In every culture, there are biblical principles and practices that are culturally acceptable; things to which even non-believers say, “Yes, that’s a great idea. Everyone should live like that.” And there are other principles and practices non-believers find reprehensible, saying, “I’ll never accept that.” Here are a few thoughts about the biblical doctrines non-believers find acceptable and the doctrines they find reprehensible.
Doctrines They Love
Christians often think the non-believing world has a totally skewed value system. We often deny what Paul so plainly stated: sometimes those, “who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires” (Romans 2:14). Much of God’s moral law is knowable by paying careful attention to ourselves, others, and the natural world. Our unbelieving neighbors have naturally discovered portions of God’s moral law and sometimes prove themselves to be more moral than some Christians.
There are some cultures where kindness, service, and love are seen as weaknesses rather than strengths. But thankfully, in twenty-first century America, our culture recognizes the virtue in selflessly helping others, being kind and generous, being gentle and compassionate. Even the most unbelieving people in our culture believe we ought to be kind and loving toward one another.
Christians can and should applaud these virtuous insights and behaviors whenever we recognize them in our culture. We ought to support our neighbors in their efforts to show kindness, compassion, and love. We should not be quick to say, “Yeah, but…” Or, “I would agree with you, except…” We should say, “Christians are also on the side of treating our fellow human beings well. On that, we are in total agreement.”
Unbelievers need to know that the absolute highest virtues in the church are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
So even when you disagree with someone politically or religiously, if she is promoting behaviors that are in harmony with Christian standards, then we ought to applaud her efforts. This is the place where friendships are formed. This is the place where unbelievers begin to give Christianity a fair hearing.
Doctrines They Hate
It wasn’t very long ago in this country that the sexual ethics of Scripture were acceptable even to unbelievers. People generally agreed that monogamous heterosexual marriage was healthy, natural, and beneficial to civilization. However, our culture has experienced a major shift in sexual morals.
Today the majority of young people in the United States not only see homosexual behavior as morally acceptable, but they see the Scriptural condemnation of homosexuality as reprehensible. For the most part, people in our culture believe sex is purely for personal pleasure and no one should be critical of someone else’s sexual behavior. They see Bible-believing Christians as homophobic.
Non-believers today generally dislike most of the Bible’s teachings about sexual behavior. The Bible teaches that marriage is supposed to be a living picture of the selflessness of Christ and the submissiveness of the church, lived out in a life-long commitment of love and respect (Ephesians 5:22-33). The Bible teaches that sex is only appropriate in the context of such a relationship (Hebrews 13:4). Unbelievers, of course, hate that Christians are so “narrow minded” about sexuality.
Furthermore, the doctrine that seems most repulsive in our culture is the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ. The unbelieving world absolutely hates that the Bible teaches Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6). It is generally accepted among non-Christians, that if there is a god, there must be many paths to him. When Christians are not willing to accept other religions as valid, our unbelieving neighbors see us as bigoted.
What to Do with This Information
There are many other biblical doctrines we could add to the “love” and “hate” categories, but we need to understand what to do with this information. Here are three thoughts from Romans 12:
1. “Do not be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2).
I wish I could say it is only unbelievers who hate things like the Bible’s teachings on sexual morals and the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus. Sadly, many Christians have become so conformed to the culture that they are beginning to think like the world. We must be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Some biblical doctrines may be difficult for us to accept, but if we want to follow Jesus we will listen to Him rather than our culture.
2. “Give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17).
When you’re speaking to unbelievers, try to see things through their eyes. Before you say or do something, ask, “How will they perceive this?” If you stand on a street corner telling non-Christians they’re all going to hell, you’re not giving thought to what is honorable in the sight of all. Find ways to communicate, “I understand where you’re coming from and how you see the world, but here is why you need Jesus.”
3. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
Twenty-first century Americans who don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God – but love things like kindness, peace, and gentleness – should look at Christians and say, “I don’t know about Jesus coming back from the dead, but I like the way these Christians treat people.”
Imagine if we really practiced what the Bible preaches:
- Live in harmony (Romans 12:16).
- Live peaceably (Romans 12:18).
- Never avenge yourselves (Romans 12:19).
- If your enemy is hungry, feed him (Romans 12:20).
Imagine how attractive that would be in today’s culture. And just think, that’s how Jesus has been telling His people to live all along. This is how we make a difference in the world, we overcome evil with good…even when they hate us because of what we believe and teach.
I love you and God loves you,