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Op-Ed: A Good Friday Reflection on Our Unfavored Savior

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Thankfully, being Christian is not a popularity contest. If it were, God’s people would be in trouble, according to a recent Pew Research survey.

The study evaluated American perceptions of evangelical Christians and a variety of other religious groups, including Jews, atheists, Mormons, Roman Catholics, Muslims and mainline Protestants. Perhaps unsurprisingly, of those Americans who are not themselves born again or evangelical, 32 percent had an unfavorable view of evangelicals while only 18 percent had a favorable view.

Being viewed unfavorably could be construed as a problem. Indeed, it may point to a problem if evangelicals are viewed unfavorably because we are living in a manner inconsistent with the gospel.

When we try to play the world’s games according to the world’s rules, we fall into a trap that Augustine described as pursuing the “well done, well done” of “human society” so that we “take pleasure in being loved and feared, not for thy sake, but in thy stead.” We cannot compromise our Christian convictions to gain the world’s favor.

As we prepare to celebrate Easter, which is in part a commemoration of the suffering and death of Jesus at the hands of those who found him unfavorable, evangelicals need not be overly concerned with being well-liked.

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There were times throughout Jesus’ life when “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). There were also moments when large crowds came to hear Jesus teach or to be healed (Matthew 4:23-25, Mark 1:29-34). Yet, despite his benevolence and compassion, Jesus became a controversial character because he did not compromise himself or adjust to the expectations and desires of those around him.

If we accept Jesus, we do so on his terms. If we reject him, we do so because we are unwilling to be what God requires.

Jesus was not trying to win a popularity contest. He lived according to the will of the Father (John 5:30). No temptation (Matthew 4:1-11), impending suffering (Matthew 26:36-46, Luke 22:39-46), pain or humiliation (Matthew 27:27-31) could sway him from being who he was and doing what the Father had sent him to do (Luke 23:26-43). He did not compromise who he was or seek to bend the will of God to gain favor with those around him.

Being viewed favorably was one possible outcome of the life Jesus lived. Many committed to Christ. Yet, as the crucifixion demonstrates, Jesus was not irresistible. Many saw him as a threat and a fraud. In the end, those with sufficient influence and authority determined that Jesus could not be allowed to disrupt the way of life that gave them wealth (Luke 16:14) and prestige (Matthew 6:5).

The way others view us is not fully under our control. Among other things, Jesus’ crucifixion reminds us that being favorably or unfavorably viewed should not be the litmus test for Christian testimony and activity.

Still, freeing ourselves from the heavy yoke of other people’s perceptions does not mean we can pursue our own agendas with no regard for others. Like Paul, we are to “become all things to all people, that by all means [we] might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

Paul is not advocating that we live without boundaries or convictions. Though he becomes “as one outside the law” so that he might “win those outside the law,” he recognizes that he remains “under the law of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:21). Paul does not prioritize his rights and freedoms over the lives of others but sets them aside “for the sake of the Gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:23).

Our rights and freedoms are not unimportant. Even Paul claims his rights as a Roman citizen in certain circumstances (Acts 16). However, rights and freedoms cannot take pride of place over God’s agenda. Like Jesus, we must be willing to give up our freedoms and set aside even our most legitimate concerns because we were not redeemed to determine our own course, but to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called” (Ephesians 4:1).

Having been redeemed, we now have the opportunity to “know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10).

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As we remember the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ this Easter, we would do well to remember that Christ has delivered us from eternal death to a life in which we have been freed for obedience. As author Jonathan Tran notes, “charged with nothing but obedience,” we are “freed for obedience.”

As such, Easter confronts us with the responsibilities that come with committing to follow Jesus. Those responsibilities may not make us particularly well-liked. A world with no vested interest in making disciples for Jesus Christ cannot always view favorably those who seek to imitate Christ in an uncompromising fashion.

As we contemplate the resurrection, then, we will find that while we have been saved by grace through faith, we are also saved to mirror the resurrection, having been buried with Christ in baptism “in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

In doing so, we must seek to align ourselves with God’s agenda so that, whether we find favor with others or not, it will be because they see Christ in us.

The views expressed in this opinion article are those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website. If you are interested in contributing an Op-Ed to The Western Journal, you can learn about our submission guidelines and process here.

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After working in higher education for over 15 years, Dr. James Spencer currently serves as president of the D. L. Moody Center, an independent non-profit organization inspired by the life and ministry of Dwight Moody and dedicated to proclaiming the Gospel and challenging God’s children to follow Jesus. His book “Useful to God: Eight Lessons from the Life of D. L. Moody” was released in March 2022. He previously published “Thinking Christian: Essays on Testimony, Accountability, and the Christian Mind” and co-authored “Trajectories: A Gospel-Centered Introduction to Old Testament Theology.”




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