by Mike Ratliff
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21 ESV)
In yesterday’s post, Watch Out for Those Who Cause Divisions, we looked at the fact that it is the duty of all believers to serve the Lord by being good soldiers, ready for battle to stand and contend for His Truth no matter the cost. Today we will look at the right and wrong ways this is done. It is vital for the apologist to know the truth and that is found only in God’s Word. Yes, some godly Christians speak and write truth from God’s Word, but the primary source for us is the Word of God. This is why it is vital that believers sit at the feet of good and godly teachers of God’s truth that they may know and love His pure doctrines. I have seen so many good Christians attempt to stand up to apologists for some man-centered version of our faith, but they are not prepared. This usually ends badly. The reason this happens is that these good people use tactics born in the flesh rather than from the humble, and wise heart that is submitted totally to the will of God. The enemy is an expert at inciting people to react emotionally to what they perceive as wrong and this can lead to snippy arguments that produce only bad fruit.
I have many rules for commenting on this blog. For instance, I will delete comments that contain attempts to discredit someone else by using a personal attack. For example, a few years ago I wrote an article using scripture and some quotes from Martin Luther. The quotes from Luther were used primarily to get his take on what the scripture passage said in light of the subject of the post. However, one fellow did not like what the post was about nor did he care too much for my blog, the ministry of CRN, or me in general. Instead of using exegetical arguments to show that I was wrong in using those passages to make my point, this fellow attacked the character of Martin Luther as well as mine. He ignored scripture and went to discredit me personally and indirectly by showing that Martin Luther was all sorts of things that he felt cast him in a bad light. He accused me of not being too bright plus many other things that I do not care to go into right now. In any case, not one of his arguments cast any doubt on the truths in those scripture passages or my exegesis of them. His tactics were designed to discredit me personally and indirectly by trying to do a character assassination of Martin Luther.
It was from that experience that I developed the rules we still use on this blog. There are many opponents in the visible Church to God’s Truth. They hold to man-centered non-doctrines mixed with enough Biblical truth to make them look appealing to the naïve. These fellows cause divisions in the visible Church. They sell their version of Christianity packaged in slick packages that rival that of any entrepreneur. I am convinced that many if not most of these fellows believe that they are right. They are not knowingly doing evil. Their problem is that, if they are genuine believers, they are not very mature. They are still convinced that our salvation is all about us and what we can do instead of about God for His glory alone. They have a huge problem with the Sovereignty of God because that cramps their concept of personal freedom. None of these things are the unforgivable sin though and we must remember that. On the other hand, those who hold to a version of the Gospel that is unbiblical, and there are many, are simply servants of our enemy.
That summary does not even come close to describing all those with whom we must contend. However, it should give you an idea of what we are up against. It is vital that our approach to “reasoning” with these people be done from a Christlike countenance. What do I mean?
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9-21 ESV)
We are to love one another. We must so abhor evil that even if those with whom we contend treat us evilly, we never repay accordingly. No, we leave the vengeance for this evil in God’s hands. We return good for evil. We tell the truth. We do not use their tactics, which are based in the ways of the world. Character assassination is their main tool, but we must not use it. There are so many times that I want to participate in discussions on other blogs or websites in which several “believers” are going at it against some apologist for what we consider to be wrong, but I refrain because the verbiage has already descended into escalating diatribes against the character of all involved. It is one thing to show the person with whom you are reasoning where they are wrong using scripture and godly wisdom, and quite another to resort to telling him or her that they are evil or stupid or vile or insincere or whatever. You get the idea. Never contend with these people on this basis even if they do so for this is conformity with the world. I know this because I have made these mistakes myself and have ALWAYS regretted it. It is far better to simply speak God’s truth in love than to argue based on character.
Now, don’t get me wrong; there is nothing wrong with contending with these people as you answer their jibes and insults by not allowing them to continue dirtying the water. This is the time to end the “discussion.” Warn them that you will not participate in that sort of thing and end it. Pray for them that God would break through the darkness in their hearts, drawing them to Himself as you move on. If you remain in the “discussion” then be forewarned that it is descending into fruitless arguing and you will more than likely suffer the loss of joy because you are operating in the flesh. This only hardens hearts and makes enemies.
Our Lord Jesus Christ most certainly referred to the scribes and Pharisees as a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 12:34; Matthew 23:33) as did John the Baptist (Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7). Does this mean that we can do the same thing when dealing with those that prove by their words and actions that they are apostate? These religious leaders opposed the ministries of both John the Baptist and our Lord. Some of them attributed the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan and, therefore, committed the unpardonable sin. However, we are not John the Baptist a Prophet of God nor are we omniscient like our Lord Jesus Christ. We are commanded throughout the New Testament to contend earnestly for the faith while also forgiving those who persecute us, praying for them, and returning good for evil. No, we have no license from our Lord to be name callers or to resort to character assassination in order to “win.” My brethren, this is hard. This is not normal for anyone, but is only possible for the mature, Christlike believer. How do we get there?
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)
Do you see the contrast the Holy Spirit had Paul write here? Those who are on the right path of spiritual maturity present their bodies as living sacrifices to God as their spiritual worship. This is holy and acceptable in God’s eyes. This means that we are not our own. We may be insulted or put down or falsely accused by those with whom we contend, but if we are living SACRIFICES then we are not self-focused at all, but are totally focused on God and His glory. The contrast is that those who do not do this are conformed to this world. They operate according to the ways of the world. They are self-protective. They are not humble, but are controlled by pride. However, those who are NOT conformed to this world are the opposite. They do not use the methods of debate that the fleshly do. They do not use character assassination, but rely only on God’s Truth in their reasoning.
How do they get there? They are transformed continually by the renewal of their minds. This is speaking of being immersed in God’s Word as a way of life. This is being in prayer and worship as one’s coram Deo. This is how we grow and mature as Christians. This does put us in circumstances that test us according to this. This proves us and matures us and then we grow in understanding and wisdom so that we know what the will of God is, which is always good and acceptable and perfect.
My brethren, what I have shared here may not be popular with some apologists, but this is our calling. We cannot bring glory to God by using the tactics and ways of the world. No, we are to take the high road of conformity to the character of Christ. Then we will be able to stand in the hottest battles, running full bore into the thickest part of the fight to contend as our Lord commands, but we never use any weapons but those given to us by Him, which are His wisdom and knowledge tempered by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control.
Soli Deo Gloria!