By / Jan 3

We live in a loud world, and it can feel like the one who shouts and throws around the snarkiest comments online wins. The other day I was scrolling on social media (my first mistake), clicked on a news story, and then read the comments (so many mistakes). The topic is not important, but the commenters split into two sides and were full of hate, fear, and anger. Many of the loudest voices identified as Christians. It sent me reeling for a few days. Is this what it means to be a Christian and live courageously in our day and age?

It seems many of us have lost sight of what it means to obey Jesus, especially online. There are those who claim boldness for Christ but reject his example of humility and self-sacrifice (Phil. 2). There are those who tell you God is in control one minute but then spend the following hour convincing us everything is spinning out of control (and that we better be mad about it). And there are those who try to sprinkle some Christian language on whatever agenda gets the most clicks and shares in that moment. It’s all very loud and disorienting. 

Learning about real courage from Romans 12

But here’s the thing: real courage is very often quiet. In a crazy, noisy world like ours, the most courageous and countercultural thing we can do is live with intentional calm. In a world where it seems like everyone around us is losing their minds, Christians are called to have the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5). 

But what does that look like, practically? I’m grateful we don’t have to guess. Over and over again, the early church was given instructions about how to live as Christ-followers in the midst of hard circumstances (like living under the rule of the Roman Empire). For example, in Romans 12, Paul writes:

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (vv. 17–21).

This quite opposite of the rage we see online, often perpetuated by Christians. Whether it’s a hot take about COVID-19, a defensive opinion about the latest politicized issue, or a mean-spirited theological debate, we have gotten into the habit of dishonoring Christ and his people in the name of “courage.” 

On the contrary, it takes real, Spirit-born courage to live the way Paul describes — to live peaceably and honorably when it feels better to be defensive and self-protective; to serve others faithfully, even those who wish us harm, when it’s easier to give up and hide from the evil around us; to trust that God is just and in control when it would be more satisfying to enact revenge; to be misunderstood, even by our brothers and sisters, but refusing to retaliate.  

What is most amazing to me about this passage is the last imperative: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Up until this point, Paul sounds a little bit to me, dare I say it, naive. These are hard words to live by in a fallen world. But he’s not naive. He’s reminding us that the gospel offers a new way of living that doesn’t just repay evil with more evil — it actually overcomes it with good. Amazing!

Conclusion 

For centuries, Christians have read these words and taken heart amid pandemics, wars, famine, and persecution. These living words of God enable us to live with real courage and do the kind of humble, quiet, countercultural things that have eternal consequences. And if we are called to live this way toward our enemies (v. 20), how much more should we demonstrate kindness, grace, and good to our fellow believers? 

So let’s not be fooled by those who appear to always be taking a stand courageously but only seem to spread anxiety and chaos. Let’s not be egged on by the bluster that has us creating enemies and seeking revenge. Let’s not give in to the temptation to join such practices that are wicked in nature. And let’s not even come close to describing these things as “Christian.” 

Instead, let’s seek the simple clearheadedness necessary, born of a mind renewed by the Spirit in the Word of God (Rom. 12:1-2), to keep about the work God has for us. Just as the Thessalonians were instructed “to live quietly” and continue the daily work God gave them (1 Thess. 4:11), we won’t be distracted by noisy, secondary issues because we are too focused on moving the gospel forward. 

We have days and years ahead that demand a choice: will we choose the quiet courage that’s grounded in trusting a just and sovereign God, or will we get sucked into infighting, anger, and dishonoring the glory of God. I want to wake up each morning in 2022 and choose the better. Will you join me?

By / Jul 24

For the last two weeks, we have been working together with the National Latino Evangelical Coalition (NALEC) and the Evangelical Immigration Table to create strategies to help the more than 50,000 Hispanic children who have crossed the border in the last few months. The U.S. government has asked for help from the church and from humanitarian organizations to work to solve this crisis. Here in Oklahoma, they are detaining more than 1,200 children within the military facilities at Fort Sill in Lawton, and we have been granted permission to visit them and serve them.

Unfortunately, I have seen media reports of politicians who have reacted angrily toward this situation. Much to my surprise, many religious leaders have responded likewise. I heard one pastor say, “They are breaking the law, so why should the church help these criminal children?” I confess that hearing this response surprised me, saddened me, and upset me.

Crossing the border between Mexico and the United States without the proper permission certainly violates the law, and we must not ignore this fact. We are not encouraging parents to send their children to the United States. It is not only illegal, it is also dangerous, putting their children’s lives at risk.

However, we need to ask, “Why do these parents feel the need to send their children to the United States?” The answer is not simple. We must understand that in many Latin American countries violence is rampant and governments are corrupt. Too often, parents cannot find sufficient work, and there is not enough food to feed their children. Drug trafficking and usage have created unstable and insecure conditions. Parents are desperate for a better future for their children. A Christian can find purpose in God and solace in the midst of adversity, but among the majority who do not have Christ, some see migration as a means of salvation.

Understanding Romans 13

The principal New Testament text relating to government authorities is Romans 13. Does Romans 13 give unlimited power to the government to do what they want? History tells us that many notorious dictators and abusive governments have used Romans 13:1-5 out of context to abuse the power entrusted to them.

So what is the line or the limit for the Christian? Christians must subject ourselves to the government so long as the government does not require what God condemns nor condemns what God requires. Rights are not conferred by the government but by God. The government protects and ensures but does not bestow the rights that God has established. Romans 13 does not mean that Christians should subject themselves to laws that contradict what God has established. We always need to obey the law of the government when it does not conflict with the law of God, but obeying government unthinkingly leads to tyranny. The authority of the government is subject to the higher law of God.

As a church, we are not called to condemn or to despise these children, even if they have broken the law. From my humble point of view, these children should be treated as refugees. For those of us who call ourselves Christians, the Bible tells us to welcome the stranger.

“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Exod. 22:21).

“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt (Deut. 10:17-19).

This is not only a political matter; this is a biblical matter. It is about how we apply the gospel to this problem and recognize what Jesus expects from us.

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matt. 25:35-36).

Against Conscience

Martin Luther, at the crucial moment when he was told to retract his teachings against the Roman Catholic Church, said, “My conscience is held captive by the Word of God. And to act against conscience is neither right nor safe.”

Like Luther, I cannot act against my conscience. My conscience is captive to what God tells us in his Word, and he hopes that we receive, help, and present to our foreign-born brothers and sisters something better than the American Dream: we should offer them Jesus.

For that reason, the questions should not be, “Are we just allowing illegal entry?” Based on what God establishes in his Word, as a church and as Christians, the question should be, “Are we welcoming the stranger?”

Do not forget that, as Christians, our citizenship is not of this earth. One day, instead of being in the United States, we will be in the presence of God, where no one will be a foreigner but all wil enjoy citizenship in God’s eternal kingdom (Eph. 2:12-14).

NOTE: This article was originally published at The Gospel Coalition.