In his book, “Can Man Live Without God”, published in 1994, Ravi Zacharias shared this story. I’ve heard him use this illustration in his sermons as well. It’s a powerful illustration that I would like to use to guide our devotionals this week. Sunday, we talked about the injustices that have been done by Christians over the years. Throughout this week, we will be looking at the way we live our lives in connection with this topic.
There is a magnificent story in Marie Chapian’s book Of Whom the World Was Not Worthy. The book told of the sufferings of the true church in Yugoslavia where so much wrong has been perpetrated by the politicized ecclesiastical hierarchy. That which has gone on in the name of Christ for the enriching and empowering of corrupt church officials has been a terrible affront to decency.
One day an evangelist by the name of Jakov arrived in a certain village. He commiserated with an elderly man named Cimmerman on the tragedies he had experienced and talked to him of the love of Christ. Cimmerman abruptly interrupted Jakov and told him that he wished to have nothing to do with Christianity. He reminded Jakov of the dreadful history of the church in his town, a history replete with plundering, exploiting, and indeed with killing innocent people. “My own nephew was killed by them,” he said and angrily rebuffed any effort on Jakov’s part to talk about Christ. “They wear those elaborate coats and caps and crosses,” he said, “signifying a heavenly commission, but their evil designs and lives I cannot ignore.”
Jakov, looking for an occasion to get Cimmerman to change his line of thinking, said, “Cimmerman, can I ask you a question? Suppose I were to steal your coat, put it on, and break into a bank. Suppose further that the police sighted me running in the distance but could not catch up with me. One clue, however, put them onto your track; they recognized your coat. What would you say to them if they came to your house and accused you of breaking into the bank?”
“I would deny it,” said Cimmerman.
“‘Ah, but we saw your coat,’ they would say,” retorted Jakov. This analogy quite annoyed Cimmerman, who ordered Jakov to leave his home.“Can Man Live Without God” Pg, 101-102, Ravi Zacharias, Word
Jakov continued to return to the village periodically just to befriend Cimmerman, encourage him, and share the love of Christ, with him. Finally one day Cimmerman asked, “How does one become a Christian?” and Jakov taught him the simple steps of repentance for sin and of trust in the work of Jesus Christ and gently pointed him to the Shepherd of his soul. Cimmerman bent his knee on the soil with his head bowed and surrendered his life to Christ. As he rose to his feet, wiping his tears, he embraced Jakov and said, “Thank you for being in my life.” And then he pointed to the heavens and whispered, “You wear His coat very well.”
I have used that sermon illustration several times in sermons over the years. When I do, I usually ask the question, “How do you wear His coat?”
This is an incredibly important question for us to wrestle with as followers of Jesus Christ. As we can see, throughout history, people have done horrendous things wearing Christ’s coat. While it is true that simply because someone did something horrible in the name of Christ, that doesn’t mean that Christ should be blamed. But that, unfortunately is what happens. People misrepresent Christ and as a result, people miss out on Christ all together.
The apostle Peter wrote in one of his letters to the early church:
“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. 13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”1 Peter 1:11-17
I included a lot of context here for a reason we will get to in a minute. But the verse to highlight here is verse 12: “Live such good lives among the pagans (unbelievers) that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
Another way of putting that might be, “Wear Christ’s coat in such a way that even if unbelievers wanted to find you guilty of something, their only response would be to turn to Christ.” This, though, is where it gets tricky and unpopular for today. Here is where many Christians have not worn Christ’s coat well.
He goes on to say, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor…or to governors…show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” You see, that’s not so popular today. American Christianity has adopted the rebel nature of our country’s founding fathers, as a result, we think it well within our rights to call into question our governing authorities. Part of wearing his coat well is honoring our governing authorities. Yes, even those with whom we disagree. I know many Christians strongly disagreed with President Obama, and many of them treated him dishonorably. This was wrong. Many Christians today are doing the same with President Trump. This too is wrong. We haven’t been wearing his coat well.
But it doesn’t stop there because Peter doesn’t stop there. He says to show proper respect to everyone. Remember, this is in the context of non-believers. Part of how we wear His coat well is by treating every human being with dignity and respect. That’s how Jesus treated us. Not because we have earned our status or because we agree with the right argument. Jesus treated us with dignity while He was dying on the cross for sins we had committed. Whether someone agrees with us or not should have not pertinence to how we treat them. Whether we agree or disagree on political issues or on theological issues, we should never disrespect someone. When we do, we misrepresent Christ.
As followers of Jesus Christ, as those who are wearing His coat, we have a great responsibility in this election year. I have been writing about this already on my blog (davidlindner.net). If I find the time I might write an ebook about the topic. But, I’m greatly concerned that too many Christians are going to not only lose their ability to be a reliable witness to the work of Christ…but that there will be many who do great damage to the testimony of the church…all because of political issues related to the election.
The call of Christ is so much greater than our American government. The Kingdom of God is eternal. Yes, I love America too, but I love Christ more. Yes, I have many concerns about where our country is headed. But, I don’t think politics is the answer. Jesus is. It’s a gospel problem, not a government problem. More specifically, people who are living like Christ in their homes, in their neighborhoods, in their communities, in their workplace, in their gyms, in their supermarkets and so on. The answer to the incredibly challenging problems facing our country WILL NOT be solved by Washington DC, the state, the county or city governments. We, as Christ-followers, living out of the overflow of God’s love in our hearts are the answer. And as we wear His coat and live radically countercultural lives, people will be drawn to Christ.
Unless we screw it up by being more politically motivated than we are Kingdom motivated. “Are you saying Christians shouldn’t be involved in politics?” No. We should vote. And if God calls you into the political arena, you should obey and fill that position with the highest, Christian integrity. But simply because politics get 90% of the media time in our country, that doesn’t mean we should spend 90% of our time consuming that content and then blasting it out on social media to offend as many people as possible.
Instead, we should “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds” That is, see our good deeds, not hear our eloquently thought out political point of view. They should “see our good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
How have you been wearing his coat? What changes do you need to make?