When faith fails to inform our public life, is it really true faith?
I’m asking in the context of a political season in which candidates often are asked about their guiding values. Some respond in the safest way possible: “I’m privately religious.”
Translation: “I can be a Christian and not let it get in the way of my public life.”
To be fair, this mindset is hardly unique to politicians. I know this from experience; more on that later.
The public nature of faith is something all Christians get confronted with as we seek to follow Jesus Christ; true faith cannot be hidden away or marginalized for the sake of being approved by others.
Am I being too harsh?
Consider these words of Jesus in Matthew 10:33 (New King James Version): “Whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.”
Or these words, in Mark 8:34: “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
Or even these, in Matthew 5:-14-15: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.”
I’m stringing those statements together so that a theme surfaces: Christ is not looking for closet followers. True followers pay a price: the price of self-denial, and it is the design of the Gospel to call God’s people out into the open, for God’s glory.
Faith in Christ must inform our public life, because faith encompasses all of life.
Why do you suppose there is this tendency to want to keep faith in Christ, and the implications of following him, hidden in the closet of private life?
Let me suggest two possibilities:
First, it’s possible that the desire to hide, or keep faith compartmentalized, is an indication of spiritual fraud. Jesus doesn’t call disciples to embrace him only as a get-out-of-hell-free card. He calls actual followers: sinners chosen by God, saved by his grace, and transformed by his spirit so dramatically that association with Christ is publicly unambiguous.
The second possibility pains me to mention, because I’ve experienced it personally. For many years I lived a duplicitous life. I believed in Jesus, but my faith really didn’t inform my living. In other words, I was a hypocrite.
But the same grace that saved me awakened me to my duplicity. And the experience has not been wasted. It may be why I’m so passionate about this undercover Christian stuff and tender toward those struggling with it.
Rather than condemning those who play their faith close to the vest, I’d prefer to encourage them.
The Apostle Paul said this to duplicitous Christians, in 2 Corinthians 13:5: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you are disqualified.”
Paul is simply saying that a sober examination of our lives, public and private, evidences the true nature of our faith in Christ. Openly acknowledging Jesus and ordering our lives by his truth bears evidence of genuine faith.
The lack of such evidence ought to concern us, if we claim to be Christians.
Let’s not let self-protection, or the culture, persuade us that our Christianity must be kept private, irrelevant to the rest of our lives. Our Christianity is not a segment of life, it is all of life.
Jesus died for us publicly. Shouldn’t we live for him publicly?