by Eric Davis, The Cripplegate
You’ve heard it said. “I don’t want to be known for what I am against, but what I am for.” “Christians should be known for what they are for, not against.”
It sounds good and noble. After all, a ministry or person that only speaks of what they are against is missing out on much of the content and emphasis of the Bible. Often these are self-proclaimed discernment ministries who do little more than step on others as they stand higher. In so doing, they have veered from Scripture. Pastors are to preach the inspired, inerrant text of Scripture. We will have to twist, avoid, and misinterpret much Scripture if we only speak in terms of opposition.
But more to the point. Should Christians avoid being known for what they are against? Here are a few thoughts for consideration.
- That’s not the way to wisely approach life in general.
Imagine a mom who takes this ideology. “Yeah, kids, I don’t want to be known in my mothering for what I’m against. So, you know that Twinkie-Koolaid-Cheeto diet you keep mentioning? I don’t want to be known as against that anymore. Go for it. Oh, and I don’t want to be known for being against you running out into the street, having to come home before dark, and taking indiscretionary time on the internet, so, go ahead.”
Consider a salesman who did not want to be known for what he was against in his job. “Hi Mr. Client. I don’t want to be known for what I’m against, so, honestly, all of the inferior products out there are excellent too. Just invest in whatever one. I am for all of them.”
Imagine an oncologist who did not want to be known for what they were against. “Well, I don’t want to be known for what I am against, Mr. Patient. So, I’m not going to take a firm stance against tumors, metastasis, and cancerous growths. I want to be among the oncologists who, instead, are known for what they are for.”
A post Genesis 2 society requires that we be known for what we are against. Faithfulness, generally in life, requires being against things. To be faithful, a mom will need to be against things. To be a faithful salesman requires being against things. Faithfulness as an oncologist necessitates being known for being against things. In every sphere of life, the goal is faithfulness. That is generally how we seek to operate. That will mean sometimes being for things, sometimes being against things, and always faithfulness to God and love for people in the task.
2. To construct and conduct a good, stable society, we must be known for being against things.
To promote and propagate a loving, flourishing society, we must be against things. And it should be known that we are against things, as a society.
Loving people means we need to be against rape and murder. Recognizing God’s image-bearing means we must be against racism and prejudice. It means we are against unnecessary war. Value for human flourishing means that we are against anarchy and stealing. To construct and conduct a good, stable society, we must be known for being against things.
3. The person who wants to be known for what they are for is also known for what they are against.
The guy who wants to be known for what he is for is known for being against things. He is known for being against being known what he is against. Perhaps he is known for being against other things. Maybe he is known among his friends for being against vegetables that do not have the organic label on them. Or, he may be known in his spheres for being against not working out four days per week, a certain political view, and other ideologies. Perhaps he is also known for being against those who would be against him.
Whatever the case may be, the person who wants to be known for what they are for cannot escape that they are known for what they are also against. The difference could simply be that it is more socially fashionable in certain sub-cultures to be known for being against the particular things that they are against. So, the real issue is not that they want to be known for what they are for, so much as it is that they want to be known for being for a particular subset of currently trendy ideologies.
4. There are things that God wants us to be known for being against.
The God of the universe wants to be known for being against things. Take the Ten Commandments, for example. Eight out of the ten involve an explicit command to be against something. God is against other gods and the worship thereof (Exod. 20:3, 5). God is against making objects which represent him (Exod. 20:4). God is against carrying his name in an unworthy manner (Exod. 20:7). God is against murder, adultery, stealing, lying, and coveting (Exod. 20:13-17). And regarding those commands stated in the positive, we can conclude that God wants us to be known for the contrary of those things. In other words, God wanted his people to be against forsaking the Sabbath (Exod. 20:8). He wants us to be known for being against dishonoring our parents (Exod. 20:12).
A look into Leviticus explains many more things that God’s people were to be known for being against (e.g. Lev. 18-20). “Well, these are only commands against something. That doesn’t mean that we are to be known for being against them.” Israel, the original recipients of these commands, was to be a holy people to the nations. They were to be known for their differences, which meant being known both for things they were for and against.
The New Testament instruction is similar. The apostle Paul indicates that the Ephesian church was to be against things like living as unbelievers (Eph. 4:17, 22), falsehood (Eph. 4:25), stealing (Eph. 4:28), unwholesome speech (Eph. 4:29), grieving the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30), bitterness (Eph. 4:31), unforgiveness (Eph. 4:32), immorality, impurity, and greed (Eph. 5:2), and “filthiness…silly talk, or coarse jesting” (Eph. 5:4). Paul instructed them to be against “unfruitful deeds of darkness” to the point that they would “even expose them” (Eph. 5:11).
Paul wanted his people to be against false doctrine to the point of exposing and eradicating it (1 Tim. 1:3, 4:1-4, 4:11; 2 Tim. 2:25, 4:2). In fact, elders are commanded to “exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9), which will mean being known for being against those contradicting doctrines. In the case of unsound teachers and teaching, Paul commands church leaders to “reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13). There, Paul calls out specific doctrines and beliefs that he was against, and that Titus and the men he trained were to be against. Later, Paul exhorts Titus similarly, “These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (Titus 2:15). Obeying that command would mean, in part, Titus being known for some things both that he was for and against.
Peter also assumes that God’s people would be known for what they were against in their hostile, first century Greco-Roman culture. “In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you” (1 Pet. 4:4). Apparently, Christians there were known for being against things in pop-culture to the point that the unregenerate were amazed that they were against them. And that was a good thing according to Peter.
Does this mean that God only wants his people to be known for what they are against? Of course not. We are to be known for loving our neighbor as ourselves, glorifying God, and studying the Bible. We are to be known for the unregenerate putting faith in Christ for salvation. We are to be known to have a zeal for good works in the name of Christ (Titus 2:14).
5. The ministries of godly men in Scripture were known for what they were against.
If God’s people are not to be known for what they are against, then the ministries of men like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Micah, Zephaniah, Haggai, Malachi, and John the Baptist were in disobedience to God. If that’s the case, then their ministries were outside of God’s will.
6. Jesus was known (and hated) for what he was against.
Jesus was hated by many people in his culture because of what he was known for being against. He was against an attitude which could not receive correction. He was against the idea that we should not make waves but just keep everything smooth and calm. He was against the demeanor which could not handle rebuke, reproof, and confrontation of sin. He was against the attitudes of self-promotion, self-actualization, and self-glorying (Matt. 23:5-6).
In what way was he known for being against such attitudes? Those attitudes characterized those against whom Jesus often spoke; the scribes and Pharisees. They could not stand it when Jesus confronted their sin (Matt. 21:45-46, Mark 12:12, Luke 11:45-46).
The reason they plotted his execution is because he was against those aforementioned ideologies which characterized them. Jesus was known in his decadent, self-indulging culture as someone who was against many such things. And they hated him for it.
7. Much of the content in the NT epistles is against something.
Many of the New Testament books were written specifically to oppose and correct some teacher and teachings. The Holy Spirit could have inspired these letters under many different circumstances. Several of those circumstances involved a letter where both the divine and human author (and by extension, the true NT church) was to be known for being against things. Those letters have now made it into the most widely selling book in history. Those who read the book with eyes to see understand both that there are many things that God, and his people, are known for being for and against.
For example, the letter of 1 Corinthians informs the world that God’s people are to be against self-promotion and self-aggrandizement (1 Cor. 1-2), self-ambition in ministry (1 Cor. 3-4), bragging (1 Cor. 4), refusing to carry out church discipline (1 Cor. 5), inter-Christian lawsuits and sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6), unbiblical divorce and aimless singleness (1 Cor. 7), self-centeredness in liberties (1 Cor. 8-9), and unintelligibility in corporate worship (1 Cor. 14).
Similarly, Galatians is written to let all know that God’s people are to be against the idea that one could be acceptable before God apart from justification by faith alone in Christ alone. Colossians was written to let all know that God’s people are to be against ideas that Christ was anything less than truly God and truly man. At the same time, God’s people also say that we are emphatically for the opposite of the aforementioned errors, namely, the truth.
In Peter’s dying words in 2 Peter, he spends 22 verses showing how much he is against false teachers and teaching (2 Pet. 2:1-22). John and Jude do similar in their epistles.
Much of the content in the NT is explicitly against something. Therefore, it is an inaccurate and myopic motto for God’s people to say, “I only want to be known for what I am for, not against.” Such a motto will have to depart from the Holy Spirit’s work in much of the New Testament. To stay consistent with the content and force of Scripture, one will have to, at times, be known for what he is against.
8. A desire to not be known for what we are against can come more from culture than Scripture.
The idea of, “I want to be known more for what I am for, not against,” seems to originate from outside Scripture. It sounds ominously like king Ahab’s ideology: “There is one man by whom we may inquire of the LORD, but I hate him, because he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil” (1 Kings. 22:7-8). Ahab only wanted someone in his midst who was known for what he was for.
Perhaps this ideology is an indicator that we have become more like culture than Christ. Decadent postmodernism is really at an all-time high these days. It’s hard to not get wet when we’re in the water. So, for some who say, “I want to be known more for what I’m for,” here is what has happened: they are culturalized to the point where any type of correction is loathed. Correction and a polemical edge are like nails on a chalkboard. When an individual or ministry is not speaking against something, it gets a pass. However, when someone is needing to be against something, they cry foul. The underlying self-actualizing, decadent attitude fuels a hatred for necessary correction. This then colors the individual’s perspective. The result is that they can, and will, only see the individual in terms of the thing they hate, which, in this case, is being against something.
9. We should ask ourselves our motives for not wanting to be known for what we are against.
Let us ask ourselves, “What is my deepest motive for not wanting to be known for what I am against?” Complete the sentence as honestly as possible before God: “I really don’t want to be known for what I’m against because I really want ____.” What fills that blank?
The human heart can be so deceptive. We can take good things and make them idolatrous things in an instant. A desire to be loving can quickly degenerate into the gross idolatry of loving that people know that I am loving. A desire to love sinners can swiftly mutate into the idolatry of lusting that people know that I am different than those stuffy Christians; I am accepting, cool, and tolerant. A mind to simply love people can transform into the ugly idol of craving that people know how diverse my friendship base is. The human heart is truly wicked. In an instant we make idols such as love for praise, lust for approval, and craving to be known as fresh and new.
Could it be that the ideology of, “I don’t want to be known for what I am against,” has some gross idolatry fueling it?
10. God’s goal for us is neither that we would be known for what we are for or against.
The Bible does not command us to not be known for what we’re against or for. God’s goal is broader. “Do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person” (Eccles. 12:13).
Neither is there a command to be balanced. Rather, the command is to obey God for his own glory. Better than thinking of being balanced is being obedient, comprehensively so.
Love to our neighbor and God require a measure of being known for what we are against. Love to our neighbor and God also require a measure of being known for what we are for. But, the goal of the Christian life should be neither. I should not preach to myself, “I need to be known for what I’m against,” nor, “I need to be known for what I am for.” God’s word does not favor either.
Instead, Scripture gives a plethora of commands for the church to carry out. They all fall underneath the great anthem, “Do all to the glory of God.” Being known for what we are for is not more in line with glorifying God than being known for what we are against. Inherently, neither is more attached to glorifying God. There may be situations where being known for being against something is more glorifying to God (e.g. false doctrine, prosperity gospel, arrogant pride in the church). And there may be situations where being known for being for something is more glorifying to God (e.g. loving our neighbor, evangelizing the lost, the sinlessness of Christ, the substitutionary atoning death of Christ, the grace of God abounding to sinners). For preachers, we are for obedience to God in faithfully preaching the next verse. In doing so, that might look like being against something, depending on the text. For all Christians, things like cultural sins and doctrinal aberrations may also require being against something.
So, next time a brother or sister speaks against an issue, consider an alternative to thinking, “We need to be known for what we are for, not against.” Consider instead something like, “We need to be known for faithfulness to all of God’s word. That is going to mean being for and against think, depending on the situation.”