The Death of Christian Courage

The Death of Christian Courage<span class=16 min read" />

Everybody likes the nice guy.

He is the guy that does not disagree with you. Whatever you say, whatever you do, he is okay with it. The nice guy does not stand for anything. His only mission in life is to ensure he offends no one. The nice guy is ready to conform to every prevailing view or perspective.

The only thing the nice guy fears is having enemies. He will do anything, go the extra mile to avoid any conflict.

Because humans love affirmations, we love the nice guy. He is everyone’s friend. The nice guy wants to be there for everyone. To keep his friendships, there are things he cannot say. When he’s with A, he agrees with A, and when he is with B, he concurs with B.

The girls love the nice guy. Everyone in society loves the nice guy. Don’t we love people that won’t “judge” us – people that will soothe our conscience and tell us how good we are?

 A significant part of Christianity today is modeled after the nice guy. We want to be the good guys that everyone loves. We want to be the guy that stands in the middle to avoid the hatred of those on the left and those on the right.

To do that, we have stopped standing for anything. A nice guy cannot have convictions; he must play along. Because we want the love and affection of everyone (we believe the more people love us, the greater our ability to spread the gospel); we avoid offending anyone.

We want to be conservative enough to soothe those on the right and be progressive enough to appease those on the left. Whatever the intellectual or moral atmosphere, we just want a seat at the table. We want influence. Our default assumption is that you need influence to do something big for God.

Therefore, we do everything for that influence. “Man must do what man has to do,” we think.

The problem with our nice guy attitude is that it is contrary to the faith of Jesus and the early Christians.

The courage deficit

The nice guy attitude and mentality that engulfs the church is nothing but a courage deficit. To say it in plain language, we don’t have balls. We don’t have the courage to dare the opposition and hatred of a world that hates our Lord and Savior.

The nice guy, in the end, is not motivated by love and kindness, but self-preservation. The nice guy cannot dare disagreement and opposition. He prefers to be in the safe zone – no confrontation, no questions asked, no flared emotions.

Our problem is not our love for people but our cowardice and courage deficit. Because we want everyone to speak well about us, we cannot confront or oppose anyone. We play along so that everyone can play with us.

Obeying God rather than men

The apostles were men of courage.

Peter looked at the Jews straight in the eyes and charged them with the death of Christ: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge: and you with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2:23-24). The Jesus whom they crucified, God had made Lord and Christ (v. 36). Now they must repent and be baptized.

Peter did not mince words with them. You crucified God’s messiah, and you must repent of your sins. He confronted them with the truth of their situation.  

A chapter later, Peter once again confronted another section of the Jews with this truth: You handed him (Jesus) over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life…” (Acts 3:13-15).

Once again, he called them to repent and turn to God. They must turn from their wicked ways (v. 26).

The priests and the captain of the temple guard will have none of it. Just like they would not have Jesus rule over them (Luke 19:14), they won’t have his disciples preach his resurrection. They jailed Peter and John and arraigned them before the rulers, elders, and teachers of the law the next day.

Here was Peter’s opportunity to strike a deal and gain some influence among the religious authorities of the day. Here was a perfect opportunity for inter-faith dialogue and resolution. He could try and sway these men to himself. After all, if these men supported the gospel, won’t it have a better chance at growing and expanding?

Peter didn’t see that opportunity because he was not a 21st-century nice guy. All he saw were sinners who needed to repent of their sins. All Peter cared for was the command of his Lord to preach the gospel.

Peter’s previous boldness was not because he was talking to ordinary men. He looked at this cross-section of religious leaders in the eyes and confronted them with their part in crucifying Jesus and rejecting the stone that has become the capstone (Acts 4:8-11).

It was here, before the cross-section of Jewish religious leaders, that Peter made that famous (though neglected or overlooked) statement: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

No mincing of words. Judaism, with all of his rituals and regalia, will not save any man. If you reject this Jesus Christ, you are all damned. I guess Peter did not take a course in inter-faith dialogue. He laid it bare – salvation is only in Jesus, and everything else is a highway to perdition.

Peter was so courageous that the religious leaders were awe-stricken. Luke told us that they saw the courage of Peter and John.

But every courageous man has his breaking point, right? So they thought. They commanded Peter and John to stop preaching. Peter and John did not nod their head and then went out to disobey. Right there and then, they rejected such injunction: judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.

We only have two choices: obey God or men. There is no middle point. In God’s evaluation of things (the only evaluation that matters), there are no nice guys; there are only obedient and disobedient guys.

God or men, that’s the question.

They issued more threats and later allowed them to go away. These are not the men you would silence with threats. These are not the men that will obey the whims and caprices of men (and disobey God) because of threats from the rulers and authorities. They will defy men to obey God.

A chapter later, the apostles were back in jail. The angel rescued them from the prison and immediately, they went to the temple courts preaching. They were apprehended once more to stand before the Sanhedrin.

They reminded the apostles of the earlier warning and threats. But the apostles had the same message: we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). They reminded the Sanhedrin that they killed Jesus. God has commanded us to preach about the resurrection and exaltation of the man you killed, and nothing in the world – not your threats, not the desire for ‘peace’- can stop us.

The apostles did not mind the threats and persecutions. They could care less if they have ‘influence’ with the culture. They had only one concern – obedience to their Lord.

Turning the world upside down  

Someone said he counted nineteen riots and public disturbance that arose because of the preaching of the gospel in Acts.

The apostles were not like us – peace at all cost. If the price of peace was silence, they would not deal. They remembered the words of their Lord: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Mathew 10:34-35).

The Jews at Thessalonica described the believers as those “who have caused trouble all over the world.” That is not the kind of description that will win you influence and reputation.

It reminds me of Elijah. Ahab also called Elijah the troubler of Israel (1 Kings 18:17).

They were not seeking troubles. They were only obeying their Lord. However, if obedience to their Lord (to confront idolatry or preach the gospel) will bring a sword, so be it.

Again if the price of peace was silence, they would not deal. They didn’t want to be the peaceful, nice guy if it means disobedience to their Lord – either through a refusal to preach the truth of God’s word or to confront the sin of the culture.

These were men of courage and boldness who proclaimed God’s words and confronted the unbelieving world.

Like master like servants

Jesus was loving and compassionate, but he was not a nice guy. He did not entrust himself to those who saw his miraculous signs because he knew what was in men (John 2:24-25). Instead of helping a man who came to him to persuade his brother for a more equitable distribution of the estate, he confronted his covetousness (Luke 12:13-14).

The rich young ruler did not get a pass despite his high status. Unless he sold all that he had, he wouldn’t be a partaker of the kingdom (Mathew 19:16-24). He would not engage in petty talk with Nicodemus: except you are born again, you will not see the kingdom of heaven (John 3:1-3).

He called out woes against the Pharisees (Mathew 23) and dispersed the money changers in the temple (Mathew 21:12-13). He allowed some of his disciples to walk away (John 6:66-67) and confronted those who followed him because of bread (John 6:22).

Jesus was not a nice guy. He told the truth to people’s faces. He was willing to upset people (why else would they crucify him?) if they do not love the truth. Jesus was not trying to be the nicest man in town. He was not trying to win enough social capital so he can become king.

The world hated Jesus (John 15:18). They persecuted him. They hated his teaching. They called him Beelzebub. “Crucify him,” they cried. Like the servant in that parable, they would not have him rule over them (Luke 19:14).

Christ told us that we should not expect less. If we remain his disciples, the world will hate us. Because Christ has chosen us out of the world, the world hates us. Like they persecuted our Lord, they will persecute us. We cannot expect better treatment than the master (Mathew 10:24-25).

The disciples were willing to bear the wrath of the world and obey Christ. They had the courage and boldness to stand for God’s word and truth and confront the unbelieving world. They didn’t seek influence and glory. Instead, they were happy that God counted them worthy to suffer like their Lord.

Our generation has lost that courage. What we seek is influence with the world. We want glory – seated in the highest places. We want peace. We don’t care about the offense of the cross (Galatians 5:11). We want to strip Christianity of everything the world finds repulsive. Our desire to please man outgrows our desire to please God.

We throw away every doctrine the world does not want to hear. We play deaf and dumb to the sin of the culture. We turn ourselves to motivational speakers and leadership gurus. “All men are good, they just need to be told how to be better,” we say. The gospel has become nothing more than an instrument for a fulfilled life (health, wealth, and happiness).

No one will hate you for telling them they can be healthy, wealthy, and happy. No one will hate you when you are silent about sin and affirm the universal goodness of everyone. No one will hate you for motivating them and giving them six or sixteen steps to live their best lives now.

We can no longer shout the (true) gospel from the rooftops because we can’t speak against sin. We no longer call men to repent and believe in Jesus. We can’t get them to repent because we already told them they are good people who only need six steps to be better. Neither can we call them to Jesus because we have told them (explicitly or implicitly) Jesus is just one option among many.

The boldness and courage of our fathers in the faith, we now despise. We are weak-kneed men and women living for our comfort and convenience. Since we are always in bed with the culture, we cannot speak against it or defy it.

We look at ourselves and applaud – what a nice guy we are! God looks at us and shakes his head. We have sold our birthright for a bowl of red stew.

Friends of God or friends of the world

Peter and John have set out the real issue before us: obedience to God or men. In James’s language, we are either friends with God or the world.

God does not recognize nice guys. Here is his evaluation: “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven”(Mathew 10:32-33).

To deny Jesus for twitter likes, a large congregation, book deals, invitation to write for Washington Post or speak at TedX, a seat at the table, funds for our institutions is to disown him. Those who disown him before men, he will disown before his father.

Our decision to be the nice guy is not without consequence. Those who follow the Lamb will receive the wrath of the beast, and those who follow the beast will receive the wrath of the Lamb. The world may not hate you, but God will disown you and destroy you with the unbelieving world.

The beast can only hurt the body of those who follow the lamb, but the lamb will destroy in hell the body and soul of those who follow the beast (Mathew 10:28). Twitter likes et al. can be sweet now, but like they say, “it will end in tears.”

We are like Demas, who forsook Paul because “he loved this world” (2 Timothy 4:10). We love this world so much – its praises, hypes, acceptance – and we despise God. We are like the leaders who loved the praise of men more than the praise of God (John 12:43).

There is a place in hell for cowards: But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)

The cowards are in the same list as the murderers, sexually immoral, and idolaters.

God will have none of it.

The offense of the gospel

Christians don’t go about offending anyone they meet. But we preach the gospel, and Paul reminds us that the gospel is offensive (Galatians 5:10-11). It offends Jews and Gentiles (1Corinthians 1, 2). The natural man does not want to repent of his sins. The natural man does not like to acknowledge a higher authority than himself.

The gospel of grace and the Lordship of the Christ who we preach is an offense to the world. The true children of God are those who are willing to dare the world and its offense in faithfulness to the truth of the gospel. They are willing to call people to repent. They are ready to preach the whole counsel of God.

God’s people are those who think God’s thoughts after him. They are not silent, where God has spoken. They approve what he approves and condemn what he condemns. They stand tall for the truth, let man and his offense be damned.

They are like the apostles who would rather obey God than men. Instead of diluting the word of God to give men a pass, they call men to repentance and true life and freedom in Christ. They are counter-cultural not because they are weird but because the ways of the world are different from the ways of their master.

God’s people don’t want influence and a good reputation with the world, the smile of their Lord, the “well done good and faithful servant” is enough for them. They don’t mince words; they don’t use winsomeness as an excuse for cowardice. They only have an audience of one – God.

Before they preach, shoot a video, write an article, they are not thinking, “how can I say this in a way that does not offend the world;” instead, they are thinking, “how can I say this in a way that honors and glorifies God and not offend him.”

Conclusion

In recent weeks, John Macarthur has exemplified for us what Christian courage looks like. He, together with the elders of Grace Community Church, decided to open the church contrary to the stipulations of the state governor.

If you want to know why they decided to open, catch it up here.

Here is a man who will obey Christ and defy a double standard, hypocritical government. When he was threatened with arrests, he said:

“If they want to tuck me into jail, I’m open for a jail ministry. I’ve done a lot of other ministries and haven’t had the opportunity to do that one, so, bring it on.”

Bring it on! Here is an 81-year-old Pastor who would not submit the authority of the church to Caesar but would gladly go to prison for his Lord. He does not care about influence and reputation with the world. He will dare the government of a state if it acts contrary to the commands of Christ.

Such boldness and courage are what we need as believers; the lack of it is the reason for the weakness of the church in today’s world.

May God destroy the coward in each of us.  

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