It used to be easier to be a “decent” person. It was easier to come to the end of a life imperfectly lived, in which mistakes were made and convictions shifted through different phases, without being labeled a bad human being. We used to be allowed to think wrong things until we figured out better ways to think. It used to be permissible to say the wrong thing, to do something stupid, to hold a belief that was different from our neighbor’s, without being written off as hopeless, vile, or worthless.
These days, something as benign as leaving a shopping cart in a parking lot or putting a dog in the backyard is enough to make Americans despise each other. It seems that the era of general agreement about what makes a person “good” is over. Can we expect to see funeral crowds dwindling because, in our ultra-sensitivity, in our refusal to see beyond a careless word or deed, in our determination that any belief that contradicts our own is indecent, we will no longer allow people to be honored for the good that God accomplished through their imperfect lives? Are vitriol and mistrust the new languages of humanity in this nation?
It appears so.
How can people who live in the same country have such different and clearly defined ideas of what makes a person “good” or what makes a life worthy of honor? How is it possible that even two people who both claim to be applying Scripture can be so oppositely situated on moral issues?
And, maybe more importantly, what are my responsibilities as a follower of Christ in a time when decency seems completely arbitrary? What are the social standards that “good” people adhere to? Who decides? And how much should I care?
I can’t control how people think, how they speak, or what they think of me. But, there are a few things that I can remember that will make me a better and more God-honoring participant in the culture.
1. No one is good. (Romans 3:10)
The whole concept of “good” people is a secular one. The Bible clearly tells us that we are all bad, much worse than we care to admit. Maybe it’s time to stop being so shocked when people prove that we are all the sinners that God tells us we are. Goodness is a fruit of the spirit, not a righteousness scale-tipper. If there is any good in me, it is from God alone, and not something that I should try to take credit for.
2. The Bible is my authority, not the culture. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
I shouldn’t get my instructions about how to live a godly life from politicians or movie stars or bloggers. If I am living according to Scripture, I will see the world differently, and that means I will sometimes be misunderstood and considered prudish, judgmental, out of touch, and irrelevant, even by some in the church. I have to learn to be okay with that. Biblical convictions shouldn’t hinge on the approval or disapproval of those who don’t share my worldview.
3. I should live to please God above all. (Galatians 1:10)
As much as I would love to come to the end of my life and hope that people have good things to say about me, my aim is to please God and obey Him, even if it costs me the good opinions of some. Not everyone I know will appreciate or respect my viewpoint, especially given the current hatred of certain biblical ideals. Am I willing to be labeled by the world so that I can hear “Well done, good and faithful servant” from my Lord?
4. As far as it depends on me, I should live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:8)
It is possible to live a quiet life and still stand on biblical truth. Sometimes we are called to be quiet and sometimes we are called to be voices crying out in the wilderness, but we are never called to be cruel.
It’s easy to get caught up in the desire to please people. It’s difficult to be THAT person–the one who is saying unpopular things and holding to unpopular beliefs. Yet, didn’t Jesus tell us that we would have trouble in this world? Didn’t He promise that this faith would bring division? For a long time American Christians coasted along, enjoying a culture that said decent human beings lived according to the Bible. Things are different now. Now we will be called wicked for believing God’s good commands. We will be called good if we reject parts of Scripture that conflict with the culture. I guess the question we all have to ask ourselves is this: are we willing to accept the label “bad human” for the sake of the gospel, knowing that living to please the Lord is choosing to be despised by the world?
“And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.” Mark 13:13