What We Renounce

I recently wrote a post on a dangerous pragmatism that tempts believers. Often with good motives—a desire for the glory of God, the salvation of the lost, or the growth of the church—believers will face the temptation to compromise. Some of these compromises feel small. Some are obviously large. But no generation of Christians has ever been without the temptation to change this or that to achieve greater success or an easier life.

So, when I read Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 4, I found myself very glad to see the clear, biblical affirmation of a commitment to avoid things that are easy for us to give in to.

2 Corinthians 4:2-3 – 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.

Paul would not practice underhanded ways. Paul would not, ever, allow himself to tamper with Scripture. This must be the attitude and heart of any faithful believer.

Are we tempted to tamper with Scripture? Of course we are. Some are tempted to deny the Bible’s infallibility and inerrancy. Some believe that the Bible is accurate to its day, but no longer applicable in its commands as we live in a more enlightened era. Some agree with Scripture completely, but wish to hide from view certain passages that we find embarrassing in a culture that would be offended by them.

What about practicing cunning? How much of that is going on? I think you need only look from organization to organization with the name “church” to see. There are all sorts of strategies being employed to get people to hear a message. Some strategies are not problems. Churches that attempt to reach out in honesty and kindness in their towns are not compromising anything. But what about those who use bait-and-switch tactics to attempt to sneak a message in on folks? Is there any evidence in Scripture of a Christian surprising someone with an unexpected gospel presentation? Certainly not. Nor is there any biblical pattern of Christians pretending to be interested in one area only to then shift and become gospel focused at a later time. This is just not how honest Christians operate. We need not be underhanded. We most certainly are not asked to be tricky. We are to be clear, plain, bold, and honest.

Like Paul, may we learn to be committed to the open proclamation of the gospel and the word of God. May we commend ourselves and our message with no form of deception whatsoever. May we trust that some will receive that message because of the working of God on the hearts of the elect. May we understand that those who are hostile to the clear gospel are not put off by our lack of trickery, but by their sin nature and the blinding influences of the world, the flesh, and the devil. May we be able to say that we renounce all that is underhanded out of a clear love of and trust in the Lord and his word.

A Deadly Pragmatism

What is better, to do what is right or to do what works? Do the ends justify the means? Can we compromise formal righteousness for a result that we think is clearly important?

Such questions have been important questions for years in the church. Many people, well-intentioned people, have led many churches to make decisions that turn their churches subtly away from Scripture for the sake of a good cause. They know that there are several things that God intends for the church to accomplish. And, if they misunderstand God’s top priority, they will compromise in one area for the accomplishment of another.

The rise of modern theological liberalism was tied to a desire to see the church avoid a decline. As the world became more skeptical of the miraculous and more enthralled by scientific explanations for all things, teachers began to downplay the miraculous so as not to turn off the modern thinker. Eventually, such pastors and professors began to deny the authority and accuracy of Scripture so as to attempt to keep the church from declining numerically.

Sometimes we are tempted to compromise for a good cause. Typically, one cause for which Christians are willing to compromise is evangelism. Evangelism, of course, is God’s command for the church. We are to go and make disciples of all nations. We are to see people saved, baptized, and taught to obey the commands of the Lord. But when we find that other issues like doctrine impair our ability to share the gospel with a world that hates biblical doctrine, we can be tempted to hide or even ignore that doctrine for the sake of sharing Jesus. Or we can be tempted to shift the focus of the church away from the glory of God and the word of God to focus our resources more firmly on the spreading of the faith.

In modern times, other categories are arising that might lead us to compromise. The desire to see racism eradicated has led some to stop thinking about people in biblical categories. The desire to show love and kindness toward hurting people has led some believers to embrace falsehoods regarding gender and sexuality. The desire to see the poor protected has led some to turn their backs on biblical definitions of justice. And many a cause has led to Christians in spoken word and writing to compromise in the biblical area of speaking the truth in love.

But, dear friends, we must be a people of solid doctrine and conviction first. God does all he does for the sake of his glory. God’s word is our only infallible revelation of himself and his ways. God has not given us permission to ignore his doctrine for the sake of growing a broader social presence or community influence. God has never called the church to compromise the purity of the worship service to make it more appealing to those who do not know Jesus. While it is wonderful for the church to be kind to our friends and neighbors, it is glorious for us to share the gospel, and it is gracious for us to be sure that we explain things in the worship service so that lost guests can understand what is going on without feeling left out, the church exists for the glory of God in all things. We must obey his word. We must prioritize the honor of God in worship. We must prioritize the clear preaching of and obedience to the Scriptures in all areas of our church life.

I thought of all this while reading through 2 Chronicles. King Ahaz became a pragmatist. He looked at his experience as a king, and he chose to do that which worked. He had seen success for one group and failure for another. And Ahaz chose to do what he saw was successful. And his choice led to the wrath of God.

2 Chronicles 28:22-25 – 22 In the time of his distress he became yet more faithless to the Lord—this same King Ahaz. 23 For he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus that had defeated him and said, “Because the gods of the kings of Syria helped them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me.” But they were the ruin of him and of all Israel. 24 And Ahaz gathered together the vessels of the house of God and cut in pieces the vessels of the house of God, and he shut up the doors of the house of the Lord, and he made himself altars in every corner of Jerusalem. 25 In every city of Judah he made high places to make offerings to other gods, provoking to anger the Lord, the God of his fathers.

Ahaz thought that the false gods of Syria had defeated the Lord. So, Ahaz decided to go with what worked. He began to worship those false gods. He broke down items in the temple and shut the doors. Ahaz led people away from the worship of the one true God in order to follow what he thought would be a path for national thriving. But Ahaz was unaware that the success of the Syrians over Israel was caused by the very compromise he was making.

Christians, may we not be like Ahaz. We must obey the word of God fully. That means that we make the glory of God our number one priority. WE make worship of God, genuine and biblical worship of God, what we do on Sunday. Yes, we go and share the gospel with our neighbors and friends and families. Yes, we care for the needy. Yes, we seek to see biblical justice done in our world. But we seek to obey God in all things. WE must choose from the beginning not to allow ourselves to compromise the word of God for what we think might work in a particular situation to bring about a desired conclusion. WE must trust the Lord to grow his church as the people of God remain stuck like glue to the holy word of God for the glory of Almighty God.

A Biblical Refusal to Compromise

Who are the people of God and who are not? Who worships the Lord and who does not? In our culture, those questions are dangerous. Answering them with any sort of biblical exclusivity will put you in a bad cultural light.

But our culture is not the only one where claiming that not all people are OK with God can make trouble. It caused a problem for the people in the book of Ezra, the people who were rebuilding the temple. But they did not compromise, and that was to the glory of God.

Ezra 4:1-3 – 1 Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, 2 they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.” 3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.”

The story is actually very cool. God had the Persian ruler to allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem and again build the temple of the Lord. That is a miracle. When the work began, a group of people who were not for the Jews, a group not really wanting to follow the Lord, came and asked to be allowed to participate in the temple-building work.

The men who wanted to join in the building project were not true followers of the Lord. They were people who thought they could include sacrificing to the God of the Bible along with serving other deities. They were the folks in the early years of the mixed up religion of the Samaritans so far as I can tell.

But the people of God simply told these people no. They let these men know that their religion was not in accord with that of the people of God. They let them know that you don’t just declare yourself to be OK with God and that be true. And the people of God did not compromise, even though that lack of compromise would most certainly hinder their work going forward. IN fact, the lack of compromise caused the king to shut down the building process for a bit before it could start up again.

Here in the 21st century, people would read this story with a few different responses. To some, the thought would be, “How dare you not let someone practice your religion with you? How dare you say that they are not part of the people of God?” That would be the response of a goodly number of those who do not understand the word of God. It would be the response of our age in which we believe that personal autonomy is superior to the word and the ways of God. But the Lord has always been clear in his word that he, not mankind, will determine the way to come to know him and to please him.

Another response would be, “Well, if these folks are useful, they can help you build, keep the government off your back, and maybe they will join up with the true religion. Let’s give them a shot.” This is what I would guess would be the response of many religious folks today. Many who claim to represent the Lord would have no problem compromising in order to see growth. And many would have no problem compromising in the hope that those they let come in and join them in the work would eventually be saved.

But the response of the men of God was an exclusive response. They understood that there was only one way to God, and that way could not be compromised. They understood that no religious act of worship was to be compromised for the pragmatic success of getting a building built or looking good to the local government. They understood that the worship of the Lord is a sacred thing that is only acceptable from the genuine people of God.

Now, consider our age and consider the word of God. There is only one way to God, by his grace through faith in Jesus Christ (cf. John 14:6). Thus, Christians who love the word of God are just as exclusive as were Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses. And our worship today should not be compromised to impress the local government. We exist to first honor the Lord before we exist to change anything in the community. And we will not honor the Lord by compromising to change the community. Instead, we worship the Lord as he has commanded, we declare that Jesus is the only way to be right with God, and we lovingly urge people, not to join us in our activities in general, but to turn from sin and become part of the people of God by grace through faith in Christ. No, we are not going to be mean to anybody. But we will make it clear that the true worship of the Lord and a true relationship with the Lord is only found in genuine faith in Christ. And we must not give any sort of false picture that would allow others to believe that we believe otherwise.