The Sneaky Way We Avoid Self-Discernment
If you’ve been a Christian for any amount of time you’ve come to the realization that citing Matthew 7:1 is not an acceptable way of getting someone to clam up when the discussion moves to areas of your personal or devotional life. Jesus doesn’t ban us from evaluating the spiritual state of co-heirs to the promise, but instead shows us how it ought to be done.
So as Christians we accept that our lives can and should be examined. Our brothers and sisters will know us by our conduct (Matthew 7:16-20). Observational love toward one another is a measure stick by which people will know you to be a disciple of Christ (John 13:35). We’re even called to seek to save those who are entrapped within sin for the purpose of saving them from hellfire (Jude 23). In each instance, we’ve got to be able to make a judgment call according to the standards put forth in Holy Scripture.
The problem is, even Christians who understand and affirm this to be true, don’t like to have their lives challenged (or even examined for that matter). So people do their best to get around any chance of critical examination. These are the two most common ways it’s done, from my experience:
You see, the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). This one is a favorite for those who simply don’t wish to take action or think about the spiritual state of someone else. Acknowledging the unrepentant sins of your child, or your spouse, or boyfriend, or girlfriend, or friend-friend, or Great Aunt Sally, or Pastor, Elder, or Congregation is going to require some action (see above). So if someone is asking about the spiritual estate of a Christian that ought to know better, the issue can be quickly be dismissed by invoking the magic clause “You can’t know their heart”. Allow me to demonstrate:
“Is it really wise for this unmarried couple to go on an overnight vacation to the beach, free of any accountability?”
“You can’t know their hearts!”
“All I ever see from this guy is bitterness, rage, anger, condescension and intolerance. I’m beginning to worry that he may not be sav -”
“You can’t know the heart!”
“Darth Vader sure does choke a lot of people to death in fits of rage…”
“You can’t know his heart.”
Uttering that phrase instantly stops the conversation in its tracks. Forcing the person asking the pesky questions to acknowledge that only God knows a person’s heart — that we may well be surprised by who enters into eternal rest in Christ Jesus, as well as the ones who don’t. Problem solved. Issue avoided. The only known solution is to respond with “duh” and continue the conversation.
This particular phrase is the one most utilized whenever we are directly faced with an inquiry, or even an idea that we’d rather not give any thought about. And sometimes, it’s true. You can rightly say “I’m not called to do that” if someone is asking whether you ought to be a Pastor, or an Elder or Deacon for that matter. But we use the term as a way of avoiding the process of thinking about issues relating to living the Way. And that’s where the trouble comes in.
Take for example a baptist and a Presbyterian discussing the sacrament of baptism. The Presbyterian explains why he thinks baptizing the children of believing parents is a proper biblical practice. The baptist, not swayed by the argument, responds “I’m just not called to baptize infants.” You see the problem? It’s not an issue of whether we’re called to something but whether it’s biblically acceptable to hold the position or act the way we do. And some issues are legitimately difficult to parse (such as baptism) and fellowship ought not be destroyed because we hold contrary opinions informed by Scripture.
Claiming that “we’re not called” to do something is usually irrelevant. Because as a follower of Christ, you ARE called to obey his word. So if someone is suggesting that there may be an issue with modesty on account of the Gene Simmons – level tightness of the cut-off shorts & halter top you’re wearing to church the acceptable response isn’t “I’m not called to wear less revealing clothing” but rather “Here’s why, biblically speaking, I feel this outfit is appropriate.” Another example is home-schooling. There is agreement among believers that teaching children is a responsibility God has entrusted to parents. My wife and I are both convicted that God entrusted this duty on parents with the expectations that it not be delegated to someone else, but that the parents themselves personally see to it. So often times, people will ask why we home-school, and we’ll give that reason (along with others). Nine times out of ten, the response isn’t any sort of engagement or biblical discussion, but a simple “I don’t feel called to do that.” The trouble with this is that we’ve rejected the opportunity to apprise and evaluate our actions in light of the Word in favor of the “do what you feel” mantra of post-modernist thinking. And many Christians don’t even realize they’ve done this, because of the Christian-ese language used throughout the process.
So, the next time conversation arises, think before you utter the terms “I’m not called to do that” or “you can’t know the heart”. Are they relevant? Is it truly an issue of calling or is it an issue of obedience? Are the actions of the brother ambiguous enough to not shed light on the state of their soul, or are you ignoring a dead vine? You get maybe 5 minutes to talk about something substantial on Sunday, don’t waste them with these modern Christian clichés!