If you weren’t raised in a Christian family, there’s a good chance that you have a defined, obvious time you remember, when you began to follow Jesus. If you were raised by Christian parents, the waters might be a little murkier. I’m pretty sure I got saved at 16. I underwent a fairly dramatic life-change. But then, my parents had shared the knowledge of God with me from my first days. I never remember a time when I didn’t intellectually know about God, consider myself a Christian, and even self-identify as a follower of Jesus. It was just that my life was a much more mixed bag before the Lord confronted me that winter night in 1994.
Which means that I have memories like these: I was 15, eating lunch, I think, in the courtyard of Hatboro-Horsham High School, and a friend (not a Christian at all) looked at me and said, “You say you know God, so why do you hate people?” I don’t remember having anything intelligent to say back. I did in fact hate people. There were kids at that school I couldn’t stand, and I talked about it all the time. And of course, this person who didn’t follow Jesus knew enough to see the hypocrisy in my actions, and call me out on it. He was right. It wasn’t the only time a friend who didn’t know God called me out for some inconsistency. Having real friends leads to that sort of thing. I say all this as a preface to the rest of this post—I am about to make a case that we followers of Jesus should become better at ignoring what non-believers say about us. That’s right. In 2020, we need to develop thicker skin—becoming less sensitive to the way people who don’t follow Jesus critique our life of serving Him.
But first, I just acknowledge, right up front, that many times people who don’t know Jesus do notice things about us, and God does use them, I think, to prod us to notice some blind spot. I am not above it. We are not too good to listen to others. And so, we should be up for it.
But is that the rule? Must we listen to everything people say about us? Must we listen to what the news says about us? What about activists on Twitter? What about college professors? What about celebrities? What about your friends or co-workers or classmates? How do you know when they have legitimate critiques about you, and when you can safely ignore their appraisals of your life as a Christ-follower? I’ll come back to this last point, but first, let’s remember a basic premise. I think we find it in Psalm 1:
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly.
This first line of Psalm 1 introduces us to the idea that there is something called “the counsel of the ungodly.” Everyone who wants to be blessed will not “walk” in it—in other words, they won’t listen to this advice and act on it. “Ungodly” just means people who have no knowledge of God, or no desire to be under his authority, or no interest in following Christ. “Counsel” is “advice that is concerned with moral and ethical decisions in life” (according to Allen Ross in A Commentary on The Psalms).
So what is “the counsel of the ungodly”? It is the advice, plans, wisdom and whole way of thinking of those who do not acknowledge the authority of God in their lives.
How does this counsel come to us? First, and most naturally, it comes to us person to person—someone in our lives who doesn’t acknowledge God tells us how we should think or talk, or what we should be doing. And here, we’re not talking about getting medical advice from a doctor, or advice on our car from a mechanic. We’re talking about life advice. Especially about the things affect the direction of our lives, and things that impact how we follow Jesus. People who don’t follow Jesus can be pretty quick to tell those of us who do how it should be done. Right?
“If you really cared about people, you would…”
“If you love God so much, why don’t you…”
“Unlike Christians, Jesus would be…”
It’s difficult enough when it’s face to face with people in your life, but today we have much more. We have the media (social and traditional), which has taken the thoughts of complete strangers, multiplied the number of people who may speak to us by the thousands, and then adopted an urgent, demanding stance—we must listen to them, all the time. Their concerns must dominate our lives. Their demands must dictate our actions. Their words must define our worlds. Their appraisals determine who we are.
And if we don’t listen? Mobbed. Sidelined. Cancelled.
Now, anytime the mob is big enough, there will, of course, be consequences for defying them. But Jesus told us not to worry about any of that. So fear is one thing we need to combat, but there is another danger for us right now in all of this, and it is this—we are in danger of thinking that, just because the voices are loud, or incessant, or powerful, we have to listen to them. Maybe I have to get on board. Maybe their concerns need to be my concerns. Maybe, if everyone says I’m a bad representative of Jesus, they’re right. And all the different media have become like a thick blanket of pressure always pressing down on our heads—the more we watch or listen or read, the more we feel the pressure, and if we’re not careful, it can become dominant.
Think about that for a second. I bet a lot of us know that feeling of pressure very well—the pressure to check in, to stay current, and then to lend our voice to the Voice of the Media itself. The more you look at it, the more you listen, the louder the voice in your own head becomes. But Psalm 1:1 invites us to come up for air. It invites us to consider the source. Who is speaking? Who is demanding my attention, or my allegiance? Here’s the test:
- Do they submit to the Lordship of Christ?
- Do they follow his teachings?
- Are they…Godly?
If the answer is no, then Psalm 1 says their voices can safely be ignored. God says it.
Think about the freedom the Word of God is offering us here. If they are not godly, we should not listen to them. They don’t know God. They don’t understand him. In fact, they are opposed to the rule of Christ, which means that they fundamentally misunderstand the world, and everything in it. Therefore, their counsel is unhelpful in any area that really matters. It may be prompted by a real situation. It may be a response to real pain, or anger at real injustice. It may even have some element of good intentions—a desire to help or try to fix the world. But it is not wise. It does not know what the real problems are, and it will not submit to the actual solution.
The problem is alienation from God and rebellion against Jesus.
The cause is sin.
The symptoms, my friends, are all the hate and injustice and inhumanity.
The solution, everywhere, always, to everything, is the same for everyone: Bow the knee to King Jesus; take his word as your command; be transformed by the Holy Spirit, and go live life free of sin. Think that won’t change things? Try it. When everyone does it, it’s called heaven. It would heal racial divides. It would heal systemic injustice. It would heal the gay community. Right? It would heal the war on the border of Russia and Ukraine and the trash-filled oceans and Kensington and every marriage and your anxiety…and everything else.
So…if a non-believer calls you out, here is a simple check to do: Are their observations, and is their advice, in line with the teachings of Christ and the rest of scripture? If it lines up, I may want to think about what they’re saying. If a friend calls me out for hating people, well, I should listen to him. But if they demand things that contradict the teachings of Christ, or place burdens on people Christ never would, or propose solutions that ignore Jesus, or act like they actually have the right to evaluate my service to Christ—that’s the counsel of the ungodly. We don’t have to listen to it.
We love them. But we don’t take their marching orders.