A Journey Thru Acts 24: Blaspheming The Culture 3 (6:8-15)…
8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power,
performed great wonders and signs among the people.
9 Opposition arose, however…
This is our third post in this passage (please click HERE for the 1st post & HERE for the 2nd) as we focus on WHY opposition comes from the world’s beliefs/values/lifestyles against Bible-believing & maturing Christians.
Some might think, “Goodness gracious one post on this was enough—are we ever going to move on to Acts chapter 7?!”
Loved ones, this is quite possibly the number one problem for Christians in the United States, the fact that we are culture-chameleons who blend in with the world instead of standing on the Word and standing out with the Savior of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ. We are more like Joseph of Arimathea than we realize, and it is disgraceful (I am including myself in this disgracefulness):
John 12:42-43: “Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human praise more than praise from God.”
John 19:38: “Now Joseph [of Arimathea] was a disciple of Jesus,
but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders.”
We are camouflaged. This is not a hang-nail for the Church of Jesus Christ—it is a cancer in us & must be addressed deeply because God addresses it deeply in His Word. Cannot sum this up in one post any more than you can (or should!) sum up the LORD of the Rings trilogy in a 30 minute edited version or the 7 Star Wars movies in a 30 minute edited version—leaves out too many important details…true fans would not be satisfied with this abridgment (rightfully so!). And so we must invest (at least!) one more post in this important topic of worldliness.
It is difficult in some ways to tell a Christian from a non-Christian—we don’t want the opposition that Stephen & the early Church faced, that many Christians around the world face today—we want to blend in, not stand out; we are willingly part of the “melting pot” of cultural beliefs & actions in the United States, we eat & enjoy the sampler platter of many views/perspectives, we heap much from the buffet of the world on top of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, and are content to call it “Christianity.”
- In the Old Testament it was called “syncretism”–a blending of some Biblical Truth/practices w/the idols/sinful beliefs/way of life of non-Jewish cultures around Israel. This was called blasphemy—an utter denial of the LORD & the faith. Now we call it being “relevant.”
Two main ways that we blend in with the world:
- Watering down what we believe (doctrine/beliefs/Truth)
- Watering down how we live (actions/choices/lifestyle)
Last post we looked at an example of watering down what we believe to make it more acceptable to non-Christians/the world…here are a few more thoughts on that I didn’t get to:
My friends, so many church attenders today not only don’t focus on doctrine/correct beliefs, they look down on specific Bible teaching, precise Truth, they consider it wrong to correct Christians from having false interpretations of Scripture to having correct ones. (“Who do you think you are to say your interpretation of the Bible is right?”)
- But we don’t give “artistic freedom” to airline pilots or surgeons to fly the plane or perform an operation according to their opinions/perspectives: we want them to fly & operate “by the book,” the way they were trained, according to the rules/guidelines—we know there is a right & wrong way to do these specific tasks & that there are dangerous consequences for doing them the way we think is best, dangers consequences for “creative/poetic license.”
Yet when it comes to the eternal, to our souls, to Who God is & what He commands us, we think it’s all open to many perspectives & there’s no way to know the Truth? God is not a God of confusion…
“To give a man poison under guise of being [open] minded
about chemistry/anatomy is still murder”—Nettles.
We need old Truth not modern perspectives. “Don’t be so open-minded that your brains fall out” (Vance Havner). We can know the Truth with the help of the Holy Spirit—the Lord Jesus said, “You will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.” Specific Truth, the specific key to unlock the specific gates that imprison us. And to affirm to people that since God is love they don’t really need to surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ alone by faith alone…to affirm people in not surrendering to Christ (a rose [or savior!] by any other name would smell as sweet!”, to affirm church-attenders in sin & not pray for them & gently encourage them to turn from their sin towards the Lord Jesus, to not give Christians and non-Christians specific teaching from the Bible & hide behind a post-modern “who really knows what the passage really means?” is to give them poison with a smile. It isn’t loving…
2 Timothy 2:15: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved,
a worker who does not need to be ashamed
and who correctly handles the word of truth.
The devil has already gotten us where he wants us—not caring about what we believe, just a focus on actions of generic “love” that never preach the cross with words, that hide the offensiveness of the cross & make Christians feel good about ignoring holiness & repentance of sin & not maturing in our faith, that make non-Christians feel good about not being Christian!
The situation is serious, loved ones (though it always has been)—this is not a time for God’s people to waste hours & hours of precious life on Netflix, sports, entertainment, working to the bone to get more stuff, trying to keep our physical appearance younger & younger as we get older, just chilling/relaxing constantly, etc.
This is a time to be alert, sober, focused on the LORD, ready for His return, humbling ourselves before Him, & having Him lift us up & mature us so we can carry our cross & follow Him in filling our cities with the Gospel, the TRUE Gospel, the only Gospel that can make people new…
- End of Star Wars Episode III: Anakin said to Obi-Wan, “If you aren’t with me you are against me.” Obi-Wan replied, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.”
Loved ones, that is the world right there—people are taught to frown upon and reject believing anything absolutely. But guess what? The Lord Jesus HIMSELF said those words, “If anyone is not with Me, they are against Me” (Matthew 12:30). That isn’t the teaching of a sith lord but the Lord & Savior Jesus Christ.
Often when a person receives the Lord Jesus as their King & Savior, a non-Christian may say, “I’m happy for you…you’ve found something to believe in. Good for you.” But the moment we try to show how everyone needs the Lord Jesus, the walls go up.
My friends, the Lord Jesus makes many absolute statements throughout the Bible—no way around this. He didn’t speak vaguely, He didn’t talk of a general/generic/vague kind of love, an all-inclusive god whose name and character and teaching are whatever you want them to be, a stone-soup god where everyone throws their own personal ingredients/beliefs into a giant pot and they all blend together to make us one big happy family. No!
Christ Jesus spoke specifically and dogmatically about the Cross and the empty tomb and One True God and eating His flesh & drinking His blood by faith; His teaching of Absolute Truth—indeed, His claim to BE Truth itself!—angered the world then & angers the world today.
So now here’s an example—of many!—of watering down our actions/lifestyle/holiness in order to not make non-Christians feel bad, in order to blend in with them more:
I love how one writer put it recently: “Dressing modestly is not first & foremost simply about not showing more skin. It’s first about showing more of Christ” (www.desiringgod.org).
When we dress like the culture in ways that flaunt our bodies, in ways that get people to notice us, in ways that advertise self, we are not advertising the Lord Jesus. That is the main problem with dressing sinfully (and males do this just as much as females). That is also the main problem with living/believing sinfully in ANY way—we change the channel from Christ to ourselves. ANY other channel is sinful if the channel isn’t the Lord Jesus Christ.
- May God help us not put on the outfit this Friday that we’re dying to wear to showcase ourselves;
- May God help us to put on—Friday & every day—the free (for us!) robe of righteousness that the Lord Jesus died for us to wear to showcase Him.
Now this is just one example of THOUSANDS of ways that Christians believe, live, look like non-Christians; your issue might not be how you dress, but cry out to the LORD & ask Him to show you the ways that you blend in with the world, that you are a camouflage Christian, that you are a cultural chameleon. Holiness matters, loved ones, set-apartness is one of the chief characteristics of God’s people, both in the Old & New Testaments…
1 Peter 1:13-16: 13 Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
- Setting our hope on God’s grace leads us to be holy & obedient to God!
- Focusing on true grace should lead us to be more faithful not less!
- Focusing on true grace should cause us to stand out among non-Christians
not blend in with them!
Christians are to live as earth-foreigners—aliens!—rejecting the temptation of dual-citizenship with heaven & the world & always deserving deportation by the popular culture.
Some wolves dress up as lambs to harm the sheep;
But many sheep dress up as wolves to hide the Shepherd. Both are terrible…
Colossians 3:1-10. Powerful passage on the effects of grace and how true grace & salvation always leads to actions of holiness that go against the principles of this world and our old way of believing, living, etc.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.[b] 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.
8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
Oh loved ones, there shouldn’t be a division between Christians who say, “I am a grace person-that’s my focus” and other Christians who say, “I am a holiness person—that’s my focus.” They are not mutually exclusive—one should flow from & lead to the other!
And yet while we are to act/believe differently, while we are to live righteously, we are never to be self-righteous, but we are to be Christ-righteous!
He has MADE US righteous in position by His death, & so we are commanded to act righteous (holy, different) in practice thru His life.
Both are grace—our position & our practice as holy.
We are to act different not so we can walk around feeling pride that we are acting different, not to draw attention to the fact that we are not like “them”— there should be no personal swagger for Christians! The cross is our constant reminder of what we WERE, what it cost to ransom us from slavery to sin & death. But we are to act different to honor the Savior, to draw attention to Him that He is transforming us to be like Him.
And so our “bedside manner” is so important. We must not water down the Gospel, we must not puff people up/inflate them with self-esteem, we must be transformed by the Holy Spirit to live holy lives, but our tone as we share/proclaim/explain the Gospel must be one of utter humility, tenderness, compassion.
- An abrasive doctor giving a diagnosis of stage 4 cancer makes hard news even harder.
- A tender doctor giving a diagnosis of stage 4 cancer can’t completely soften the news, but can provide a slight bit of cushion and hope.
Let’s not turn the old rugged cross into a nerf/Styrofoam symbol (safe/easy/comfortable), but let’s not coat it in hard lacquer & spikes either (add to it or share it in an abrasive tone).
Let’s cry out to the LORD to grow in us compassion for those still in their sins. Not compassion that causes us to make them feel good about their spiritual state, that winks & tells them their sinful beliefs/actions are no big deal because God is love and it will work out for them regardless of if they repent, regardless of where they place their faith (doing those things in fact is not compassionate or loving, though society says it is).
- A doctor that pretends the patient does not have stage 4 cancer and instead says they merely have a rash, that doctor is not loving. AT ALL.
But compassion that causes us to weep for those far from the Biblical Jesus, that causes us to weep over our own sinfulness as well, the compassion that causes us to invest less time in Netflix/social media/shopping/sports/working out—that is, invest less time in ourselves!—and more time in prayer for specific non-Christians, more time asking God for more opportunities to humbly, gently, respectfully, but boldly proclaim to them the Gospel in our words & actions.
A compassion that desires to see Sodom & Gomorrah repent like Ninevah, not a cold-hearted Truth that kind of wants to watch the city burn like Jonah.
Biblical compassion is an empathy that doesn’t lead to enablement—Biblical compassion appreciates the attraction of sin without approving its continued practice;
Biblical compassion clearly shows sin in all its horrific ugliness but also clearly shows God’s solution/cure: repentance & faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, His death & resurrection, all a gift, all free (for us!).
- Not like the false prophets who made people feel good about their sin (Jeremiah 23:14-22)…
More like Moses and less like Jonah—Moses was righteously angry at/disgusted by Israel’s idolatry. Moses threw the tablets of the Ten Commandments at the golden calf idol the Israelites had made, but Moses also pleaded with the LORD to have mercy on Israel. Moses called people to repent & turn away from their sin, but he also pointed people clearly to the mercy of God, the lifted up bronze snake in the desert, Moses followed the LORD & led the people to God’s Promised Land & endured their stubbornness & rebellion out of compassion, Moses didn’t help the Israelites feel comfortable in the desert/wilderness of sin. Jonah delivered the right message (eventually!), but he didn’t WANT the people of Ninevah to repent, he didn’t care at all about their eternal souls.
Biblical compassion is crying out for non-Christians to repent & receive the Lord Jesus as their Savior by faith & be set free from sin’s eternal and earthly bondage. Only God can grow that kind of Biblical compassion in us. Humans can “naturally” have either extreme of the false prophets—“your sin isn’t really sin!”—or of Jonah—“I WANT you to suffer forever for your sin, I don’t want you to experience the LORD’s mercy.”
Only God can grow in us an empathy that doesn’t lead to enablement. And so we must cry out to Him for it regularly because none of us has it in us inherently.
But while this Biblical compassion (hopefully!) sounds great, we must remember that it is ultimately still looked at by non-Christians as hateful. We are in a unique time in the sense that the only thing the culture considers true love/kindness is 100% unconditional support, acceptance and approval (celebration!) of what the Bible calls sin, whether all beliefs, all lifestyles, all religions, all viewpoints, etc. Anything less than 100% unconditional support, acceptance and approval—even including Biblical compassion—is usually rejected as hate and is usually not seen as actual compassion; it is still considered unloving.
But there’s nothing we can do about that—we cannot control how people perceive us. We must not add to the offensiveness of the Cross and we must not try to make it less offensive. Again, we are the aroma of life to those who are being saved and the aroma of death to those who are not (2 Corinthians 2:14-17).
The perfect Biblical compassion of the Lord Jesus Christ was ultimately responded to with “Crucify Him!” by both Pharisee and peasant, by Roman AND Jewish culture—Christ says if they hated Him they will also hate us (John 14).
So our goal isn’t to make people happy—getting a positive response/survey from them—but to respond with grace & Truth & point them to Christ Who alone can make them holy. “If I were still trying to please people I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1).
You WILL lose friends with Biblical compassion, but the hope is that in the long-run you will gain something better than a friend—a true brother or sister in Christ, made new, forgiven & adopted by repentance & faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Teaching is poor work when love is gone,
it is like a smith working without fire,
or a builder without mortar—Charles Spurgeon.
We don’t build with only bricks or only mortar—both are needed. God doesn’t give us only bones or only cartilege—both are needed. One for stability and one for cushion. We need grace & Truth.
Spines of steel, hearts of cashmere. We need both—they are utterly necessary in these last days before Christ’s return, and only the LORD can do this in us.
Must not reverse it so we have spines of cashmere & hearts of steel (or hearts AND spines of cashmere or hearts AND spines of steel)—we Christians must repent to the LORD & ask forgiveness for the ways we have anything other than a spine of steel & a heart of cashmere.
Revelation 3:19: “Those whom I [Jesus] love I rebuke and discipline.
So be earnest and repent.” He is speaking to Christians there…
Philippians 3:17-21: Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.
[Biblical love, not worldly love;
Grace and Truth, not grace & grace.
Biblical Lord Jesus Christ—Master & King—
not cultural jesus—mascot & vending machine;
Biblical obedience that comes from true saving faith,
not cultural blending that comes from mere sentimental/intellectual belief.
18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.
20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Our citizenship is in heaven!
Let us therefore live on earth as if we are foreigners in a land that is not our home!
Like a person from England visiting the United States and driving on the left side of the road—they would look strange, they would be considered dangerous, they would get honked at (and worse!), pulled over, fined and arrested if they kept on driving in the U.S. as if they were in England.
Loved ones, the same is true for Christians.
We need to mature & grow in Christ so that we live as if we are in heaven, so that we drive on the “wrong side of the road” of this culture & world—we will look strange, we will be considered dangerous, we will get honked at (and worse!), pulled over, fined and arrested by the culture police for blaspheming the values/beliefs/lifestyle of this world if we continue to believe and live as if we are in the Biblical Lord Jesus’ Kingdom of heaven.
Colossians 2:20-22: “Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces [basic principles] of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings.”
To go with the flow of the culture is to go against the Lord Jesus Christ…
To go with the flow of the Lord Jesus is to go AGAINST the culture—
we either do one or the other.
We cannot have dual-citizenship…we either go with the flow of the current of the world or we swim in the stream of the Savior of the world—“there is a river whose streams make glad the City of God” (Psalm 46:4)—that is the stream we are to live in: Biblical grace, Biblical Truth, faith, holiness, the obedience that comes from faith (Romans 1) and we are to invite others to trust in the Lord Jesus, the Righteous Branch, to take them from the culture’s current to the Savior’s current, to repent of their sins & receive Him as Savior & King by faith, to receive from Him Living Water so they will never thirst again, living waters flowing within them & welling up to eternal life.
John 4:1-,13: 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water….13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
John 7:37-39: 37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”[c] 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.
That is the only True Gospel
that both blasphemes the ways of the world
AND can save the people of the world…