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About this series
Uncovering Counterfeit Christianity
The Pursuit of Authentic Christianity
What is authentic Christianity? Is there more to being a Christian than knowing a set of facts? Is it just an emotional feeling? How does a person know if he's truly in Christ? This series, from the book of James, helps each of us discover the biblical foundation of our faith and provides clear-cut tests for knowing if our faith is genuine.More from this series
It’s an old, country road, this is several years ago. It’s out in the boonies. And if you’ve ever driven out in the boonies in the country, there’s no city lights, there weren’t a whole lot of stars, it was really, really dark.
And if you’ve ever driven on a country road where you don’t even know where the lines are. They don’t have a lot of white in the middle. I was real tired, it was a holiday, so I knew a lot of people would be drinking. It was New Year’s Eve. And out in the distance, I see this motorcycle zipping in and out, and I’m thinking Uh oh, this guy’s drunk and he’s going to kill me when he gets near to me.
So I come around, it was just a tiny little bit of a turn, and this motorcycle comes and the light is right in the center divide and I’m thinking I’ve got to be careful. So I move over. And then in the flash of my lights there’s a reflection and at the very last second what I saw instead of a motorcycle that I assumed it was, because there was one light, there was another half or more of car on my side. And I jerked the wheel and I came that close to losing my life.
A fatal perception. I made a judgment based on something that I thought was true. It was based on some assumptions. It was based on some external data that I had. One light coming, you assume – what? It’s a motorcycle. A motorcycle in the middle, you get over quite a bit. A car that’s half way in your lane, you better get over more.
I want to talk about fatal perception. I misjudged what was before me and it almost cost me my life. But there are fatal perceptions in life, there are errors in judgment and discernment. We prejudge situations that are not only deadly in the physical realm like that, but can be deadly in the spiritual and the relational realm.
Susan Ashton tells a story of a teenage girl who was violently raped. And it took her a long time to get the courage, but eventually she got the courage and she thought, she didn’t know much about God, she would go to one of those churches. People, they have Bibles and they talk about Jesus and they talk about love.
And so she thought, You know something? She didn’t come from a very good home life. And so she is starting to show pretty good and she is scared. And so she went to try and get some help, to try and get some love.
This little teenage girl came to a church, probably one about like ours. A little bit smaller so one of those churches that if there is a visitor, everybody knows. This little teenage girl comes and she’s fairly far along.
By the middle of the service she can already hear the whispers, the whispers, the whispers, the whispers. The assumption? She is promiscuous. Here’s one of these pregnant teenagers. Here’s one of these immoral girls coming to our church. And the whispers began.
The service gets over and people begin to shun her. Heaven forbid, I don’t want my son introducing himself to her! She’s that kind of girl. I don’t want my daughter running around with that kind of girl!
And a hurting, desperate little teenage girl came to find God, because she was hurt, but people looked on the outside, and when they looked on the outside, they made some assumptions, they made some perceptions and she walked out of that church not helped, not loved, not accepted, not brought into someone’s home, not told about the love of Christ. She walked in and out of a place where God was supposed to be, rejected.
A fatal perception.
James is going to teach us in chapter 2, the first thirteen verses, that it is counterfeit Christianity when we judge other people by external factors. When we look on the outside of people and assume that we know what is going on in their lives and then treat them the way that we perceive them, he says it’s counterfeit Christianity.
The first test last week was that if you’re a doer of the Word, you’ve got the real thing. This week he is going to say how we treat other people, especially people who are different than we are, is the real test of whether we have the real thing.
In fact, his major concept, as you open the study notes there, is that those with a genuine faith value people for who they are, not for what they have or how they appear.
Now, here’s what I want to do. I want to walk through this passage with you. On the right hand side I put a very, very simple outline. On the left hand side I put the text, in case you forgot your Bible.
I want to walk right through it. And as I walk through it, I want you to ask and answer this question: God, will you help me tonight as I read your Word, because now that I really want to be a doer, God, would You help me to see how I see other people? God, would You help my heart and my eyes to be opened? That if there is any kind of person, or if there is an individual person in my life that You want to turn on the little light in the back of my mind so that I would see them differently, so that I could love them the way You love them, will You show that to me tonight? Okay? Would you pray that? I’ll give you a second right now. Go ahead. Just pray it.
God, if there is any person or any kind of person that I tend to prejudge, will You show me? Okay? He’ll answer that one.
Now let’s look at it. We have learned the context here is that pure and faultless worship involves being unpolluted from the world system. Exhibit A is going to be this command of: Don’t play favorites.
Notice what it says in verse 1, “My brothers,” notice it’s to Christians and it’s affectionate. “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.” This word, show favoritism, literally means: to lift up the face of, to receive favorably.
Three times in the Bible, other than this, this word is used. It’s all used of how God views people. Literally, it’s: Don’t look at things, lifting up the face, he is saying, “Don’t view people at face value. Don’t show partiality,” is the idea.
And it’s interesting, the only other times this word is used is Romans 2:11, “For God does not show favoritism or partiality. He is no respecter of persons.” In Ephesians 6:9, speaking of masters and slaves, masters are warned, “Treat your slaves in the same way; don’t threaten them since you know that He who is both your master and their master is in heaven, and with Him, there are no favorites.”
Colossians 3:25, “Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, because God judges everyone by the same standard,” no favoritism.
So what is the command? Don’t play favorites. Total prohibition against valuing others on any other basis than who God made them. You say to yourself, Well, I don’t do that. I love everybody, right? I’m an American! I live in Santa Cruz! We’re the heartbeat of diversity! I don’t play favorites! This is a good verse for my boss. This is a good verse for those people in other parts of the country that are racist. Boy, they should hear this one.
Let me play this out a little bit. It means that you treat and view everyone the same, regardless of their position, their power, their status, their wealth, their looks, their age, their education, the kind of car they drive, the kind of home they live in, their background, their race, their heritage. When you get up close, it doesn’t make any difference to you if you can tell the little insignia on the shirt lets you know they got it on a Blue Light Special from K-Mart or the little insignia on the shirt lets you know they got it at Neiman Marcus. It doesn’t matter to you.
You don’t judge people by what they wear, their kind of jewelry. You don’t judge them by what part of the country they are from. How much of that? How much of that do you find yourself when people have position and power and status? When someone comes in who is really important, how you, Ooh, ooh.
People who have wealth and position, and if, just secretly, you’d never say it out loud, but if you just happened to become friends of theirs, they might be able to find you a good job or do something nice for your nephew, of course.
How many times do you feel intimidated by people and treat someone with a lot of education or a lot of degrees or someone who everyone tells us is successful, a lot different than someone who just isn’t very appealing, not very educated, doesn’t have very good social skills.
It’s interesting, God has an awesome sense of humor. I know because we are made in His image and if we laugh, He must really laugh. And the last two Sundays we have had a lady come in on the nine o’clock service. And she is with our GEMs. I didn’t realize it until last week.
But our GEMs ministry is people who are mentally handicapped or mentally challenged or disabled and I don’t know the politically correct way to say it but she is a woman, probably in her late forties, early fifties. And she cannot speak well, probably has the mental capacity of about a five to six, maybe seven-year-old, max.
And the whole front row is empty at nine o’clock. And I’ve got my Bible right here and the place is filling up and I’m getting real focused, real focused. And she comes and stands and she points at my Bible. And I said, “Yeah.” And she points at my Bible.
And so there is the whole row. “Ma’am, you don’t understand, I’ve got to preach! Now, I’ve got to get focused, see?” And so she takes my Bible and she sits down right next to me.
And then she’s got this video because she’s got the video from the library and I learned later there is a part two. She’s got this video part one and she starts reaching over and trying to get my pen out of my pocket. And I’m kind of like, you know, think of yourself. You’re on the front row, you happen to be the pastor, there’s this lady putting her hands in your shirt, and you just don’t know how to handle this one, you know?
So you kind of hold her off a little bit and then finally you just give her the pen. And then she goes, “Coo, coo.” And what I realized, after I missed most of whatever we were singing, was that she had volume one of this video and she wanted volume two.
And I have to tell you, my initial reaction was, You know what? I really can’t be bothered with this right now. I didn’t initially treat her like someone who came in and said, “Oh, by the way, I’m a pastor from so-and-so, it’s good to be with you and how are you doing?” “Oh, great,” you know?
And then she came back the next week. And so we are worshipping. I’m getting a little freed up in my old age and I don’t know what it was but, boy, God really moved my heart and it was something about surrender.
And so I just put my hands out. Not high enough to offend the people that it would offend and not low enough to…just me up here in the front row worshipping God. Just about right here.
And I’m just, Oh, God, we bow down, or something. And I really want to, God’s dealing with my life, and then out of the blue I feel this hand. And now I’m deciding, Now, I wonder how you handle this. Am I uptight because there are a lot of people who think, Why is Chip holding hands with some other woman who we know is not his wife? And how am I going to respond?
And then she couldn’t really sing but, Ooooooo, and I decided God wanted me to go ahead and I patted her hand so that everyone around me knew this wasn’t a romantic moment. But I also wanted her to know that I cared about her, and that she mattered.
And then we had a time of prayer and I bowed my head and I prayed and then I just felt a hand on my shoulder. And not obtrusive. And for the life of me I thought, I am so uncomfortable; I must be so full of me. And I was just deeply aware that if Jesus came and wanted to put His hand on my shoulder, He just might do it through a lady like that.
And, see, the test of partiality is: How do we respond to people that when all the kind of stuff comes up inside of us and we don’t know how to deal with it, do we view them the way God does? He said, “That’s authentic Christianity, that’s the real thing, that’s when you see past the superficial.” And you don’t see the kind of watch, you don’t see the kind of rings, you don’t see the kind of car, you don’t see the letters, the education, or a lack of it, or the tattoos, or parts that are pierced, or the need of a bath. And you just see, Here’s a person.
And James is going to say, “When God’s real Church comes together and people have real faith, first of all, they are doers of the Word. And, second, they value people the way Jesus values people.” Not for what they have, but for who they are.
Now, notice how he is going to, after this command, develop the text. And maybe that problem that you didn’t have with favoritism might be sneaking up to the surface. It’s the idea of prejudice, actually.
“Prejudice,” Webster says, “is injury done to someone due to preconceived judgments or opinions without ground or sufficient knowledge.” Notice, now, the illustration. It’s a hypothetical scenario, actually.
A rich man and a poor man come together. Pick it up with me and read along as I look at verse 2. “Suppose a man,” James says, “comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring,” literally it’s gold fingered, “and in fine clothes,” which was a literally a bright toga that would represent wealth. In fact, people would often put on these bright togas when they were running for office and go to a lot of public places. You get the idea.
So a wealthy, or at least a man who appears to be wealthy, because I did a little research and found out you can rent those rings. You could rent a bunch of gold rings so you could go to a party and impress people. So that’s why it says he is gold fingered, not to be confused with James Bond.
“But suppose a gold fingered man with fine clothes comes in and a poor man in shabby clothes comes in. And if you show special attention to the man wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Hey! Here’s a good seat for you. Come on down front,’ but you say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’” literally, it’s that word, remember hupomeno? Under pressure? This, literally, is under my feet. Or, “you sit down,” one translation is, “You’re my footstool.”
“Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” It says a rich guy comes in or someone who appears to have it, and haven’t you discriminated? Haven’t you made a preconceived judgment about who has value and who doesn’t have value? And haven’t you taken the person that the world says has value, because they must have wealth and they must be important and they are a somebody, and you give them special attention and you say to this poor guy, “You know something? We’ll find a spot if we can. Tell you what, just sit down next to my feet.”
It says, “Haven’t you already become a judge?” What’s he mean? You have evaluated the value of two people based on the external. That’s partiality. “With evil motives,” where do the evil motives come from? Well, you’re thinking to yourself, You know, that rich guy might really help me out or maybe he’ll hear about the building program. Maybe we can use this guy. Counterfeit Christianity. It happens everywhere. Instead of saying, You know what? These people, through Jesus’ eyes, have equal value.
I remember being a new Christian, about two years old in Christ, and our ministry started to grow. And a fellow joined our ministry from New York, and he spent most of his childhood getting beat up in New York City. He was a first generation Slavic. His name is George Dzindra. And he kind of slurred his name like that.
And I don’t want to be detrimental, George has gone on to be a great man of God who God is using in an amazing way. But it’s tough being nineteen years old, totally bald, very strong facial features that were not real attractive, and a very strong accent with bad social skills. Other than that, he was a great guy to hang around with.
And George came to the Bible study, and at the Bible study with all the Bible study people, you’re supposed to be a good Christian and, “George, how are you doing?” He got in my small group and I was a whole year ahead of him, which meant I was a spiritual giant and I’m helping George get in the Bible.
And George, later, began to memorize large portions of the New and Old Testament. He became, really, one of the great leaders on our campus. And all the fraternity guys, what irony, came to him and he did counseling.
But this was before. And this guy had a self-image like that wall. And he had the social skills and he was a little bit loud, “Hey, Chip!” You know, like that. I’m going, “Oh…”
So, anyway, I’m down on campus. Bible study on Thursday night is one thing. I’m down on campus with all the cool guys. Basketball players, the cool looking, good looking chicks and I’m hanging out. And I’m in the student union and here comes George. And I’m going, Oh no. I hid from him. I hid from him.
See, I didn’t want George to see me and give me that, “Hey, brother!” See, I was ashamed of George. Why? Well, beyond being a hypocrite, was partiality. That’s what he’s talking about here. Why? Because, see, the basketball team and the sorority girls and the “in” crowd were about external popularity, success. And George was about socially unacceptable.
And in my skewed little mind of two years old in Christ, I treated one this way and one this way. And this is exactly what God is forbidding. And so can I ask you, before we go on, could you tell any stories like that, except from a few years ago? Are there some people who you feel pretty comfortable with, but heaven forbid, you wouldn’t want some of those Christian types coming at your work? Or over to a barbeque with some of the more movers and shakers? You know what I mean? Or are you the same you wherever? That’s what he’s getting to.
And you might say to yourself, Well, you know, is it such a big deal? Notice the explanation. He’s going to give us three reasons in verses 5 through 11, why this issue of partiality is not taken very seriously among God’s people, but God takes it very seriously.
He’s going to give us three reasons why discrimination and Christianity are totally incompatible. And I’ll tell you what, in America at least, because I haven’t been all over the world, boy, we need to apologize as believers to a lot of people, because we have not modeled this.
As believers, we ought to be on the front lines against discrimination and partiality and favoritism. And so often, when it comes between what our faith really teaches us versus what our culture teaches us, we often, as Christians, are more conformed to the culture than we are to what the Scriptures teach us.
As believers, we ought to be on the front lines against discrimination and partiality and favoritism. And so often, when it comes between what our faith really teaches us versus what our culture teaches us, we often, as Christians, are more conformed to the culture.
Well, let’s look at the three reasons. Reason number one is that it is inconsistent with God’s character, verse 5. He says, “Christianity and partiality, they don’t wash at all because it’s so inconsistent with God’s character. It’s un-Christian.”
He says, “Listen,” verse 5, “my dear brothers: Has God not chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised to those who love Him?” See, God cares for poor people.
Proverbs 14:21 says, “He who dishonors the poor man sins.” God shows no partiality. He chose the poor of this world to be rich in faith. Now, do the poor have some, like, special relationship with God? Not at all. Notice the little phrase that says, “He promised to those who love Him.”
But the fact of the matter is, poor people are a lot more receptive to the gospel, normally, than wealthy people. The Early Church was about eighty percent slaves or very poor people. God doesn’t have any special favor on poor people except they have this thing going for them. It’s called: They recognize their need.
See, if I asked you: When is your prayer life the most vibrant? When have you prayed with the most intensity, with the most passion, with the greatest sense of dependency, and you have seen God really come through? And I got a microphone and I’ll let everyone come up and talk about it, it would not be, “Well, I got a great promotion and everything is going great in my life.”
What would we talk about? We would talk about kids being in ICU, we’d be talking about crisis in our marriage where we didn’t know if our marriage was going to make it or not. We would be talking about getting laid off and having no way to pay our bills. It’s when you’re desperate, it’s when I’m desperate, it’s when life doesn’t make sense that my prayer life becomes unbelievably powerful and good.
And what he is saying to them is: God loves poor people and He loves rich people. But it is the poor people who are predisposed to be more receptive because of their need. And he says, “Here you are, people who God has a heart and a passion for, and cares for them, He allows them to be rich in faith because they don’t have a plan B.”
Travel the Third World. Third World Christians really don’t have big problems in their prayer life. Third World Christians talk a lot about heaven. They think it’s real. Why? Because they don’t have much here.
And so he says, “It’s inconsistent with God’s character.” If God doesn’t show partiality and if in fact God loves the poor, don’t you understand what you’re doing doesn’t add up?
Second reason, look at verses 6 and 7. He says, “It’s inconsistent with sound logic.” And he is going to look at their historical situation. The, “but you” is in the emphatic position. Warning lights, yellow lights flashing. “But you have insulted,” or literally, “despised the poor person.” Notice the contrast. God loves poor people but you have insulted or despised the poor.
“Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of Him to whom you belong?” Again in the emphatic position.
What is he saying here? Historical situation, it was the Roman aristocracy that had all the power. And if someone was in debt to them, they had a policy where they could go on the streets and if you owed them, they could call the guards and throw you in jail.
Well, eighty percent of the Church are the poorest people in the Roman Empire! Who are the people giving them a hard time? Who is persecuting them? Rich people in that culture.
And not only that, but what were they slandering? It was against the law to worship Christ and they were now becoming, all over the empire, they were called “Christ ones,” or “Christians.” And this noble or beautiful name that they were slandering is what? Christ!
And so he says, “You know what? This doesn’t make a lot of sense, guys. It really doesn’t make a lot of sense to me that the very people who are giving you
a hard time, the very people who are slandering the name that you love, the very people who are taking your fellow Christians and throwing you in jail, one of them walks in and you roll out the red carpet and treat them with…” he says it’s just logically inconsistent.
But you know something? We all do it. Because down deep, we want to be in the “in” crowd. I had to reach back many, many years. This will date me, but I was a sophomore in a very, very large high school, a huge high school. And sophomores, and really, it was only, in fact, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade. That was the high school. Seventh, eighth, and ninth back where I was, was junior high.
And so you were the lower classman and you got used all the time, and especially if you were in athletics, and I was getting it, really pushed down. And I was like one hundred and thirty pounds, all wet.
But something happened. And I had these three guys that I grew up with: Kevin, Merle, and Dave. And Kevin had freckles all over his body, Dave lost his dad when he was a young boy and was very shy, and Merle was just sort of one of those out there kind of guys. But they were my boyhood friends. They all lived around me; faithful friends.
Well, two of those guys went to this high school but something happened. The star basketball player went down, blew out his knee. So the coach went down and reached into the J.V. and found a skinny little sophomore guard and brought him up to the varsity.
Man! Overnight the cheerleaders were my friends. Overnight I was sitting with the varsity guys, hanging out, “Hey, man!” Giving guys high-fives, you know? I’m in the “in” crowd! And I remember Dave and Merle coming by, because we always ate lunch together, but I didn’t have time to eat lunch with them anymore. It’s obvious. They’re not cool, they’re not in, they’re not like me and the rest of the team.
I’m sure you would never do anything like this, but I did. And at home, it was okay. I would see them now and then but, you know, no time for them. Well, I was very arrogant and so the center on the football team, who was like the fifteenth man, who was only kept [on our team] to foul people. At the end of practice, I made a bad pass and he got it and I decided I would show the coach that I’m a real man, I’m going to set down and give it a charge.
And the guy got about to here and he said, “Forget the ball,” and he put his head down and he knocked me and I hit from the foul line and I slid all the way to the back wall and hit the back wall. And when I got up, this shoulder was about like this and my collar bone was broken, and that was the end of that season.
And he did it because I was an arrogant little guy who absolutely had a big mouth and really deserved it, but it still wasn’t very nice.
And so I got a brace and I slept in a recliner for about four or five days. And the very first day, that guy came and said he was sorry, as sincerely as he could put it. It wasn’t very convincing. And three people from the team came and said they were sorry. I never talked to or saw another person for the next six weeks. I was in the “in” crowd, now I’m out.
But there were three guys that came over every day: Dave, Kevin, and Merle. And you know what? I made a fundamental decision about life. I was not a Christian, I did not know God, but I saw how the system worked and I decided then, forever, I would never desire to be in the “in” crowd.
And you know, that’s exactly what James is saying. Exactly what he is saying. He says, “You know what? You all are so wanting to be on the “in” crowd you trade the values that are really true, temporarily, to have some superficial relationship with people who don’t really give a rip about you, because somehow you think it increases your social status.” Have you ever done that?
Find yourself playing up to people at work a little bit? Find yourself trying to get in with the people who are “a little more cool?” See, what James is saying is, “It’s illogical. It’s inconsistent with God’s character to show partiality. It’s inconsistent with sound logic.”
And now he is going to say, “Hey, it’s inconsistent with Scripture.” Look at verses 8 through 11. Now, he is using a literary device that he picks up here called a diatribe. And what that is is that someone, when you have said some things real hard to people, you sort of project this would be their answer. Because he just hit them pretty hard.
And so what they would be saying is, “Oh, no, James, James, you got it all wrong, baby! You don’t understand! We were just loving him! You know that part about the poor guy? Maybe we’ll clean that up a little bit. We were just trying to love this rich guy. Right? Didn’t Jesus say, ‘Love everybody?’ We’re supposed to love rich people, right?”
Notice now what he does. He is going to answer that question, because he uses a conditional clause. “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, which is, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”
See, what he saying, he says, “If, in fact, your motives are just to love someone, fine. But if, in reality, if in reality what you are doing is showing partiality,” and he knows it’s true. In fact, the second “if” there grammatically means a condition assumed to be true. He said, “Then the fact of the matter is is that you are a lawbreaker.”
And then you can almost hear, “Well, come on, James. What’s a little partiality? It’s not like murder. It’s not like adultery. It’s not a big sin. How big a sin can partiality be? You think of where we have come out of,” and notice what he answers, verse 10.
“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point,” notice the logical chain he is going to build, “is guilty of breaking it all. For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not commit murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.”
He said, “Any link in the chain of sin breaks your relationship with God; it’s all serious.” And if you don’t think so, let me share, I think, one of the saddest stories about the power of partiality.
If you think to yourself, It’s not that big a deal. I mean, come on, man. There are a lot of big sins, I’m struggling with most of the big ones. This partiality can’t be, like, even on the top ten.
Mahatma Gandhi, obviously, is one of the greatest leaders of all India. He championed the concept of non-violent protest. His life goal was to eliminate the caste system. He was the leader of the Indian Nationalist movement against British rule and considered the father of his country. He is internationally esteemed for his doctrine of non-violence to achieve political and social progress.
In his autobiography, he was deeply touched by reading the gospels. He seriously considered becoming a convert to Christianity. Christianity, it seemed, to Mahatma Gandhi was the real solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India. One Sunday, he went to a nearby church to attend services. He decided to see the minister and ask for instruction into the way of salvation and enlightenment on other doctrines.
But when Gandhi entered the sanctuary, the ushers refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go and worship with his own people. He left and never came back. “If Christians,” this is in his autobiography, “if Christians have caste differences also,” he said to himself, “I might as well remain a Hindu.”
James says, “Partiality is very, very serious business.” It’s inconsistent with God’s character, it’s inconsistent with sound logic, it’s inconsistent with Scripture.
And one of the greatest evidences of counterfeit Christianity that goes in name, that claims the name of Christ, that has people who sing songs and hold up Bibles and talk about love, is first is, they are not doers of the Word. They talk and don’t live it. And James says, “If that is true of you, then number one, if you’re sure you’re a believer, then rearrange your lifestyle and become a doer.”
But he says, “Second, the second acid test of authentic Christianity is people that don’t show partiality.” It’s people who have been so transformed within their heart and their mind that they actually don’t look on the outside of people, but they see through to the heart and they love people the way Jesus loves them, not judging the externals.
And so he ends this with a warning and an appeal. And the appeal is this, it says, “Speak and act,” literally, it’s, “So speak and so act;” it’s very emphatic. “So speak and so act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom.”
That’s the appeal. He says, “I want you to speak to people. And from now on, I want you to act as though you are going to be judged by the law, the law of love, the law of Christ that brings freedom to people,” that has the potential that a Gandhi could have come to Christ and think what would have happened to India because one church, one place practiced partiality and probably didn’t think it was a big deal.
They were more concerned about their culture than they were the command of Scripture. And so he appeals to them, “I want you to start thinking, I want you to start acting, I want you to start living like the kind of people who are going to be judged by this kind of law of love that brings freedom.”
And then notice the warning, “Because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment,” literally, “it boasts or exalts.”
And mercy is giving others what they need, not what they deserve. I would suggest, and this is one to ponder carefully, if you find yourself on a regular basis not giving mercy to other people the way God has granted mercy to you, you ought to go back and check the title on your Christianity and make sure you’re really a part of His family.
Because I want to let you know something, if you’re really a part of God’s family, you will become a doer of the Word of God, and if you’re really a part of God’s family and if you experience mercy, you won’t do it perfectly, but you will find yourself significantly and then blowing it and significantly giving mercy, giving people what they don’t deserve, and loving people the way Christ loved them, not based on what they have or how they look, but based on the reality that God made them and they have value.
I would like to end with a very specific application where you say to yourself, What does this look like at Santa Cruz Bible Church? What should we do? I have three suggestions for you. How do you avoid this pitfall of fatal perception?
Three things I would like you to write down. Three steps, actually. Number one, I would like you to consider accepting all people. Romans 15:7. We are commanded, “Accept one another just as Christ also accepted us.” I would like you to think of Santa Cruz County, I think of where you live, where you work, accept. That doesn’t mean you agree with, it doesn’t mean you condone their behavior, but it means you accept them the way Christ does. You give them a platform.
And I think there is nothing that could happen that is more radical than accepting people in Santa Cruz County that have AIDS. They are the lepers of our day. There is a little sheet in your bulletin. You can pull it out.
Do you realize the impact that could happen in Santa Cruz County if evangelical, Bible-believing Christians actually got very radical and said, You know something? We don’t really care how people get AIDS, but once they get AIDS, as you read this Project Grace, what you find is they are terminal. Their friends, their family, they suffer, they often can’t get to work, they often don’t have food, they often need a ride somewhere. Can you imagine if Bible-believing Christians, who really claim to love people the way Jesus loved people, they are the lepers of our day. Can you imagine what would happen if just a few hundred of us would say to Project Grace, “I’ll give one night a month”?
There is a guy at Mountain Bible Church named John. He has been beating his drum for about five or six years. It’s not a real big church. But it’s a church with a pastor with a real big heart.
I’ll tell you what, I think for most of us, if we could take some steps in an area like this, it would be amazing what would happen in the lesser areas, when we got down to finances and status and position and race.
And for some of us, we have a pretty broad section here and what would happen if you saw some people that just because of your background, they seem so bizarre. If you started saying, God, I wonder why anyone…I wonder what the hurts and the needs are that someone would put thirty or forty or fifty tattoos all over them. I wonder what cry of pain, instead of that internal judgment that goes in like, Man alive, what is wrong with people like that?
What would happen if, instead of judging people on the outside, some people who are a little bit more alternative and just because you see someone driving a nice car and they have a nice watch, what would happen if, instead of saying, Oh, man, see those rich people? They are this, they are that. I wonder what would happen if you knew the needs in their hearts and lives. There is a lot of reversal going on with prejudice as well.
There are a lot of people that, you know what they’ve done? They have worked very hard and they have been at the right place at the right time and they used their funds to bless millions of people and they happen to have a nice car and a nice house. To be very honest, most all of you fit that category, some a lot more than others.
This isn’t a message about feeling bad about what you have. This is a message about saying, Oh, God, I want to be authentic. But there is a generation of people that anybody that has anything, Oh, man, they must be this, they must be that. You know what? They might be the person who bought your seat so you can sit here tonight and hear the Word of God. That’s who they might be.
What would happen if we accepted one another? Wouldn’t that be a great place to start? No external stuff. Uh-uh. The moment your mind starts going down and thinking and judging and evaluating, Mm-mm, you stop. Romans 15:7, “Accept one another just as Christ accepted us.”
Second, pushing it here a little bit, but what about appreciation? What if we moved from acceptance, what if with every single person you said, “I’m going to find one thing I could appreciate about them.” For some of you, you’ll have to look kind of hard. That’s okay. They may be so different, so radical, their belief system may be so antithetical, but couldn’t you express some appreciation?
Can you imagine what it would do, especially when they find out you’re one of those Christian, bigoted, narrow, Bible-believing, evangelical, born again? See, there are a lot of pseudo perspectives of believers. You know how that will break down? It’s when we accept everybody just as they are. Condone? No. Agree with? No. But accept, appreciate, and then, finally, are you ready? Affirm. Build them, encourage them, smile, a moment of kindness.
There was one gal at one of these coffee roasting places and I confess, I grew up in the Midwest and, like, a tattoo is sort of different. And when they get multiple, multiple ones it was pretty new for me.
And this gal had as many earrings as could possibly be fit on one ear, and not that it was low-cut, and I don’t mean this pejoratively at all, I’m just telling you who I am and I’m telling you who this girl was and I’m going to tell you something so maybe God will help you.
And she would have her thing buttoned just one, two buttons. But you could tell there was this huge tattoo. Where or when I did not want to know. But there was a huge tattoo, because…just because, I could tell.
And so I got coffee and my first reaction was my Midwest root reaction like, My lands, I mean, gosh, if she ever takes those out she’s got, like, fifty holes in her ears and why would anyone put that big of a tattoo? And all that stuff, drinking my coffee, as I study my Bible.
And then I watch her treat people with kindness, and then I watch what a servant’s heart she has, and then after a while, I remember, she knows what I, I don’t even have to ask and she serves me. And then I realized, You know what? The person who is acting most like the Christian in this room is the girl with that tattoo and all the earrings, not the guy with the Bible preparing messages in the corner.
And I work up guts and pretty soon I appreciate and then I affirm and we build a little friendship and then I just got the courage, no one was around and I said, “You know, I’m, see, this is kind of my background. This is all kind of new for me. I just moved her a couple years ago,” and this was about eight years ago, nine years ago.
And I said, “This is so new, would you explain? I honestly, I don’t know, but I want to learn. Would you explain to me why people do tattoos? And I know you take a lot of pride because you have kind of a big one there, you know?” And you know something? She had a really good reason that made a lot of sense to her. And we became friends.
And she, for the first time in her life, met someone who carried a Bible, believed in God, believed in absolutes, that she found out wasn’t a bigoted jerk, at least once I got over my bigoted jerkness. And I found a multi-earringed, highly tattooed young woman, in fact, we became such good friends, I still remember the time, is she had an unusual haircut too. And she did something, it’s no big deal.
And I just remember, I started not looking from the outside and I came in one day and got my coffee, I said, “Man, your hair looks really nice!” And she had just done something different.
But you know what I realized? It did look really nice and it wasn’t about how she looked. It was about the grace of God working in my heart and the grace of God working in her heart.
And now we had a platform. Now, I wish I could tell you the story and came to Christ. I don’t know what the Lord is doing. I don’t have a fabulous, dramatic story. I was a regular guy, regular Christian, where God helped me see my prejudice and my fatal perception.
And God poked me around and helped me start to love some people who I wouldn’t love normally. And I think the gospel got a platform. And that’s what God is asking you to do.