In recent years, an interesting tactic emerged for fostering dissent. Rather than trying to marshal support for a certain cause, certain parties were accused of a much simpler tactic: polarizing existing points of view against others.
The claim is that, in an effort to weaken one country, a foreign party just bought social media advertisements to promote both points of view. By presenting each viewpoint to those who were already leaning in a sympathetic direction, the result was that individual readers’ perspectives could be moved: from a moderate standpoint, to a stubborn loyalty to a given position. In doing so, anyone with a contrary stance would become more distasteful, and conflict would inherently grow. Of course, as Jesus said (and Abraham Lincoln famously quoted), division within a group – whether a country, a church, or a family – invariably weakens it, to the point of failure.
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.
Luke 11:17 NIV
It’s really quite clever and practical, after all. With this technique, unwitting victims don’t have to be moved from one side of the spectrum to another; they just have to be nudged farther away from others who think a little bit differently. However, this strategy isn’t new: Satan has been using this tactic of division for millennia.
Don’t get me wrong: I strongly believe that there are things that are absolutely critical to get right. It is imperative to secure our eternal destiny in Jesus. As God has commanded, righteousness and sin are clearly delineated from each other, and our obligation is to choose the former. We have a fundamental responsibility to help those in need, and to extend healing to the hurting.
However, when groups are driven apart, the topics don’t have to be doctrinal or even significant. Polarity can develop on a social issue, a political candidate, or something as simple as sports. In fact, I remember talking about cricket and soccer [football] with some colleagues from other countries once. I casually asked them what teams they rooted for, as we might do in my country. They said, “No, we don’t even talk about that”, and laughed. The potential for conflict was just too great, as loyalty to one team (at the expense of others) could alienate – or even create hostility with – those who supported another team.
In the same way, as followers of Jesus, are we polarized against other people, or against sin itself?
The following verses indicate that when we “gear up” with the armor of God, the fight is not against human beings (“flesh and blood”) but against much more insidious forces of evil.
Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Ephesians 6:11-12 NIV
Similarly, while Jesus did have strong words of warning and condemnation against those who were promoting sinful behavior (often under the guise of “religion”), His purpose was not the destruction of individuals. Instead, He came for lost people, as Paul wrote to Timothy:
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.
1 Timothy 1:15 NIV
As a fellow member of humankind, I understand the temptation to push back against people for a lot of reasons:
- There are those who just irritate or offend me, and about whom few people (at least, outside of the direction of Jesus) would judge me if I chose to seek revenge.
- There are those whose beliefs in Jesus don’t fully match my own. Even as those people seek to follow Jesus, their interpretation of specific doctrinal issues may contradict what I believe.
- There are those who demonstrate behavior that is clearly evil, or – worse yet – try and teach others to practice the same destructive behaviors.
I also realize that I have – from the perspective of righteousness – struck out against people in various categories like this, whether that be venting about my frustration with them to others, or in speaking out against them (rather than politely explaining my disagreement with their behavior or their beliefs).
Looking at the example of Jesus, it seems that we (including myself) are called to speak the truth about righteousness and sin, and to get the word out about a better life. Within the body of Christ, it is appropriate to study doctrine and discern the most accurate understanding of God’s truth.
However, if we seek to limit our actions to only trying to drive sin out of a fallen world, rather than rescuing people who are trapped in that sin, I think that we have missed the point. What if we, like Jesus, focused on rescuing lost souls from the sin-polluted world that we live in, showing them a better way? If we did so, I suspect that there would still be conflict between good and evil, and that Christians would be leading efforts to obtain justice for those who are oppressed. However, the underlying conflict between the saved and the lost would begin to dissipate, as those who had found the cure for sin’s effects shared it with those who so desperately need it. Then, upon learning of the better life that Jesus offers, all could fight against the sin that continues to hurt their fellow human beings.
Won’t you join me in promoting the unity of bringing lost people to Jesus the Savior, today? No truth ever has to be compromised. No evil ever has to be called good. Only the focus changes, from the sin to the soul.