In past columns, I have mentioned that most people who oppose Christianity do not reject true Christianity, rather they paint a caricature of Christianity and then reject that. Sadly, many others buy into the caricature and never bother to find out if they are rejecting the message of Christ or a perversion of that message.
Worse, there are a whole host of people who think they are living the Christian life but, not having grasped the core of the gospel, are living religious Christian lives based on human traditions instead of being based on the Word of God. In the process, they provide the paint in bucketfuls for the caricature painters.
Three verses of Scripture are pertinent here, two of which are uttered by our Lord and the third from the pen of the Apostle Paul.
Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' (Matthew 7:21-23 NIV84).
Notice, if you will, He is talking about some who claimed that they preached for Him, that they did many good deeds for Him, but He says in effect, "I don't even know who you are because you never really knew me!"
Probably the most common misunderstanding that exists both in the world and in the church is that Christians are primarily people who do certain things while not doing other things. If that is what you believe, you have not understood the Christian message.
The message of Christ is not to do certain things, but to accept what He has done: we are to believe in what He did for us through the cross and resurrection.
Now, along the lines of people who think they are doing something good for God, Jesus told the people of His day that they had actually rejected the truth of God in favor of their trusted traditions (see Mark 7:9).
And Paul wrote, "I know these regulations look wise with their self-inspired efforts at piety, their policy of self-humbling, and their studied neglect of the body. But in actual practice they are of no moral value, they simply pamper the flesh." (Colossians 2:23 Phillips).
Sadly, when we start down the road of Christianity as just another set of religious rules and regulations that we must follow, we lose the very message we are sent to proclaim.
Satan loves it. He has all sorts of trophies lining hell's walls because he turned them off to the gospel by sending them very religious Christians whose entire emphasis was on outward appearances but lacked in vital relationship with Christ. I think this is where a lot of the caricatures of Christianity come from.
Paul, while writing the book of Galatians, addresses this critical area of the Christian faith. He vividly points out in that book that when the Christian trades the message of unmerited, unearned favor (grace) for religious traditions (works), they lose joy and peace and end up with a religion of striving and strife.
Many who reject Christianity today are rejecting not the true message of Christ but the skewed caricatures that we often paint.
John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org.