What should Christians do when societal tolerance and personal convictions conflict?
Our modern western world prides itself on being tolerant. It has painted a beautiful picture of love and acceptance rooted in the idea that all beliefs and actions can coexist peacefully. The popular mantra is, "You do what's good for you and I'll do what's good for me." Yet behind this façade is the ugly reality that to embrace all the ways of the world is to forfeit the one and only way, which is Jesus Christ. He is clear: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).
Society tells us that we should accept all people regardless of race, gender, age, religion, etc. Jesus would agree. He treated everyone with respect from fishermen, to tax collectors, to Roman soldiers, to prostitutes. However, it is one thing to accept the person and quite another to condone their behavior. Jesus did not celebrate people's sinful actions, nor did He ignore them. Instead He called out their sins and spoke truth into their lives. One day Jesus met a Samaritan woman at a well (John 4). The Samaritans and Jews (Jesus was a Jew) did not associate with one another. However, Jesus spoke to her asking her to draw Him some water from the well. He proceeded to call her out on her sinful lifestyle of numerous divorces and living with a man outside of marriage. He then encouraged her to leave that lifestyle and to find purpose in God instead of in relationships. Jesus accepted her as a woman, a Samaritan, and an adulteress, but He didn't condone her behavior.
Today, people will tell you that you that truth is relative and you are intolerant if you do not support what mainstream society supports. Recently, a Christian baker was sued because he refused to make a wedding cake for a homosexual wedding. He had no problem selling the couple another product, like a birthday cake, but he did not want to actively support something he knew to be sinful because he knew God meant for marriage to be between a man and a woman. More and more Christians are at risk of losing their jobs, their friends, even their family if they do not bend to the will of society.
As Christians, we believe in one God and one truth. This truth is made plain to us through Scripture, prayer, and the Holy Spirit. It should come as no surprise that the truth we know in Christ is coming under attack. The Bible warns us that we will be persecuted for following Christ (Luke 21:12–19). Jesus reminds us, "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house" (Matthew 5:13–15).
As believers we must stand firm on the truth presented in the Bible and not let it be watered down in order to appease the general population. We must be witnesses to God's power to transform us from our sinful ways, by doing what is right rather than what is popular. We should exercise our political rights in order to promote societal change that honors God and vote to elect God-fearing leaders. In addition, we should defend our faith when it is denounced by slander. Most importantly, we should pray for discernment in how to navigate the world. If you have a conviction, but cannot find a clear answer in the Bible, take it before God. Communicating with God through prayer and listening to the prompting of the Holy Spirit are key when dealing with issues that are not black and white.
If we succumb to society's standards, we become hypocrites. Not only are we approving of other's sin, but we are becoming a stumbling block for those seeking to know God. Instead, "speaking the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15) we must become mature in our faith in order that we may bring people to know Christ as their savior.
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