Don’t miss Jesus when others walk away from the faith

Clinging to the gospel in the midst of doubt

May 27, 2020

The Christian life is never easy. Growing up in the church, I was told constantly that living as a Christian would be challenging, but I didn't really know what form those challenges would take. As a believer, you are called to die to yourself, to take up your cross, and to follow Jesus (Matt. 16:24-26). You are called to fight against sin (Heb. 12:1). But one of the things I didn't realize believers are constantly called to fight against is unbelief.

Last week, I saw another Christian with a large public profile announce that he was walking away from the faith. I was sad. I didn’t know him personally or follow his career closely, but it’s always hard to see a Christian abandon the faith. And I think my sadness was compounded by the fact that this was not the first or even the third high-profile Christian to make this kind of announcement in recent days. 

It is difficult to describe the pain that can come from seeing someone you look up to walk away from Jesus. Even for someone who has rock-solid faith, that experience can be jarring and lead to, at least, momentary doubts. A similar kind of pain and disillusionment can arise from seeing Christians or even the church fall short of the standard of Jesus. I’ve noticed that many times, the doubts and struggles that Christians experience come as a direct result of seeing other Christ-followers manifest the kind of brokenness and sin that Jesus came to save us from.

Focus on Jesus 

This is the reason that I (following a practice I’ve learned from others) try to stress to the men that I’m discipling, or the Christians I work with closely, that they should take care not to focus on me—or anyone—more than Jesus. I am flesh and blood. I am redeemed but fallen. And I fail and fall short every day. I am grateful to God that I’ve been able to positively influence and encourage other men and women through my faith and ministry. But knowing myself as I do, I know that if they ever begin to see me as more than merely human, they will soon be disappointed. 

For the same reason, I try to be honest with those around me about the sins that I struggle with. I don’t want people to be surprised when they see me stumble or fall. I want more than anything to be like Christ, but the best way I know to point others to Jesus is to let them see me when I’m faithful and when I fail. That’s a lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way. It’s great to have human heroes. We are supposed to look up to those who are ahead of us in the faith. But more than once, I’ve experienced deep pain from seeing men and women I look up to act in ways contrary to the convictions we held in common.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that Paul wasn’t calling himself some kind of super Christian when he exhorted others to follow him as he followed Jesus (1 Cor. 11:1). I think Paul knew that the people he was ministering to needed both things. They needed to look at Jesus, to see his example, and to know what perfect obedience looks like. But they also needed to see Paul—a fallen and frail disciple doing his best to keep the faith and run the race (2 Tim. 4:7). While Jesus is a perfect guide, Paul was only ever a man. And in Paul we see faith and fear, triumph and trepidation. There is a lot we can learn from him about faith and faithfulness and even failure, but only if we remember that Paul can never take the place of Jesus.

It really isn’t a mystery why some people would become disillusioned with the church. Jesus has a messy bride. The church is full of sinners and hypocrites like me (and you). Every day people who identify with Jesus sin in ways large and small—sometimes in ways that are truly scandalous. But when we really think about it, we shouldn't be distracted by the missteps of our fellow brothers and sisters. Nor should we be disillusioned by the church’s shortcomings, which can be remarkable at times. After all, when each of us look inside of our heart to truly see ourselves, we see all of the sin and brokenness reflected in the world—we’re just usually better at hiding it. Often, the church merely reflects the brokenness in our own hearts on a much larger scale.

If you find yourself tempted to doubt or despair because of others’ failings, no matter what else you see, don't miss Jesus. He has never left and has never changed.

So when we see the church embrace bigotry or fail to stand against injustice or appear hypocritical, it is natural that our hearts are filled with judgment and disappointment. Like our Creator, we are supposed to hate these things. But before we judge or look down on our brothers and sisters, we should remember all of the times we’ve done the same (Matt. 7:3). We should think of all of the times we’ve failed to speak or spoken in anger or failed to act or harbored contempt. We should, in other words, reflect upon the very real and present sins in our hearts and realize that the church is not made up of good people who constantly embrace their vices, but sinful and fallen people whom Jesus is redeeming.

Jesus is the center

And this is the whole point. To get Christianity, you can’t focus on the circumference. You must focus on the center, which is Jesus. The essence of our faith is not the church, nor our core beliefs, as precious as both of these things are. Instead, the center of our faith is a person. And in our darkest moments, we would do well to remember what most of us have always known. It is easy to miss because it has grown so familiar, but the most radical truth that defines the gospel is that Jesus, the Son of God and rightful king of the universe, condescended and came to save us. And, as with every good story, he did it for love.

John 3:16 is more than some familiar trope from the Scriptures. It is the gospel. God loves us. God came for us. And, in Christ, God saves us. The problem with our disillusionment is that we often don’t go far enough. The gospel is a scandal: a perfect God redeemed a wicked people. I totally understand what it means to be scandalized by the brokenness we see in the world, especially when it occurs among the people of God. Sometimes sin leads to tragic, even unspeakable, wickedness. But the truth is, we should not be more scandalized by the wickedness we see than we are by the fact that these are the people God has chosen to love and forgive and redeem.

Right now we experience only glimpses of the perfect life that is to come. But those glimpses simply punctuate our experience of brokenness in what Paul described as “this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). We should long for Jesus' return and yearn for that day with hope and expectation. But when we see the brokenness of his bride, we should be driven mostly toward adoration instead of toward despair. It is right that brokenness breaks our hearts. It breaks God’s too. But he sent Jesus anyway. And through Christ, he is right now doing the work of turning back the curse and reversing the effects of sin.

I’ve struggled with my faith for most of my life. But there is always one thing that brings me back no matter how hard things might be. Jesus is always there. And no matter what kind of brokenness or pain I might experience or see in the world around me, I know that when I look to Jesus, I not only see a better way, but a better future. And when I’m tempted toward doubt or unbelief, he always pulls me back. If you find yourself tempted to doubt or despair because of others’ failings, no matter what else you see, don't miss Jesus. He has never left and has never changed.

Josh Wester

Joshua B. Wester is the lead pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24