The church cultivates a faith-shaming culture. Christians are berated when they expect God to honor what he said and to grant them what he promised. Jesus practiced only doubt-shaming. And he did a lot of it. He did not insinuate his displeasure. He bluntly scolded people for their doubts. Contrary to what some Christian teachers claim, Jesus demanded faith not only from the religious leaders and his immediate disciples, but he demanded faith even from those common people who were suffering. When a desperate father pleaded, “If you can, please help us,” Jesus shoved the responsibility back to the man and said, “If I can?! All things are possible to him who believes.” The man hurried to say that he had faith, but confessed that he had some unbelief. On another occasion, a woman fell at his feet and begged him to save her demon-possessed daughter, but he refused until she showed him some faith.
When I behave the same way, Christians would attack me as insensitive, and ironically, as not “Christ-like.” This is one of the criticisms against those who emphasize Scripture’s teaching on faith to receive from God. The complaint is that when you demand people to have faith in God and to overcome by faith, you make them feel guilty and ashamed. This is supposed to be wrong. They claim that life is hard, and a Christian teacher is supposed to acknowledge it. The same people attack a “seeker-friendly” gospel, and keep talking about sin and repentance, sin and repentance, sin and repentance. But what about the sin of unbelief? And what about repentance for being weak? God demanded even Jeremiah to repent when the prophet showed weakness as he faced hardship and danger. “Where is God when I hurt?” Man, where is your faith?! You see, these people love to talk about sin and repentance when they refer to things that they feel comfortable enough to confront, but when the subjects truly begin to threaten their religious pride and identity, suddenly it is insensitive and even unbiblical to mention them. The truth is that they love a seeker-friendly gospel, but one that is friendly to themselves, and not necessarily to anyone else.
Was Jesus callous? No! Don’t you get it? He refused to patronize the people. He refused to treat them like they were hopelessly inferior to the religious elite. Can’t you see it? Faith in God is what brings people out of the abyss. Faith is what saves you from meaningless and unnecessary suffering. Faith delivers you from this hostile world of sin and death. Jesus loved the people. He had an overwhelming compassion toward them. True love does not offer mere comfort, but it connects people from faith to faith, and drags them out of their troubles, even if it takes a miracle. When you are desperate, that’s when you need faith the most. You don’t want to be excused from it. Our message is that if they reached God by their faith, then you can reach God by your faith. Does this sound like heresy? Bad hermeneutics? For those whom God has called, it is the best news they have ever heard, the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Most of those who came to Jesus in faith did not know God’s promises nearly as well as the Pharisees did. Many were the common people of Israel, who were not theological professionals, and did not have the same access to Scripture. But they had faith, and the scholars did not. Some of those who had the strongest faith were Gentiles. They barely knew enough about Jesus to assume that he could help them, but their faith dwarfed the scholars and zealots. In one case, Jesus said, “I have not found great faith like this in Israel.” In another instance, even though he already denied the request, he relented when the Gentile woman insisted on what she wanted by faith. Jesus said that many from all corners of the earth would sit together with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but those who were religious insiders would be cast out into darkness. Many who present themselves as defenders of orthodoxy are in fact unbelievers. This is not some theory for us to ponder just so we could then admire our own profundity. It is a reality. It is happening right now. Look around you. The people that seem to be most religious, most knowledgeable, most strict about their orthodoxy, most zealous for discussion — many, so many of them, will burn in hell.
Jesus said that you will recognize them by their fruit. What does this mean? He said that a good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit, and a man speaks out of the overflow of his heart. In other words, among other things, fruit refers to what a person says. The religious scholars said derogatory things about Jesus because their hearts were evil. You will recognize false prophets and false teachers in the same way. They will say the same things that the religious scholars said. Just as the false teachers attacked Jesus in his day when he performed signs and wonders, the false teachers of today will react the same way against the ministry of faith, healing, prophecy, and miracles that is performed in the name of Jesus. They called Jesus a deceiver, and a magician. They said he manipulated the people, and worked miracles by the power of demons. The false teachers say the same things today, even though the Christians that they attack are saying and doing the same things that Jesus did on the basis of his teachings…well, precisely because they are saying and doing the same things that Jesus did.
You might think that the prominent theologians and apologists of our day are exempt from condemnation. Perhaps they are misguided on certain issues, but they are safe from judgment. Surely they are the servants of Christ. This is a dangerous assumption. The Pharisees defended the law of Moses and the resurrection of the dead, but when the Giver of Law and the Prince of Life became a man and stood before them, they killed the fellow! And then they went after his disciples! They were the theologians and apologists of orthodoxy, but Jesus said that they could not escape the damnation of hell. Why? Perhaps their words were sometimes correct, but God said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” They did not really believe. Their religion had nothing to do with God. They were only asserting their personal philosophy under the covering of the Old Testament religion.
Just because someone appears to teach and defend Christian orthodoxy does not mean that he is an exemplar of faith. All of this might have nothing to do with Christ. The Christian faith is what he prefers as a covering for his personal philosophy. It suits his personality, so that he would vehemently defend the Christian faith, because he is protecting his own identity. It does not mean he believes any of it. He might be one who honors God with his lips, while his heart is far from him. There is no need to be paranoid and suspicious of everyone. You will recognize him by his fruit. Watch what he produces and how he reacts. Like the Pharisees, when the situation becomes too real, when it comes demanding faith, when it comes expecting the promises and miracles of God, when it comes performing healing and prophecy, he snaps and kills the thing. There — he is a phony. If he hardens himself, if he attacks and criticizes, and if he conspires to stop it, then he is crucifying Jesus again in his heart.
And this is why he will burn.