causing pressure to build up. In the same way, addressing lying and stealing and fornication is premature. The real issue is found in the heart from which those outward sins are being expressed; the same heart that turned away from God’s loving leadership in an effort to sit on God’s throne and answer to one’s self instead. Repentance isn’t just addressing the crack but the clog.
One of my favorite questions to ask people is, “Hypothetically, if you discovered that all your questions had answered that pointed to God, what would you do about it?” This question is kind of a fill-in-the-blank question. I might ask, “Hypothetically…what if the Bible was true…?” or “…What if pre-marital sex is wrong in God’s eyes? What would you do then?” How people answer those type of questions reveals the type of heart they possess.
Anyway, that was probably a longer response that you had in mind. But I hope it was helpful.
Did my response make sense?
Is there anything I can clarify?
Does anything I said raise new questions for you?
I’m proud of you Becky. Keep plugging away at your own quest for truth. I’ll always be here to love and support you no matter what.
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