Have you ever been asked a question that stuck in your mind; one that you kept coming back to over and over again to ponder? I am not talking about a casual inquiry, but rather a question from someone that was totally sincere and just trying to understand. I have been asked such a question. It was a couple of years ago, and I hear the voice of the person just as clearly as if it occurred this morning.
Allow me to set the scene for you. This person was riding in my car with me, at the time I would term our relationship as acquaintances, though now I call this person friend. As we were driving along the individual turned to me and I believe with total sincerity asked, “I thought you were a Christian, why are you being so nice to me? Don’t you know that I am _____”
The end of that sentence is not important; the important part is that this individual thought because of something about themselves, some group identified with, that the treatment to be expected from a Christian was anything other than kindness. Now the act being referred to as “so nice” was nothing extraordinary, it was simply giving someone a ride to somewhere I was already going. Maybe this is a naïve view, but an act like that, I would like to believe, is still commonplace even in society today. So what would the previous experiences with Christians be to bring someone to the place where they did not expect even basic societal kindness to be shown?
I would like to say that I had an eloquent answer to that question when it was posed to me. I didn’t. I still don’t. I no longer remember exactly what I answered, but it was along the lines of “Yes I am a Christian, and I am just trying to do what Jesus would.” Now I knew that this person embraced a lifestyle or choices that run contrary to what the Bible teaches, but that was not relevant to how to treat the person in my mind.
Ephesians 6:12 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
We as Christians should be able to stand for a spiritual principle while at the same time showing the love of Jesus for the people in bondage to the lies of Satan.
Romans 5:6-11 “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
As Christians, we are in a position of having been reconciled to God, through believing in Jesus, and calling on His name to save us from our sin. God did it all however, we are not any better than any other people; “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” If we have a truly Biblical perspective on what our individual natural state was, how depraved and futile our thinking was, than we should have great compassion for the plight of anyone still in bondage to sin. It does not matter which lie of the devil a person has believed, they are in bondage to that lie.
Picture, if you will, a prisoner in an ancient prison, locked underground in the dungeon. This prisoner has been there so long they no longer know anything different. They have no memory of light, no memory of love, or true happiness, or any other good thing. There are thick chains binding them to the walls of this prison, and their jailer, the devil, keeps whispering lies to them about how much better off they are here where they are “free” than they would be following God’s “oppressive” rules.
I Corinthians 6:9-11 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Do you see yourself before Jesus saved you in that list? I know I see myself there. Did you notice though, the change was not something you did. It says “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ..” These things happened to you by the power of the name of Jesus, and His sacrifice. None of us have done anything to go from unrighteous to righteous in the eyes of God, except for calling on the name of Jesus. This list is just a sampling of some of the chains/lies that the devil uses to keep people in bondage.
Now picture this prisoner, dirty, gaunt, and dying, looking up as you walk by. Now hear the question again. ““I thought you were a Free man (Christian), why are you being so nice to me? Don’t you know that I am a prisoner?”
Does that image tear at your heart at least a little? I hope it does because it is just a poor weak image of what is true in the spiritual realm. The people marching for various causes that are contrary to the Bible are this prisoner. We should look at them and feel the heart of Jesus for them. His heart for the prisoners, the captives, led Him to His execution at the cross of Calvary. Pause for a moment, and in your mind’s eye look at your wrists. Do you still see the scars of the chains from your imprisonment there? Maybe you are still in a place of not having totally realized the freedom Christ bought for you when He reconciled you to God, and you still see chains on your wrists.
When trying to understand how to live, it is best to look at the only perfect example, the life of Jesus Christ. He was faced with interactions with the prisoners many times.
John 8:3-11 “The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?’ This they said to test Him,that they might have some charge to bring against Him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask Him, He stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once more He bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.’”
I would love to know what Jesus was writing on the ground during this encounter. Notice how He silenced the religious rulers by pointing to their lives of sin. They were just as much prisoners to sin as was the adulterous woman. I wonder if the older ones left first because they had more life to look back on and see their sin a little easier, closer to the end of life. After they all walked away, and Jesus was speaking to the woman, He showed her kindness to a degree that nobody else could, but He did not compromise spiritual truth. He told her to “go and from now on sin no more.”
I have had many more conversations with the person who asked me this question. They know that my stance is firmly on what the Bible says is right and wrong. We have been able to discuss these issues with no hostility. I have been able to ask some questions of my own in an attempt to understand what brought this person to this particular place. Mostly I pray for the individual. I pray for a heart changed for willingness to accept the sacrifice of Jesus.
The apostle Paul speaks about how to handle ourselves when interacting with people in bondage, and how we should conduct ourselves in general.
II Timothy 2:22-26 “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”
That is the prayer of my heart, “that God may perhaps grant them repentance.” Is it yours? I believe that the collective church cares about the lost. The church in America is generally speaking very generous to missions, and caring for the needy. Why then would the question be raised ““I thought you were a Christian, why are you being so nice to me? Don’t you know that I am _____” I don’t understand it totally, but I do have some thoughts as to where it comes from.
There is much turmoil in our society over various social and moral issues. I wonder how many people that are marching in demonstrations for things contrary to the Bible have any experience with true Christians. Or maybe their experience with people claiming the name of Christ is limited to the counter-protesters waving signs saying things like “God hates you!” That is certainly how churches are portrayed in much of the media. However, I do not believe that fault lies with the media, they are prisoners too remember. The fault lies with the “cosmic powers over this present darkness” and “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
I also think it is quite likely that some true Christians, being caught up in their zeal for righteousness, have thrown stones at the prisoners, forgetting that they themselves once were prisoners. The chains that bound them might have been different, or maybe they were the same chains and that lends itself to extra zeal. If we let zeal for righteousness consume us to the point that we lose sight of the enemy’s true identity, then we have made that zeal an idol itself, and have lost sight of God and what His heart is. Once we lose sight of whom the enemy is, it is very easy to find ourselves, stones in hand, gathering around the prisoner. I have found myself in that crowd before; it is an easy crowd to join.
I have had many conversations with many different people since that day in my car. I am sad to say that the surprise at kindness from Christians, while far from universal is frequent. I have friends that have recounted similar stories to me. I have likewise spoken with hurting people, ones desperate for a different way, and sometimes you find that a deep hurt from actions real or imagined on the part of a church is keeping a person away from The One who is the answer. I do not have the answers to all of the issues that this can raise. I do know however, that this question “I thought you were a Christian, why are you being so nice to me? Don’t you know that I am _____” is quite possibly the saddest question I have ever heard.
I would like to ask you a simple question that I ask myself. Are your actions the actions of one gathering stones to throw at a prisoner, or are they as Paul said showing kindness to everyone, patiently enduring evil, showing gentleness, and praying God grants repentance?
Imagine what could happen if we all went out of our way every day to show kindness to one person in a group different from ourselves, a prisoner. Then pray for God to grant repentance which is truly the freedom that people are craving. This would be the Gospel in action.