When Nonbelievers Act Like Nonbelievers

It is a trending comment among Christians:

Nonbelievers are going to act like nonbelievers.

As a caution against judgmental attitudes, this is helpful. It is also a good reminder that our goal is not to force superficial behavior but to influence spiritual transformation. As one theologian put it, we should not be concerned about a hole in the wall when the entire building is going up in flames!

I am wondering, though, if we are using this statement more and more as an excuse for passivity. Could we be defending our reluctance to be “salt” in our communities? We might hear comments such as these:

Laws can’t change the human heart, so don’t get involved.
You can’t legislate morality, so don’t speak up.
If you aren’t teaching the plan of salvation, then your priorities are messed up.

Physical Laws and Spiritual Laws

Perhaps we have forgotten that Scriptural directives are not rules that God made up so that Christians could demonstrate their loyalty to Him and develop character. Jesus noted that the rain falls on both the just and the unjust.¹ Because we are physical beings, the laws of matter and energy affect each one of us, whether we are believers or not. And because we are spiritual beings, each of us is also subject to spiritual and moral laws, whether we are believers or not.

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After all, as Warren Smith and John Stonestreet point out, “God does not inhabit our world. We inhabit His world.”²

Speaking Truth in Love

When others can benefit, we want to share relevant spiritual principles, just as we naturally would share physical ones. It is not pointless. It is kindness.

In Chuck Colson’s words, we are not imposing our beliefs; we are proposing a better way.³

If it is loving to warn our friends that the hot stove will burn them, then it is also loving to warn them that pornography will do the same. If we should tell teenagers that smoking cigarettes increases the risk of lung cancer, then shouldn’t we also tell them that cohabiting before marriage increases the risk of divorce?

nonbelievers

If we want to understand the physical laws of gravity so that we can gain from its force without being injured, then we will want to understand the moral laws of sexual behavior for the same reason. If we can recognize that severing an arm or a leg is a loss, then we can also acknowledge that severing a father or a mother from a child is a loss.

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Creating Platforms for the Gospel

We show compassion when we share these “common graces.” And even more importantly, we create effective bridges for sharing “saving grace.”

Jesus took the time to wash the feet of Judas, although that did not cleanse his soul.

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Jesus healed people of physical disease, although that did not give them eternal life. Many of His acts of mercy were temporal blessings. However, each kindness was motivated by love, designed to point to God and to create desire for Him.

By actively engaging in our culture, we can share God’s common grace with gentleness and generosity, seeking always to pave the way for the saving grace of Jesus Christ.


¹Matthew 5:45
²Restoring all Things: God’s Audacious Plan to Change the World Through Everyday People. Baker. 2015. page 21.
³http://www.breakpoint.org/component/blog/entry/12/27228
*last photo by FreeBibleImages.org

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10 thoughts on “When Nonbelievers Act Like Nonbelievers

  1. Wow, what a great article! I loved Colson’s quote. We are not imposing our beliefs, we are proposing a better way. Truly loving somebody means sharing what is true.

  2. Very interesting post. I too used to be very judgmental in my early Christian days. I have never heard that term per se, but I believe it does make believers humbled, recognizing had it not been for the grace of God, it would be them. It was them. So that fact, should make us gracious. It also helps us from getting frustrated especially with our loved ones because only God can change the heart from stone to flesh, and until he does that we remain in our lostness. But I agree, that does not excuse us and allow for passivity. How will they call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? (That’s where we come in, proclaimers of the gospel. Romans 10:14) Sorry for my long comments.

    1. Thank you, Barbara, for your comments. (Not too long, at all!) I appreciate your good points. And I thank you for being a faithful proclaimer of the gospel! Blessings to you.

  3. Tami, This is a very good article! It is so true! I was thinking too, we would no more watch a person struggling in the ocean (who can not swim) without going to rescue them! Why don’t we take Jesus’ word this serious in our lives, because it is no different?

    I don’t think we take the time to actual ask ourselves, (look in the mirror) does my daily life really represent what I say that I believe, or is it just a head knowledge.
    I am guilty! 1 John 1:9

    1. Thank you, Marge, for your great comments. I agree with you, and I must keep asking myself that same question. … You are a blessing.

  4. Well said, Tami. Sharing common grace, just like we share laws of nature, is a gentle way to point others to saving grace. Couldn’t agree more. Thought provoking words. Thank you.

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