James Meehan - When Christians Make Christianity Unbelievable
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We're in part four of our Questions For God series, and today we're wrestling with the question, why would anyone believe in God when so many Christians are judgmental hypocrites? Now this is probably the issue that I believe most breaks God's heart. And it was one of those things for me in my journey of wrestling with faith, where I spent seven years identifying as a non-Christian, as an atheist for most of it, agnostic for parts of it, because honestly, growing up in the church I was told about this amazing God who transforms people from the inside out, and yet so many of the Christians that I interacted with, sure, they said all the right things, but the way that they lived didn't look anything like the Jesus that we talked about.
And honestly, it wasn't until my senior year of high school where I was introduced to a guy named Dane Edwards, he and I wrestled together, and man, this dude took his faith seriously. And he was also a really great wrestler which made me respect him. And it was super cool to see during the season where I'm trying to figure out, okay, like, what am I gonna do after I graduate? Who am I supposed to be as a human being outside of the context of school? Where I've got this guy named Dane who's continually showing up in my life, who's continually showing me love and care that honestly didn't make sense to me. Because at this point, I was so far away from my Christian upbringing that I thought most Christians were super weird, but there was something about Dane that just felt incredibly genuine. And then eventually I ended up moving back home to spend some time with my family, trying to figure out what to do next in my life.
And it was during that time where I got involved back in the church, and through that, I was introduced to a lot of people who didn't just talk about believing in God, but they actually lived like what they said they believed was true. They treated me in ways that didn't make sense to the point where I started to want Christianity to be true even before I believed it was true. And I think this is the thing that is most interesting about the world we live in today. Because if we look at the earliest Christian apologists, the people who were defending the claims of the Christian faith, when people were questioning and trying to disprove the claims of Christianity, these apologists weren't presenting philosophical arguments, or scientific evidence, they were pointing to the example of the church. But tragically now, when so many people in our world think of the church, they don't think of the example that Jesus set, they think of scandals, abuse, corruption, hypocrisy, judgment, and hate.
The example of the church is used as evidence against the truthfulness of Christianity. Because what so many people will say is that if the God that you Christians say you believe in was actually real, if He really changed lives, then how in the world can so many Christians be so selfish, greedy, power-hungry, and such judgmental hypocrites. If Jesus came full of grace and truth, then why is it that so many Christians seem to be full of hate and lies? There're skeptics who have said, "Hey, I like your Christ but I don't like your Christians because your Christians are so unlike your Christ". The Jesus that we claim to follow, He confronted the religious and political leaders who use their power to oppress and abuse. He came to bring hope and healing to the hurting, the hungry, and the homeless. Everywhere He went, He showed compassion for the least, the last, and the lost, people who were nothing like Jesus.
They liked Jesus, sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, the rejects and the outcasts of society were welcomed by Jesus as honored guests. We've become known for so many of the things that Jesus stood against. We have made believing in God seem unbelievable. Author Brennan Manning said it this way, he said that the greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians. Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, but then they walk out the door and deny Him with their life. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable. We have made believing in God seem unbelievable. How did we get here? How did we lose our way? I think a large part of it comes from the fact that we wanted the perks without the cost. We thought that we could claim the name of Jesus and ignore the way of Jesus. We wanted all of the good things that Jesus promised without actually doing the work of following Jesus. We settled for cheap grace.
This was a term coined by the German theologian and philosopher, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And in his book, "The Cost of Discipleship" he goes on to explain cheap grace as the grace that we bestow on ourselves. It's the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, it's baptism without discipline, communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ the living and incarnate. Cheap grace is grace that isn't the grace of the gospel. So many of us have wanted Jesus to save us from our sins, but we've rejected Him as the Lord of our lives. We have allowed our consumeristic culture to contaminate our understanding of what it means to be a Christian. We've thought that Christianity is more about what God can do for us than what God wants to do through us.
And to be clear, when I say we, I'm including me because this is something I have to fight against every day and it is my job to get this right, I'm a pastor for crying out loud, but for far too long, we've made believing in God seem unbelievable. And if you've ever found yourself frustrated, hurt, discouraged, or disillusioned by the failure of Christians to act like Jesus, you're not alone. As a matter of fact, Jesus has some very strong words for those who judge unjustly, those who are judgmental, and those who fail to practice what they preach, the hypocrites. And to make sure that we don't miss the power of these words, yes, Jesus is talking to you and He's talking to me. He's not just talking to those people who get it wrong out there, He's talking to us, and if we ever allow ourselves to miss the reality that the words of Jesus are meant to confront us, to challenge us, and to conform us into the image of Christ then we will miss the calling that we have been given to represent Him to the world.
And so in the third chapter of the Sermon on the Mount, it takes place in Matthew five, six, and seven, Jesus gives us some words to challenge us, to caution us, to make sure that we do not judge unjustly. Starting in verse one of chapter seven, Jesus says, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged. And with the measure you use, it will be measured to you". What Jesus is saying is, hey, the way that you judge others is the way that God will judge you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye, and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, "Hey, let me take the speck out of your eye," when all the time there's a plank in your own eye. You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.
Now, let's be clear, Jesus is not saying to not use discernment, He's saying don't judge in a way that is condemning because when we judge in a way where we see others as less than us, then we are going to blind ourselves to the image of God in them, and we will never be able to see clearly to help them deal with the speck in their eye. So first, we have to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves, we've got to inspect ourselves before we correct others, and we have to resist the temptation in the process to ever see ourselves as greater because those people are dealing with some sins that may be we aren't, in this process of using discernment to bring correction and accountability and to call out when things are wrong, which we have to do, we've got to fight to see Jesus in them, and for them to see Jesus in you.
Later in Matthew 23, Jesus starts railing against the Pharisees, the religious leaders of His day, because in their culture, they were the perfect example of a hypocrite, people who preached one thing and practiced another, they said one thing, but they did a different thing. And so in Matthew chapter 23, starting in verse 25, we read saying these words, He's looking at these Pharisees and He says, "What sorrow awaits you, teachers of religious law and you Pharisees, you hypocrites, for you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy full of greed and self-indulgence, what sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law, you Pharisees, you're hypocrites, for you're like whitewashed tombs, you're beautiful on the outside, but filled on the inside with dead people's bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly, you look like righteous people, but inwardly, your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness. Snakes, sons of vipers, how will you escape the judgment of hell"?
Now, when we read these words, it can be really tempting to try to see ourselves as Jesus' disciples, or the good guys in the story. But what we have to remember is that honestly, for those of us who have been following Jesus for like more than six months, these words are for us. That oftentimes in the story, we are more like the Pharisees than we are like anybody else. And these words from Jesus are a reminder of the danger of hypocrisy. They are a rebuke for those of us who have allowed the temptations of our power, of our knowledge, of the different advantages we have to lead us to mistreat and abuse others. What Jesus is trying to do here is to help us understand that as the people of God, we have been called to represent His love, His grace, and His truth to the rest of the world.
But so often, just like these Pharisees, we get it wrong. We fall into the temptation of allowing our position or our influence to be used for our good instead of the greater good. And as a result, we make believing in God seem unbelievable. So what do we do? How do we find our way back? I think what we all need to begin to do is to make repentance a way of life, because Jesus, when He's announcing His kingdom in each of the different gospel accounts, He starts with this announcement for people to repent and believe for the Kingdom of God has come near. What is repentance? Repentance is the process of turning away from our sin and turning to God. To make it super simple for you, I'm gonna give you the ABCs of repentance.
The first thing we've got to admit that we've sinned. We've got to beg for forgiveness. And then we have to commit to making a change. Repentance is at the heart of the gospel because it starts with us turning away from what's wrong and turning back to God. And for those of us who are Christians, we should be world-class repenters, like we should be so good and ready to admit every time we've messed up, we should be the first to ask for forgiveness, and we should be committed day in and day out to making a change, to becoming more like the Jesus that we say we follow. Honestly, I think the biggest obstacle that keeps many of us from doing the work of repenting, of admitting we've messed up, of begging for forgiveness, of committing to make a change is that we're more afraid of what people might think than what God already knows.
You see, in 1 John 1:5-10, John, one of Jesus' closest disciples, writes these words to us. He says, "This is the message we have heard from Him and we declare to you, that God is light, in Him, there is no darkness at all. And if we claim to have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie, and we do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and He will forgive us our sins, and He will purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar, and His word is not in us".
You see, fear of people leads to coverups, but fear of God leads to confession. Because if we really believed that God is who He said He was then we should be way more afraid of covering up our sin than confessing it, because God is light, there is no darkness in Him. And if we try to deny that we have sinned, if we try to deny that we have messed up, that we've fallen short, then basically what we're doing is saying, God, you're a liar. Because we're afraid of what people might think. But the thing is, is that God already knows, and when we choose to confess our sins, that confession will be met with forgiveness. And yet, for some reason, there are so many of us who are afraid to open up and tell the people around us, even to tell God, about the things that we've done that are wrong.
I know for years, this whole idea of confession terrified me because I didn't want to admit in all the ways that I had messed up, and I was afraid that if I did that people would think less of me. But what I've discovered is that by opening myself up to people who care about me and want me to be successful in life, that when I admit to them the things that I've done wrong, they don't respond by trying to shame me, more often than not, they respond with grace. I remember the conversation I had with my now wife whenever we were first dating, and it was the conversation to let her know, hey, like, before you and I met, I wasn't a Christian for a lot of years and because of that, I didn't stay pure. And to have that conversation with her was terrifying because my wife is somebody who's grown up in a Christian home, she's grown up always following Jesus, and she, for the most part has remained faithful to that.
And so here I am, seeing myself as a filthy sinner, getting ready to tell my wife about the fact that I haven't stayed pure, even though she has, and I'm terrified of how she might respond. And so I remember feeling like all of this fear and worry, and like, you know, my heart started beating super fast because I was really afraid that this woman that I cared so deeply for, that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, that if I told her this reality, that she wouldn't look at me the same. And so when I eventually had that conversation with her, I'm gonna be honest with you, the way that she responded blew my expectations out of the water. She met me with so much grace that I didn't know how to react to it. It was one of those things where she offered so much grace and compassion and forgiveness, that I felt in that moment a picture of how God responds to us when we confess our sins to Him.
I know that there are some of you right now who you've been holding on to something, you've been hiding something from the people that are closest to you, you've been trying to hide it from God, but here's the deal, God already knows. And He is waiting to offer you the grace and forgiveness that is available. You just have to turn back to Him. You just have to take a step to repent. And even if it's not a big thing, it might be a small thing, what we have to understand is that when we learn how to live a life of repentance in the small things, it sets us up to be better at repenting in the big things. Believing in God isn't what makes you a Christian, following Jesus is. Throughout the gospels, as Jesus is calling His disciples to be a part of this new movement, over and over again what He says is, "Come and follow me". He doesn't just say, "Hey, believe that God is real". He says, "Come and follow me, dedicate your lives to this movement".
But for so many of us, we have fallen into the trap of settling for a version of Christianity that is all about believing that God is real without really giving our lives to Jesus. But any attempt to separate the way of Jesus from the truth of Jesus, I'm telling you that that is a gross distortion of the gospel, it is missing the mark. And what it leads to is people who claim the name of Jesus but reject the way of Jesus. It leads to people who claim to be speaking for and representing God, but are abusing the name of God to elevate themselves, and to take advantage of others. This is why the Apostle Paul cautioned his apprentice Timothy, to watch your life and doctrine closely, persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. What Paul is doing is he's saying, "Hey, your life and your doctrine, what you believe and how you live, you cannot separate the two".
The idea of following Jesus means exactly that, following Jesus. And these are words that I have to reckon with daily, because if I ever miss this as a pastor, as somebody who has been entrusted by God to teach others about His goodness, if I get that wrong, then I'm going to be held to a higher standard, because James in his letter to the early church chapter three, verse one, he says, "Hey, not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly". We have been given a responsibility to represent Jesus well to this world. And that's a big responsibility. And for far too long, Christians like you, Christian leaders like me, we haven't taken it as seriously as we should. We've been tempted by the allure of power, we've used our authority to abuse others, and that is not okay. That is literally the spirit of the antichrist and it has gone unaddressed in our churches for far too long.
Believing in God doesn't make you a Christian, following Jesus does. And what we've been called to, it matters because we you have been entrusted with the good news of the gospel, the message that our God has become king, that His kingdom is coming on earth, as it is in heaven, and every single one of us have been invited to be a part of this new kingdom. Where the last are first, the least are most, and the outcasts are welcomed as honored guests. Believing God isn't what makes us Christians, following Jesus is. John once again, writes these words in 1 John 2:3-6, where he says that we know that we have come to know Him, Jesus, if we keep His commands. Whoever says, "Hey, I know Him," but it doesn't do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys His Word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in Him. Whoever claims to live in Him, must live as Jesus did. Whoever claims to live in Him, must live as Jesus did.
This is what it means to be a follower of Jesus, to not just settle for believing that Jesus is God, but to do the work of following Him and living the life that He has called us to. Because we have been given a message of hope for our hurting world. That message is the gospel. It's the message that the coming reign of God has broken into history through the person of Jesus and the church that He established. I think it's time for us to find our way again, to live as if we really believe what we say is true, to reject the temptations of cheap grace, and to step into the calling we've been given to represent Jesus well to the world. In John 13:34-35 John writing the words of Jesus has Jesus telling us this, that, "Hey, a new command I give to you, to love one another in the same way that I have loved you so you are to love one another. Then the world will know that you are my disciples".
What Jesus is telling us is that the world will know who He is by the way that we love. This is the calling that we've been given as the church, to show the world that the God we say we believe in is really God. Author Clarence Jordan said it this way. He said that the crowning evidence that He lives is not a vacant grave, but spirit filled fellowship, not a rolled away stone, but a carried away church. You see the calling that we've been given as Christians is to represent God to the world, and the best way that we can do that is by living as if what we say we believe was actually true, by loving others the same way that God through Christ has loved us. And I know that at this point in our series, as we've wrestled with these different questions about whether or not God is real, or Christianity can be trusted, there might be some of you who maybe you're still not convinced.
Maybe you still have your questions, you've got your hesitations, you've got your doubts. My hope is that you would continue to just keep showing up, that you would be willing to bring your questions to God, that you would process your doubts with people you trust, and that you would commit to following Jesus. Because the reality is that this journey of faith can feel like a giant thing, but it starts with a single step. And my hope and my prayer is that some of you would be willing to take one small step because you don't have to have enough faith to answer every question, you just have to have enough faith to follow Jesus.
And when you follow Jesus, He's going to lead you to the answers that you're looking for. And I know that for me, what I've discovered on this side of following Jesus is that life, life with Jesus is so much better than life without Him. Not because it gets easier, but because life with Jesus is a life full of meaning, of purpose, of joy, and of grace. All the things that I was searching for for so long, I have found in the context of a relationship with Him. I know that there are probably some of you right now who in your searching, you've gotten to a place where you're not sure where to look anymore, but I believe that you are here right now for a reason, to take a step of faith, to give God one more chance. So, keep showing up, keep bringing your questions, keep processing your doubts, and take a step of faith.
Heavenly Father, I thank you for the fact that we get to come together and we get to bring our questions to You, we get to see those questions in the light of the truth revealed through your son, Jesus. And God, I pray for all of those who have been hurt by Christians and by the church, that they would feel Your love and Your comfort in this time.
I know that there are probably some of you right now who as you're hearing this message, you're feeling the sense of conviction because you realize that even though you've claimed the name of Jesus, you haven't been following the way of Jesus. And today's the day that you want to repent, that you want to admit that you've messed up, you wanna beg for forgiveness, and you wanna commit to making a change to actually doing the work of following Jesus. If that's you, simply raise your hand, type it in the chat, or click on the link so that I can pray for you, because the reality is is that this journey isn't easy but I believe that the Spirit of God wants to empower you to live it well.
Heavenly Father, I thank you for those students who are asking You for help, to commit to following You with all that they are, that God they've trusted You to be the savior of their souls but God, today they're saying, I want You to be the Lord of my life. Got I pray that You give them the wisdom to know what's right, the courage to do what's right, and the ability to see opportunities along the way to serve others in the same way that You have served us.
Still in an attitude of prayer with heads bowed and eyes closed, there are others of you right now who as you're hearing this message, you're thinking about all of the reasons that you've questioned God, you're thinking about all of the doubts you've had that have told you that Christianity can't be true. And yet, for some reason, you feel this longing inside of you for something more, this longing that you're not sure what to do with. You see the reality is, is that every single one of us, we were all made, we are created by God on purpose, we were created for a purpose. And a part of that purpose is to be in a relationship with Him. But because of our sin, the things that we've done to hurt ourselves and others, we have created a separation between us and God.
But God loves every single one of us so much that 2000 years ago, He left heaven and entered history in the person of Jesus, He lived a perfect life, He died a brutal death on the cross for your sins and for mine, but that's not the end of the story, no, the gospel is the good news that Jesus didn't stay dead, and that through His resurrection, anybody who puts their trust in Him could be made new, they could be made whole, they could be created again in His image to live the life of purpose that they've been along in for. And that's exactly why you're here today, to trust God, to give your life to Jesus, to be made new. That's what you were created for, that's why you're here. And there are some of you right now who are getting ready to say yes to a relationship with Jesus, to turn from your past, to turn towards Him, to be made new.
If that's you, and you're saying, "Yes, God, I want to know You, I want to serve You, I want to follow You with all that I am," simply lift your hand, wherever you are, type it in the chat, click on the link, let us know that you're making the choice to follow Jesus, because there is no better decision that you could make than to give your life to Christ because in that moment, the Bible tells us that you are made new, that God takes your sin and separates it as far as the east is from the west, that you are now no longer defined by the shame of your past, but God's love for you. And as people are making that choice, we're getting ready to pray together as a family, because even though you had to make that choice on your own here at Switch, you don't have to pray alone. So everybody together praying out loud, repeat after me.
Heavenly Father, forgive me. I'm turning from my sin. I'm turning towards You. I need Your love, I need Your grace, I need Your mercy. Today, I give You my life. In Jesus' name, Amen.