Defined by who we aren't?


One of the most telling, and failing, aspects to conservative evangelicalism is the propensity to define ourselves by what we are against. The striking aspect of this is that it is precisely the opposite of what Christ came to do. While we decry liberals, gays, name-it-claim-it types, and more, we forget that Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He came to be a physician for the sick. In short, he came for something.

Our againstness is lazy. We seek it to position and define ourselves according to those people, ideas, subjects, or organizations to which we are opposed. But this isn't truly positioning ourselves at all. It's just floating off the shore of whatever we are against. It doesn't land anywhere solid or go anywhere productive; it just avoids the opposition. Being defined by what we are against is a hollow label that says little about what you are seeking to be or where you are seeking to go.

Againstness is lazy because it doesn't require vision or decision, just a little observation. All anyone needs to do to be against something is to keep an eye out for it and then maintain distance from it. Of course, if we are the more militant type of againster, we can always just follow the object of our ire around and attack it at every opportunity. This is no less lazy than mere avoidance because even in attacking we aren't deciding who to be or where to go. We are just being unwitting followers of something or someone we are trying to reject. By being againsters, we allow the opposition to dictate our actions and beliefs.

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Instead, we ought to be defined by an objective and an aim, by what we are for. This requires constant vigilance and judgment to determine if we are on the right course. It requires regular status checks to see what kind of progress is being made. It is constant motion, constant consideration, constant vigilance to be sure that nothing that you are against is deflecting you off course. Of course, being for something necessitates being against certain things, or at least having no part in them. But those things are not what should be our primary defining characteristics.

Againstness is what made the Pharisees such detestable characters. They opposed the Romans, the breaking of laws, and upstart religious authorities. Christ's single-minded pursuit of glorifying God through the saving of sinners is what made Him so glorious, though. So which will it be for us? Will those things to which we are opposed mark us? Or will be known as pursuers of the same God-glorifying purpose Christ pursued?

Barnabas Piper
Barnabas Piper

Barnabas works for Lifeway Christian Resources and is the author of The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith. He and his wife live in the Nashville area with their two daughters. Follow Barnabas on Twitter @BarnabasPiper.


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