About a month ago, I sat down with a Chinese friend of mine, a Christian who came to the Lord last year. I hadn’t seen him at any of the Chi Alpha events, so I’d given him a call. He said, “Scott, we need to talk, but I think we should do it in person.” Whenever someone says something like that, it’s usually followed by something along the lines of “we need to take a break.” So, needless to say, I approached this meeting with a little trepidation.
“I still believe in Jesus, but I just can’t come to any of the church things or really show that I believe.”
Ow. That just hits me right in the chest, like a freight train. I thought, hadn’t we talked about counting the cost before he became a Christian (Luke 14)? But then again, isn’t this something you knew could happen when working with international students?
I think, though, that there’s a parallel that we can draw from how my friend gave in to the demands of the politics of his homeland at the expense of his faith in Christ. Ever since JFK’s famed speech on religious tolerance where he said, “I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair,” Americans have embraced the idea of a private faith, something somehow separate from our actual lived-out lives. That idea is at the heart of my friend’s statement that “he’ll still believe in Jesus,” but not by coming to church or by exhibiting the marks of a Christian life. If being a Christian is just a “private affair,” then this would make perfect sense. But it’s not. Being a Christian is a very public affair, to the point that Jesus’ brother James writes, “Faith without works is dead” (2:17). Jesus tells us that we judge trees by their fruit (Luke 6:43-45). In other words:
Our faith isn’t real if it’s not lived out.
Now before we go high-fiving each other because we live out our faith, let’s consider one other aspect of my friend’s story. For my friend, when the chips were down and he had to make a tough choice, he chose his politics over his faith in Jesus—and that’s what we so often do, too. There are few things that make otherwise loving Christians spew such vitriol at their siblings in Christ as having opposing political views. We worshipped Jesus with someone on Sunday morning, but by Tuesday night, they’ve become our mortal enemy when we see their Facebook post about the debate. Or at least it would appear that way to the world.
I’m reminded of Paul’s command in 1 Corinthians 6 for Christians not sue one another. He says, “[O]ne brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers! The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?”
We shouldn’t have JFK’s private faith (as though such a thing exists), but neither should we allow our politics to overtake our faith.
My friend succumbed to both of these temptations. He went to Communist China a Christian, but left his heart there. He had more concern for the kingdom of China than the Kingdom of God.
It’s easy in an election season to allow our Kingdom minds become distracted and to prioritize our earthly citizenship above our Heavenly citizenship (Philippians 3:20). If you’re unsure if this is you, the next time someone contradicts one of your political beliefs at work or posts something on Facebook against the candidate you support, check your spirit. Does an anger, almost from nowhere, rise up in you? Does it make you want to say or write things that are unloving and unkind to your Christian brother or sister? Then you might be getting life from your political beliefs instead of Jesus, and it’s time to repent. The world will not end if the wrong person gets into office. We already know the end, and it doesn’t feature a white house, but a White Horse with a Rider coming in glory.