This world thinks Christians are mad, and Christians feel the same way about the world. It is an old antagonism. When the apostle Paul was defending himself and the faith before a Roman ruler, that ruler interrupted his defense. “‘You are out of your mind, Paul!’ he shouted. ‘Your great learning is driving you insane.’ ‘I am not insane, most excellent Festus,’ Paul replied. ‘What I am saying is true and reasonable'” (Acts 26:24,25 NIV).
Why would someone of this world think that someone defending the Christian faith is insane? Was he simply ignorant of what the faith teaches? It would be a poor ruler who was not aware of what was going on in his kingdom. But he was not ignorant, and Paul knew this; for in his very next statement he said:
“The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner” (Acts 26:26 NIV).
Jesus used the same approach in his own trial before the religious authorities. “Jesus answered him, ‘I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues, and in the temple, where the Jews always meet. I said nothing in secret'” (Jn. 18:20 WEB).
Because believers in Jesus are commanded by him to be openly witnessing to the world, they are easy targets for all kinds of accusations, including insanity. In the world today, governments are increasingly becoming hostile to the Christian faith, sometimes subtly, often openly. This is in fulfillment of the Bible’s predictions about the end times.
“On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles” (Mt. 10:18 NIV).
Also in fulfillment of the last days prophecies of the Bible, we are seeing increasing persecution of believers worldwide, as the world’s false religions seek to rid their countries of Christians.
“A time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God” (Jn. 16:2 NIV).
But beyond governmental and religious persecutions of Christians because they hold a worldview considered aberrational by those of this world, surely the most painful is that lack of understanding the believer encounters within his or her own family.
“Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’ And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons'” (Mk. 3:20-22 NIV).
Even Jesus’ own family thought that he was out of his mind. The world thinks nothing of sports fans who dress up weirdly and act weirdly at sporting events, or of performers’ and audience dress and deeds at rock concerts, and a host of other such examples. But when a person boldly proclaims the truth of God’s reality and presence, then suddenly passion and zeal is deemed unacceptable and a sign of mental imbalance.
We should not be surprised at this. Nor should we be surprised if we suffer various trials as we live in this world, for this world is opposed to all that for which our faith stands.
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Ptr. 4:12 NIV).
The trial we suffer may not be as distinct and visible as an actual trial such as Paul experienced. Just living in a world opposed to God is a trial of faith. Jesus knew this all too well and reminds us of this:
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (Jn. 15:18,19 NIV).
The world hates those who love God and who has chosen them to be separate from the world because that separateness is a condemning testimony against the world and its values–and nobody likes to be condemned. God offers one way to escaped being condemned before him: through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1 NIV).
But the world seeks a different way to escape the condemnation of conscience when it is confronted with the holy lives of believers: It seeks to silence or get rid of those whose holy lives condemn their own sinful, rebellious lives.
“For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men” (1 Ptr. 2:15 NIV).
How foolish to ignore God’s warning to turn away from sin, given through the witness of those living in obedience to God’s law, and, instead, to seek to get rid of that condemning reproof. But that is what the world does.
“But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason'” (Jn. 15:25 NIV).
In order to justify their unreasoning animosity against God and his people, the world accuses those who have accepted God’s call to come out of the world of being unreasoning themselves. The world thinks Christians are mad or insane because they believe in an all-powerful Being who is invisible. But at the same time, they say that every human being should be free to believe as he or she sees fit. But all of this is a smokescreen to hide the real reason why the world is so antagonistic towards those who believe in God: It does not want God to rule over their lives.
When Moses sought to activate the moral rules of God’s Word to protect another human being from evil, one of his own people, a fellow Hebrew, reacted violently against him. Moses “saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, ‘Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?’ The man said, ‘Who made you ruler and judge over us?'” (Ex. 2:11-14).
And when Samuel was disheartened by the desire of the people to have an earthly king just like the heathen peoples among whom they lived (in other words, to be like the world instead of like God), God told Samuel:
“Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king” (1 Sam. 8:7 NIV).
Centuries later, this same rejection was found not only in the world but even in the religious leaders of God’s own people, when the Pharisees and other religious leaders rejected both John the Baptist as the forerunner of their promised king, and Jesus as that king.
“The Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John” (Lk. 7:30 NIV).
God’s purpose for those who had the discipline and other requirements to study his law was that they should use this religious training to lead the people into the ways of God, so that they could come to know him. But the Pharisees had become so proud of their position and great learning that they trusted their own intellectual understanding of Scripture instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to guide them into all understanding. Then when the promised king and messiah came to them in Jesus, their intellectualism betrayed them–and they betrayed Jesus, even accusing him of being of the devil (Jn. 8:48).
“Many of them said, ‘He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?’ But others said, ‘These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?'” (Jn. 10:20,21 NIV).
Here we see the two reactions of the world to the message of the gospel. One group cannot see past the strange happenings in anyone truly possessed by God’s Holy Spirit, such as the healings Jesus performed before their very eyes. They are so blinded by the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4) that they cannot even discern God’s presence among them and distinguish his miracles from the devil’s false miracles.
But there is hope for the other group. For they also may not yet believe, but at least they are discerning enough to sense that there really is something to what they have seen and heard and that that something should not be ignored or written off by calling it insane. They sense this in two places and ways: in the miracles performed and also by the quiet, reasonable manner in which those miracles are performed or in which the gospel is preached to them. For Jesus taught openly and quietly in the synagogues and often performed his miracles in the same manner.
“Even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father” (Jn. 14:11 NIV).
“He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets” (Is. 42:2 NIV).
“‘I have spoken openly to the world,’ Jesus replied. ‘I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret'” (Jn. 18:20 NIV).
This does not mean that Jesus never taught certain deeper meanings of his message in private to his disciples, only that there was no secret doctrine or teachings that contradicted his public message, as might be the case if he were the madman he was accused of being by the religious authorities. The openness of the gospel, its transparency, is one of its strong aspects, having power to penetrate even the barrier erected by the mind of one who cannot see any other possibility for reality than what he already assumes in his own mind.
Thus there is a pattern in the world of trusting the mind’s interpretation of what it perceives rather than humbling one’s self and knowing that the human mind is not unlimited in power and that there is more to what exists than what mortal man can perceive. But Scripture says that we are not to conform ourselves to this pattern of the world.
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:2 NIV).
How much better to aim to please God than to try to please man or the world–which is an exercise in futility anyway. For no matter what the sincere believer in God will do, the world will put a twisted slant on it and call him crazy.
“To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’
“For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. ‘ But wisdom is proved right by all her children” (Lk. 7:29-35 NIV).
Wisdom is proved right by all her children. . . . Right now, the world thinks believers to be strange and insane because they refuse to defile themselves with sin. But those who believe in Jesus are new creatures, no longer living in their old lifestyles of sin.
“For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do–living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you” (1 Ptr. 4:3,4 NIV).
But the rest of this passage reveals the final outcome of this insane response of the world to God’s warning to them of the witness of holy lives. The time is coming, even at hand, when true wisdom will be revealed and proven right by God.
“But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Ptr. 4:5 NIV).
Now the world judges the believer as insane and worthy of death for claiming to see (by faith) the invisible God. The world can react violently to such a person’s belief, as was shown in the case of the martyr Stephen:
“They were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. . . . They covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him” (Acts 7:54,57,58 NIV).
In stoning death of Stephen is seen the truth of the Scripture that says, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces” (Mt. 7:6 NIV)
But this world does not have the last word on what is reasonable and what is insane. The dogs of this world will have no place in the new, glorious kingdom of God where the insanity of this world is banished to the darkness beyond the gates of the new Jerusalem:
“Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Rev. 22:15 NIV).
This world thinks that Christians are out of their mind for believing in a God they cannot see. But it is only partially true that those who have the Holy Spirit of God through Jesus Christ cannot see him. They cannot see him through their physical eyes, but do see him through their spiritual eyes, through faith. They are not called believers for nothing. When Stephen, like Paul, was put on trial, he did see this invisible God:
“Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God'” (Acts 7:55,56 NIV).
Let all who believe in Jesus take heart at this bold affirmation in the face of death at the hands of those who call us insane because we say that we can see that which cannot be seen.
“By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Heb. 1:3 NIV).
“By faith (Moses) left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27 NIV).
“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb. 11:6 NIV).
“You can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you” (2 Cor. 5:12,13 NIV).
The world has its own view of what is real and what is not, a view based on what it perceives with its physical senses and what it thinks is reasonable based on the reasonings of the limited human mind.
“But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16 NIV).