How to express or endorse your faith in public is one of the hardest things to do as a follower of Jesus in the 21st Century. It has always been that way, but given how connected we are as a culture and how globalized we are as a society, it just seems to be amplified these days. Especially when it comes to conversing or tolerating other religious beliefs or perspectives, followers of Jesus run the tension between not caring about “truth” on the one end, and not caring about people’s salvation on the other. I’ve been thinking a lot about where this tension comes from as of late, and how to address it in a way that is helpful for followers of Jesus to hold onto core Christian convictions while also being a model of good character to those who see things differently than we do. As followers of Jesus we’re called to imitate God’s character as best we can. “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). No small task. So how should this inform the way we conduct ourselves in everyday life inside our families, our workplaces, our schools, etc.?
1. God cares
God cares about the way we act in public. Our culture has a way of separating our beliefs from the public sphere and deeming them only appropriate in the private field. On the other hand, contemporary Christianity has given the idea that God is just concerned about saving individuals. Nothing could be further from the truth. Your faith is inseparable from the way in which you live the rest of your life, and the good news of Jesus is not merely that he saves individuals, he does, but the good news is also that it has the power to transform societies. It is good news for the entire world and everything and everyone within it.
2. Imitate Jesus
The way this good news is carried out is through followers of Jesus imitating Jesus and transforming to his likeness in every aspect of their life – public and private. Just as Jesus is the “exact representation” of God’s being (Hebrews 1:3), we are also to “conform to the image of his son” (Romans 8:29). Go through the Gospels and observe how Jesus acted in public and treated people from all different walks of life and a variety of different beliefs and viewpoints. We are to carry that same image of gentleness and respect, but also conviction.
3. Stay humble
God is at work in bringing about what Paul and others in the Bible refer to as “new creation.” We stay humble knowing that God is at work accomplishing this, but we can’t be naïve enough to think that God isn’t working through us as he does. We don’t have a passive role to play. Staying humble gives us an active role by focusing on what God has entrusted to us, the situations, resources, gifts, and talents he has blessed us with and using them to the best of our ability and wisdom. Part of this means letting God do what God does best and not over-stepping our boundaries. For instance, it is not our job to judge those who are different and hold them to the same standard if they don’t ascribe to the same faith we do. Staying humble requires us to trust God is already at work in them, and recognizing that through friendship and our Christ-like attitude within it, God will be shown and glorified.
4. Be a part of Church
I mentioned that Matthew verse at the top of this post and Jesus’ statement for us to “be perfect” as God is. We know that none of us are perfect and never can be, by ourselves. There is also no such thing as a perfect church because the church is full of imperfect people. But, by God’s grace, we’re dedicated to getting better. That’s what church is all about, and we can’t do that without God. I think that’s what Jesus was getting at in that verse. If all we’re concerned about is correcting other people and conforming them to our image, who would want to join that? But, if we’re doing all the above and dedicated to making ourselves better, and the world we’re a part of better and conforming ourselves to God’s image, that’s living out the gospel message, and that is what makes that message so attractive and credible. Jesus says, a bit before the verse above that, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden… let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
We have to keep striving to let that light shine brighter and brighter in a world that seems to be getting darker and darker.