Superficial Marks of Christianity
I remember this song that said, “I used to smoke and drink and cuss... but now I’m saved.” The song always bothered me. Not because I believe that smoking addictions don’t kill (they do), or that drunkenness is a healthy, Spirit-filled approach to life (I don’t), or that cursing others reveals the love of Jesus (it doesn’t). It bothered me because so many Christians associate these types of things as the marks of a true Christian. So what ends up happening is that the superficial replaces the core virtues and outpourings of the Christian faith. The whole of God’s heart and purpose for humanity is that it would love Him with all its heart, soul, mind and strength, and that it would love each other as we love ourselves. Read Romans 12:9-22 where Paul defines the marks of a true Christian or Galatians 5:13-26 where we see the fruits of God’s Spirit working in the Christian. So what happens is that when we begin to substitute the core attributes of the Christian’s faith for superficial ones we have a distorted view of the Kingdom of God.
We can have a man who drinks in moderation, likes the occasional cigar with friends, bears tattoos and cusses occasionally as a bad habit, but loves and serves others in various ways because he loves Jesus. He's judged as a “bad” Christian. On the other hand, we can have a man who grew up in church, is squeaky clean, never drinks or smokes, doesn’t play poker, and never cusses, however, he still curses others with his words, he gossips, he’s greedy, he doesn’t serve others because he is self-consumed and those he does reach out to are those he shows preferential treatment to. He's looked upon as a “good” Christian. Yet he is not kind, patient, gentle, and lacks overall love. But he doesn’t smoke, drink or cuss because he’s saved. See the issue there? We end up missing the point of God’s law and more importantly Jesus’ fulfillment of that law that He wants to live out through us. Then we preach that to others who think the Christian faith is nothing more than control and conformity to a superficial form of morality. They only see a way to hypocritically look clean while being dirty on the inside. As Jesus said, “whitewashed tombs" (Matthew 23:27).
One of my favorite short lessons by the late R. C. Sproul was on this topic. Please give it a read or watch. It’ll only take a couple of more minutes of your time. I hope it blesses you and challenges you the way it did me.
R. C. Sproul Video Transcript:
“What tends to happen among Christians is they say, ‘Well, we’re going to show the world that we’re different. And what we are going to do is we’re going to show how different we are from the world, by refusing to participate in the world’s worldliness.’ Which means, ‘we won’t dance, and we won’t wear makeup, and we won’t go to movies, and we won’t play cards.’ I remember my first job teaching at a Christian college. I was hired to teach the Bible, and before the school opened, they had a picnic on the beach. Some students pulled out a deck of cards and started playing Bridge. And the dean came over and confiscated the cards. And that was my initiation to discover, to my horror, that the only card game that this group of Christians was allowed to play was Rook, the Christian card game. I said, “Rook!” I said, “Rook! I quit playing Rook when I was eight.” I said, “What are they going to do when they find out that their Bible professor plays in duplicate Bridge tournaments?”
It never occurred to me that there’s anything spiritual or unspiritual about contract Bridge. Imagine it. It’s absolutely incredible that that kind of thing emerges in a subculture. But what happens is we look around, and we see things that people in the secular world do, and we want to make sure that we don’t appear in any way like secular people. So we set up these artificial forms of non-conformity. Ladies and gentlemen, the kingdom of God, has nothing to do with Rook. Those are superficial types of nonconformity. If you want to be a nonconformist, in the biblical sense, be somebody who’s word can be trusted; be somebody who will do what’s right even if it costs them money. That’s different. It’s not that if everybody in the world is wearing white hats, we start to wear red ones. That’s not the nonconformity that the New Testament is talking about.”