Published March 29, 2011
"Where's the Evidence?"
The headline this morning caught my eye:
"Five Christians to Face Trial in Iran for Blasphemy"
The news story recounted how five Christian men had been arrested and imprisoned "for crimes against the Islamic order" (in other words, for being Christians and for, apparently, not hiding that fact). It also tells how another man, Yousef Nadarkhani, the pastor of a large Christian congregation in the city of Rasht, was sentenced to death for "apostasy," even though no such crime actually exists in Iranian civil law.
Such stories of persecution are becoming increasingly common around the world, but it was the "trial" part of the headline that caught my attention this day. It reminded me of the old aphorism, "If you were arrested and tried for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"
Think about that. What sets you apart as a Christian in the eyes of others? Is your lifestyle, the way you speak, the way you deal with problems, the way you deal with people in general are these somehow different from the actions and attitudes of non-Christians? There are, after all, a lot of "good people" who are, in fact, not Christians. That makes comparisons difficult, especially since many Christians seem quite content to "blend in" among the rest of society.
Way back in the late second or early third century, an anonymous writer (apparently a knowledgeable Christian) sent a letter to a man (a pagan) named Diognetus, who is otherwise unknown. In surviving copies of that letter, the writer explained to Diognetus that what distinguishes the Christian life is something obvious but not superficial:
"Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric lifestyle... While they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one's lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship."
And how did he describe that "unusual character" of the Christians?
"They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted. ... They are poor, yet they make many rich; they are in need of everything, yet they abound in everything. They are dishonored, yet they are glorified in their dishonor; they are slandered, yet they are vindicated. They are cursed, yet they bless; they are insulted, yet they offer respect. When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; when they are punished, they rejoice as though brought to life... Those who hate them are unable to give a reason for their hostility."1
I am fascinated by such extra-Biblical insights into the early church, but it sounds like what was happening two centuries after Christ was pretty much the same kind of thing we read about in the book of Acts. And it's what is still happening around the world today.
So what are the timeless distinctives of a Christian? No better "short list" can be found than Paul's list of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law." Why should we live like that? "..those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (v. 24). So Paul argues, "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another" (vss. 25-26).
That's a pretty good list. But let's add one more thing from 1 John 5:2 that builds on that first "fruit" listed above: "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments." It's not just how we treat nonbelievers it's also how we treat our fellow Christians, all in accordance with God's command to "love one another" (John 13:34). And, of course, it's doing what God tells us to do.
As Michael Booth of the Booth Brothers mentioned to me the other day, "God is too big to take residence in us and not produce results... Is there evidence of a changed life? Is there evidence that Christ, the Creator, has taken residence in us?"
So.... How's the evidence stacking up for you? Would you be "convicted" of being a Christian because the preponderance of evidence would be clear? Could witnesses be called who would give explicit examples to prove you were a Christian by your words and deeds in their presence? Or would the case have to be dismissed for "insufficient evidence?"
In other words, how's your witness? Are you bold in proclaiming Christ overtly as well as by example? Or are you a "secret agent" so secret that few around you really know you're a Christian? Can the world really see Jesus in you? Or are you just "another nice guy?" In this sense, we are "on trial" each and every day of our lives. Our responses to the challenges we face daily show either that we truly are Christians or that we are failing to provide any evidence of such a claim.
I like the words of a Kingdom Heirs song that cuts to the bottom line:
When the story of my life is told
Will it tell about a witness so bold?
Will it say I kept the faith until my dying day
When the story of my life is told.2
So, "If you were arrested and tried for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?" May each of us be that "witness so bold" each and every day of our lives. After all, someday each of us will all have to give an accounting of our life to The Judge.
2. From chorus of "When The Story Of My Life Is Told," by Dianne Wilkinson & Scott Inman, Christian Taylor Publishing BMI.
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