Basic Attitudes of Christians Toward The Lost
I will give a further explanation of this diagram shortly, but first we need to deal with a basic attitude many believers have in regard to non-Christians. When expressed it often includes some combination of the following:
“I don’t have to explain God to anyone. It is their responsibility to simply believe Him at His Word. I can’t save them! We can’t understand God’s ways anyway. We should stick to the simple gospel.”
This is typical of the arrogant attitudes displayed by many Christians today. Though it may be cloaked in less offensive terminology, the underlying attitude is still present. Often, their unwillingness to answer specific questions and to thoroughly explain the plan and purpose of salvation is due to their own ignorance and lack of discipline. The “God said it—I believe it— that settles it” syndrome is sorely lacking that magical quality the Bible calls charity.
Our duty today is identical to that of John the Baptist— we are forerunners. “For you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give to His people the knowledge of salvation” (Luke 1:76–77).
No, certainly we cannot save anyone ourselves. But we can inform people concerning their obligation to God and try to remove any misconceptions they may have so that when Jesus follows up they are ready for Him to salvage their lives. Peter ad- monishes us to always be “ready to make a defense to every one who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you …” (1 Peter 3:15).
The Bible is explicit in its teaching that an understanding of the Word of God is an imperative in salvation. Take the first parable, for example. In this parable both men hear the Word, yet one man is lost while the other bears fruit. What was the sole difference between them?
Hear … the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. … And the one on whom seed was sown on the good ground, this is the man who hears the word, and understands it; who indeed bears fruit …. Matthew 13:18–19, 23 (NASB)
The so-called “simple gospel” is only simple if it is under- stood by our hearers. So often the plan of salvation has been oversimplified to the extent that it has been stripped of its health, vitality and very essence. It becomes instead an ugly, deformed collection of theological cliches. Only the man who hears and understands can be expected to produce any spiritual fruit.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the basic concepts un- believers have about God. These four misconceptions comprise the pillars of all the arguments that I have heard nonbelievers use to undergird their rejection of God.
- God is unjust!
- God is a tyrant!
- God is vindictive!
- God is alien!
How would you respond to questions that embody one or more of these false concepts about God? Did you ever wonder where people obtained these concepts?
I remember a conversation not long ago with a young humanist. This young man wasn’t your run-of-the-mill, passive humanist. Educated at U.C.L.A., he devoted much time to propagating his ideas through journalistic channels including sever- al campus newspapers. He picketed one of the largest churches
in our area on several successive Sundays carrying a sign which read, “Let Man Live.”
I don’t think I’ll ever forget my dumbfounded silence when, in response to my statement, “Jesus died for you,” he replied al- most sadly, “I wouldn’t have wanted Him to.” Response?
Maybe you’ve heard yourself lately, perhaps in response to current vogue, declaring, “I’ve been born again,” only to be shocked by a sudden, “Great! What reincarnation are you in?” Response?
And then how do you deal with individuals who have everything? They are hard-working, happily-married, moral people who tell you life is great. Response?
Then there are those who have nothing: The Jew who rolls up his sleeve to reveal a tattoo that identifies him as a bearer of incomprehensible memories from his residency in a Nazi death camp. What do you do with him when he turns to you and says, “Never shall I forget that night … which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Nev- er shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent, blue sky. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams into dust.” Elie Weisel, Night, Avon, p. 44. Response?
The responses and questions will be as diverse as people are, but the basic concepts of God are few. I hope you will try to feel, especially in this last case, part of the reason why it is so difficult for some to see God as just, and therefore, why they refuse to worship Him.
There are, I’m sad to say, throngs of cold-hearted Christians who, with a pedantic air, declare that God is inscrutable. This is a word that the Orientals have traditionally used to describe logic within the illogical. So these Christians, aghast at the insinuation that the facts do not speak of a good, just and loving God, declare that the facts are irrelevant and ought to be ignored.
Thrashing through their Bibles, they rush to find their pet scriptures which always work well in situations like these. Once armed with their scripture, they move abjectly away from the light of reality to their dark, obscure holes of theological abstraction.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heav- ens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8–9
In their haste to wield their prized sword, they fail to notice they have gripped the weapon by the blade. Any scripture taken out of context becomes lethal to those who quote it, as well as to those who hear it. Isaiah 55:7 is rarely quoted along with verses 8 and 9 of the same chapter and the resultant concept is totally different than what God is attempting to convey.
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him: and to Our God, for he will abundantly pardon. Isaiah 55:7
God is simply saying that His thoughts are not like the unrighteous man’s thoughts and His ways are not like those of the wicked. The only difference here between God and man is in the elevation of his moral conduct. Once the unrighteousness and wickedness is repented of and forsaken, which is what God is pleading for in this scripture, then our ways and thoughts are like God’s! When we are walking in obedience to God, then God doesn’t think differently, only better.
Certainly no one enjoys tyrants, especially those employed by one. Whether it be a secretary, mail clerk, accountant or vice president, the result is predictable whenever requests are made or new ideas shared. Policy will remain unchanged; procedure will not be modified. Even before the entreaty or proposal reaches summation, the fist hits the desk and the NO is bellowed forth. The uncomfortable aspect of this situation lies in the knowledge that be there a tyrant, the future is as rigid as the present.
Here again we see the work of religious deceivers. They have eagerly disseminated the concept that God is fixed, and that all future events are seen as complete and consummated by Him. We’ve been told that God sees a person seeking truth in heaven or hell as a certainty. All this teaching is supposed to produce a warm sense of assurance in the hearts of believers everywhere. We have lovely plaques and decoupage hanging on our walls with the inscription, “Prayer Changes Things.” Changes what? What can be changed if the future is fixed? Essentially, what you get when you adopt a God who is not able to think new thoughts, change His mind, realize changing circumstances and make new decisions, is a condition of static or motionlessness. It becomes a state of fate. It would be a pretty weak sovereign indeed who could not “handle” an influx of new data and crises without seeing them all first. This entire concept is not only unbiblical, but it fuels the world’s concept of the rigid, stark, static tyrant of Judeo-Christianity.
Ever since the Garden of Eden, man has demonstrated be- lief in a vindictive God. The concept of vindictiveness is that of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. If you hurt me, I’m going to hurt you back. It is most interesting to note the behavior of Adam and Eve immediately subsequent to their sin. The fact that they hid themselves from One with whom they had enjoyed frequent intimate encounters is indicative of a radical change. Somehow, because they had changed, they thought God had changed. Down through history we have observed one pagan society after another engage in self-mutilation and selftorment as a kind of penance to appease the wrath of God. Even in our so-called civilized society, we have ample evidence that at least a residual belief in God’s vindictiveness still exists.
One of the deceivers’ most damaging deceptions centers around, of all events, the atonement. Like the Pharisees of old, they portray a God who is only interested in things legal. The idea perpetrated here probably is derived from the words “ransom” and “redeem” and in essence it is that Jesus paid in an exact, literal sense for our sins. If, then, it is true of the Latin (payment) doctrine of the Atonement in general that it is wholly comprehended within a rigid legal scheme, it is doubly true of the Protestant form of that doctrine. The thoroughness of the logical consistency with which the legal idea is carried through gives it a monumental character; the impression which it gives is that of a massive building in a solid and austere style, capable of withstanding the storms of centuries. Consult Gustaf Aulen, Christus Victor, Macmillan, p. 130. Although the Word of God repeatedly declares that Jesus Christ bore the sins of the world, they insist on presenting a vindictive God who demands a payment before He will forgive. Surely this is in obvious contra- diction to Jesus’ parable on forgiveness, where the man was forgiven his debt solely on the basis of compassion—without payment of any kind!
Certainly there were governmental considerations for God to weigh. There was the necessity to uphold the law and justify the Lawgiver in the issuance of a pardon in opposition to His words, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” However, to in any way confuse God’s governmental role with His personal feelings is a gross error. God has always wanted to forgive. He holds no grudges. Remember His agape love? He needed only to find a way to do it wisely. He is not bitter and does not want to be personally paid back for anything.
We will discuss the matter of redemption in a later chapter, but I trust you can see how the portrayal of a strictly legal God encourages many people to view Him as a vindictive Being. This was precisely what my humanist friend had in mind.
Then a large proportion of those who shrug God off do so because they view Him, if He exists at all, as distant and alien. It all goes back to the point we discussed earlier concerning the necessity of fellowship like with like if there is going to be intimacy. People simply cannot relate to a God they are convinced is irrelevant and divorced from their everyday lives.
This concept of God’s impersonality has been fostered, to a great extent, by the inflamed, hyper-mysticism found in many churches today. This mysticism is due in part to the fact that often biblical descriptions of God’s personal feelings are explained away by calling them anthropopathisms. An anthropopathism is when you attribute human feelings to God. We are told that God’s emotions are described as being like ours only to help us to understand Him. My good friend Harry Conn asks, “If mad doesn’t mean mad, or glad, glad or joyful, joyful—what do they mean?” To put it another way, when God is talking about His character using personal words that in essence are meaningless because they are nondescriptive of reality, the prospect of intimacy evaporates.
Fortunately there are no anthropopathic statements in the Bible. God feels and reacts exactly the way He says He does. Where God helps us semantically is in our understanding of His Being. For example, His power attributes are omnipresence and omnipotence. These semantic analogies are called anthropomorphisms. These statements we do indeed find in the scriptures. A good example would be “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust ….” (Psalm 91:4).
It has somehow become a symbol of spirituality to leave one’s mind parked in the church foyer before entering the sanctuary. Many Christians, as we have said before, simply do not want to take the time and effort to get to know God. So alternately they will do a variety of things to produce “spiritual goose bumps” in the realm of the mystical.
It is true that Christianity is a relationship to be experienced. But since our emotions respond to what our minds think, Christianity is experienced both intellectually and emotionally. The latter flows from the former. Again this is what David meant when he encouraged us to “sing praises with understanding.”