“Oh, so you’re a part of this church? You know pastor so-and-so? You attended the conference for ministry and evangelism sponsored by that group? You attended that seminary? Then you must be a real Christian.” We don’t like to admit that we carry little mental checklists for who is “good enough” to be considered a real Christian and who isn’t, and it’s usually based on superficial labels and not on faith at all.
In countries where Christianity is well established, the ugly side is religiosity and pride. It manifests in a desire to judge, condemn and ostracize anyone who doesn’t appear to fit the norms of the ruling culture. The Bible has clear requirements to discern what is true salvation, and who belongs to the true Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of course we need to be wise to stand against the lies of cults. But in church social gatherings, few Christians take the time to “test the spirits.” Instead, they’d rather use that list of labels and “who-knows-whos.” If people don’t fit the list, they are usually ignored, gossiped about and socially rejected within the church. Those who do fit the checklist are proudly displayed, given positions of responsibility and spiritual authority in churches. And some of these well-qualified leaders with perfect credentials have also been the cause of infighting, ugly power struggles and church divisions. The checklists are basically meaningless.
But on the other hand, how many people did God choose to represent Him who didn’t match the perfect checklist of their culture or religious climate of their time? God saw the purity of their faith and the motives of their hearts and said, “Yes, these are My children.” Moses, Joseph, Ruth, Gideon, David, John the Baptist, the twelve disciples, even Jesus Himself were outcasts or rejects in some form or other. They were eyed suspiciously, but God didn’t care. In fact, it seems that God often chooses those that don’t have the perfect resume to be used for His glory. He chooses those who are even offensive to the religious powers-that-be.
We need to be careful not to snub anyone who reaches out to us because of a label or rumors we’ve heard. The Holy Spirit gives us discernment as we see others with the eyes of compassion, no matter what has been said about them. Are they from a troubled background and need help to find God? Is their bitterness against God just a mask to hide deeper pain? Is their zeal for a certain religion a sign that they are searching for the truth and haven’t found it yet? Or maybe we’ve totally misinterpreted who they are because we’ve labeled them out of our own ignorance. Maybe God wants to teach us something through them. Neither should we feel offended if religious people snub us. If they slandered Jesus, why should we deserve better treatment? A natural consequence of being a true believer is to be misunderstood by false (or weak) ones, and God expects us to deal with it in grace and forgiveness.
If I am certain of my salvation, why should I be afraid to speak to anyone else? Why would I be intimidated by an atheist, a Satanist, a cult member or a false Christian? If I know the truth, then no one can steal it from me, and perhaps my assurance of faith can even help someone else find salvation. And if they dislike me or pressure me to change? No problem. It’s a positive challenge to show the love of God to them while also speaking the truth boldly, in the faith that the seed I plant would eventually bear fruit. And if you think I’m being deceived by false doctrines, don’t gossip about me to others without knowing the truth, and please don’t run – try to save me! Maybe you’ll discover that your preconceived ideas about my faith were totally wrong.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and is already in the world. You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world, and therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are of God, and whoever knows God listens to us. Whoever is not of God does not listen to us. This is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. 1 John 4:1-6, MEV