In these changing times, it has become imperative for Christians to stand their ground by articulating their faith in powerful and effective ways. The values of the world have never been the values of the Church. The difference is that the belief system of secular society is gaining ground because Christians have become too lazy and passive in their witness for Jesus Christ.
Now that we have realized our error, there seems to be an overzealous reaction to set things straight. Many Christians have seen the writing on the wall, and have subsequently answered the call to arms in hopes of salvaging any lost ground to the enemy. Instinctively, we may eagerly respond to the pangs of guilt for neglecting our responsibilities by witnessing to others with newfound passion and vigor.
The problem is that sometimes our zeal gets the better of us and we approach people in the wrong spirit. I encourage all Christians to take their faith more seriously, exemplifying a boldness of conviction which takes morality, duty, and salvation seriously. However, I believe that it is imperative for Christians to understand that there is a proper way in which to engage people when entering into constructive dialogue. The goal is to be bold which is often confused with aggressiveness. In this article, I will be explaining the positive and negative differences between the two attitudes.
The ideal behavior for Christians today is a tenacious boldness seasoned with love. Unfortunately, too many people of faith feel that being passive is a position of humility. But as we will see, there is a stark difference between passiveness and humility.
The Google definition of passive is accepting or allowing what happens, or what others do, without active response or resistance. This attitude is actually unbiblical. It takes on the notion that we have no right or means to spread the beautiful message of the gospel or to help those in need. When people embrace this philosophy they often mistake it as being meek. I argue that many people adopt this way of thinking because it gives them an excuse not to put themselves out in the world in such ways that may garner criticism from secular society.
God clearly calls Christians into action. James tells us to be “doers of the Word, and not hearers only” (1:22). Jesus tells us that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven,” and “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt. 7:21, 24).
Faith demands that we live out our newfound lives in Christ by taking certain action. Our actions and works will not ensure that we have a seat by Jesus Christ in the next life, because He alone has accomplished the work for salvation. But when we take our identity as children of God seriously, our lives will ultimately transform through grace, and we will sincerely desire to help and love others.
This all boils down to the fact that we can no longer sit quietly in our pews and wait for Jesus to come back. Hiding behind the doors of our churches is sheer selfishness. It is like we are content with our own salvation and unmoved by the multitudes of people dying in their sins.
The world is now a dark and scary place for Christians. It may seem like a daunting task to be so bold as to approach people in the name of Jesus Christ. But this is exactly what we are called to do—not just pastors or specific kinds of Christians—but all people who march under the banner of Heaven.
I believe that people often miss just how bold Jesus Christ was in His earthly ministry. We zero in on his gentleness and love and completely ignore that Jesus was a rebel who challenged the religious leaders of Israel.
Consider the fact that Jesus made the bold claim to be God. He knew full well how the people would react, but He was still compelled to tell the truth. Also remember how Jesus disregarded the warnings of the Pharisees about healing on the Sabbath Day, flipped over the money changers’ tables, and rebuked the Pharisees and Scribes by calling them “hypocrites,” “blind guides,” “full of greed and self-indulgence,” “white-washed tombs full of dead bones and everything unclean,” and finally “snakes and a brood of vipers!” (Matt. 23:13-29).
These are not the actions of a passive person who is afraid of offending people. These are the actions of someone who is confident in their understanding of morality and absolute truth. Jesus made it a point to tell people the truth knowing full well that many would be offended. He did not consider the backlash of the ruling class relevant when it came to living out His ministry. And Jesus spoke boldly about the truth in order to give new life to a world dying through sin and separation from God.
But understand that this boldness of Jesus exhibited the demeanor of someone in complete control of their faculties. Jesus never once doubted or questioned Himself when teaching those with ears to hear. He always carried Himself with absolute and unwavering surety in all that He said and did. These are of course the marks of the Divine. But the life of Jesus is also our example for interacting with a hostile and blind society.
Boldness is an intrinsic characteristic of Christians. It is this very boldness that led Jesus Christ to the cross at Calvary and subsequent martyrs to their deaths. Many people die for their beliefs and actions. But Christians are often murdered or treated poorly for actively living out their faith knowing the risks. The findings of the Center for Studies on New Religions showed that 90,000 Christians were killed worldwide for their beliefs last year. The Clarion Project discovered that 600 million Christians were unable to practice their faith due to persecution in 2016.
This caliber of boldness is a testimony to those who critically observe Christians. It is this kind of tenacity that compels unbelievers to consider the gospel message more carefully. Christian boldness reminds the world that believers are fully convinced in their minds of the biblical claims. And this ultimately reveals to the world that if so many people are so bold as to profess the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then such claims cannot be carelessly dismissed if people are to approach the subject with honesty.
When the Pharisees and Scribes arrested Peter and John for preaching about Jesus Christ, they were amazed at their boldness:
When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus (emphasis mine, Acts 4:13).
After they were released they immediately began to pray to God. In their prayers they asked for sustained boldness to preach the good news: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness” (Acts 4:29). We need to be praying for newfound and sustained boldness too.
The truth of the matter is that if Christians truly believe in their faith then they will profess it with eagerness and boldness. They will trust in the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit to put words upon their lips when they speak boldly in the name of Jesus Christ. If we are going to live out our faith, then we must remember that Jesus calls us all to pick up our crosses and follow Him. This is not figurative language pertaining to our daily burdens. It means that we must be bold and witness to people regardless of the consequences.
The negative aspect of boldness is when it takes on the form of aggression. Lucifer likes to take something good and create a counterfeit and evil version. This is exactly what happens when Christians go from being bold to being aggressive. The underlying difference between the two is that boldness is characterized by being firm and courageous, but aggression is an emotional attack that values the argument more than the person.
I often see this when Christians view atheists as the enemy instead of lost sheep who need a Shepherd. Christian aggression is often used to belittle and demean people who are outside of the faith. Whenever we reduce people to irredeemable heathens who have no hope we are playing at God.
The same aggression is also shown among Christians who differ in theology. I have noticed an unholy bitterness between many Liberal and Conservative Christians. It is all good and well to show a righteous anger over something that is against the will of God. But the problem arises when we arbitrarily judge those who think differently from us as ignorant and damnable people.
It is a shame and disgrace when Christians become aggressive over matters of theology to the point of condemnation and finger pointing. When we find a brother or sister who has a theology at variance with the Bible, our response should not be ridicule, but education through compassion.
In this day and age, I believe one of the most important verses in the Bible is Ephesians 4:15: “Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Paul reminds us of two central objects of Christian character and purpose.
It is imperative that we speak the truth to a world drowning in lies. And it is also imperative that we show love to a world shrouded in darkness and crippled by loneliness. The problem is that some Christians only do one of these commands. There are those who propound biblical truth in an aggressive spirit because they are concerned that sin will become commonplace in the Church as much as the world. Then there are those who ignore the truth of the Bible in order to focus on love.
We must learn to show both truth and love because the two are married to one another. You cannot separate them. When Paul writes so eloquently about love in the first letter to the Corinthians, he writes “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (Emphasis mine, v.6). Love and truth are intertwined to one another and cannot be from God if they are separated.
To ignore the truth is not loving at all. It only coddles a generation of selfish pleasures, and ushers people into a life of sin which causes them to be separated from God. And to neglect to show love misses the point of the gospel entirely. Jesus always spoke the truth boldly in a spirit of compassion and love. This is as apparent as the warmth of the sun. Anyone who reads the Scriptures carefully will come to the same conclusion. Consider this explanation from William Channing, a nineteenth-century humanist:
How calm was His piety! Point me, if you can, to one vehement, passionate expression of His religious feelings. Does the Lord’s Prayer breathe a feverish enthusiasm?… His benevolence, too, though singularly earnest and deep, was composed and serene. He never lost the possession of Himself in His sympathy with others; was never hurried into the impatient and rash enterprises of an enthusiastic philanthropy; but did good with the tranquility and constancy which makes the providence of God (McDowell, 162).
Jesus was never aggressive. His emotional equilibrium was well balanced even in the face of ridicule and death. The Pharisees illegally arrested Him and proceeded to belittle and taunt Him. Pilot threatened His life and imposed his supposed power upon Him. The thief on the cross jeered him with many observers in the crowd. Yet not once did Jesus retort with an emotional warning or threat. Instead He prayed for them because that is the kind of Savior we serve.
It is time for us to stop this nastiness of being aggressive. It is good to embark upon the business of our Father. But we must stop being forceful. God has already made the truth plain to people through His own witness and moral law which is written upon the hearts of mankind (Rom. 1:18-20). We must give people time and space to thoroughly understand the beckoning of the Holy Spirit. And we must be patient with one another in the midst of our differences. It does no good for anyone to be pushy and forceful through an autocratic attitude.
Jesus told us that the truth will set us free. Let us take comfort in the fact that we serve our Lord, and let us serve Him with unapologetic boldness that conveys the message of the gospels in a spirit of love.