Rick told me that he no longer believed in Jesus or the Bible. After many years of church involvement and even ministry involvement, my friend turned away from Christianity and instead decided to embrace Buddhism. His chief reason for rejecting Jesus was the hypocrisy of Jesus' people.
Such a decision always cuts us to the core. When we hear that our bad behavior has lead someone away from Jesus, it stings. We want the church to do better. We want to do better. However, I'm not convinced that the bad behavior of some Christians is really the reason why such people give up Jesus.
As with many things in the Christian life, coming to know Jesus, or rejecting him, is a matter of spiritual warfare. It was Satan, who in the Garden of Eden, challenged Eve to reject Jesus by lying about what God actually meant when he told Adam and Eve they would die if they ate the forbidden fruit. And it was Satan who tempted Jesus in the wilderness to reject his Father's plan for him, though he was unsuccessful at doing so. In fact, I think it is from Satan's temptations that we see the three most important reasons why people reject Jesus. These reasons have to do with three areas of Jesus' personhood that, if we reject, we end up rejecting Jesus. These three areas are:
- Jesus' humanity
- Jesus' divinity, and
- Jesus' authority
What do these three things have to do with a person rejecting Jesus? Let me spell it out for you simply, because, it really is rather simple.
Rejecting Jesus' Humanity
In the age we live in most people don't reject Jesus' humanity. But in the first century, it was popular to deny that Jesus was fully human. The apostles, however, made it clear that rejecting Jesus' humanity was to reject Jesus himself. "[Whoever] confesses not that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist" (II John 1:7).
How did Satan attack Jesus' humanity? When presenting his first temptation, Satan urged Jesus in his hunger to, "Command these stones to become loaves of bread" (Matthew 4:3). Satan played on Jesus' human nature and need to eat. By demanding him to exercise his power he was essentially demanding Jesus to reject the experience of his full humanity.
Today, we find other ways of rejecting Jesus' humanity. When we think of Jesus only as the Son of God or as enthroned above, but don't regard the common experiences that he shares with us, we put aside his humanity. This is a greater temptation for Christians that we sometimes realize. We want the all-powerful Jesus to act on our behalf. We want the Jesus-genie in the bottle. But it is Jesus' humanity which ties him to us so intimately. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus faced the issues of humanity as a full human being.
Rejecting Jesus' claims to deity is more common today. In the day in which Jesus lived it was a common belief, especially among the Roman and Greek cultures, to believe in men who were part god. This is why Pilate was afraid to condemn Jesus, because he heard Jesus' claim to be the Son of God. In Pilate's culture, if he were to condemn a demigod he would be spelling his own doom (John 19:8).
But in the modern day we reject Jesus' divinity because we have a secular, atheist mindset. Our society views divine things as outdated myths, thus, Jesus can't be divine. Yet, without Jesus' divinity we do not have a Savior. Satan attacked Jesus' divinity when he twice challenged him with the words, "If you are the Son of God" (Matthew 4:3,6).
To deny Jesus' divinity is to rob him of the power to save. Without Jesus' divinity, there is no salvation.
The challenge to Jesus' authority is directly related to both his humanity and his divinity. Satan challenged Jesus' authority when he showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and said, "All this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me" (Matthew 4:9).
Whenever we sin, we reject Jesus' authority and we bow to the devil's authority to live by his principles and ways. But a Jesus without authority is a Jesus we can't worship at all.
Consider also that Jesus' humanity is important because it is tied to his earthly authority and not just his spiritual authority. This is because the covenant promises of God were given with a man in mind. Only a man could receive that authority. Consider, the promise went to an offspring of Eve in Genesis 3:15. The promise of the land went to a descendent of Abraham (Genesis 15:4-5, Galatians 3:16). An everlasting kingdom was promised to a descendent of David (II Samuel 7:11-14). The promise of a global kingdom was promised to a man in Isaiah and Daniel. When we reject Jesus' authority, whether human or divine, we reject Jesus himself.
But What About Hypocrisy?
Blaming hypocrisy is a trap because no one really rejects Jesus over hypocrisy. No one claims that Jesus was a hypocrite. People tend to recognize Jesus was at least a good teacher and good man (but that rejects his divinity). When someone claims to reject Jesus for how his people sometimes act that, in effect, is a rejection of Jesus' authority. Jesus established the church. The church operates by the power of the Holy Spirit under Jesus' authority. When we carry the message about Jesus to others, even when we make mistakes, the one who rejects isn't really rejecting us, he is rejecting Jesus. Jesus said as much, "The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me" (Luke 10:16).
Everyone knows that human beings sin and make mistakes. Thus, claims of hypocrisy are a straw man. Deep inside, the person who uses such an excuse is really using nothing more than an excuse to deny Jesus' authority over his life—authority Jesus has from his deity and his humanity.
Whatever your temptations or struggles, to reject Jesus in any of these areas is to put him aside that we might exercise our own authority, in our sinful humanity, and take on the role of personal god to ourselves. This is why people reject Jesus. The one who rejects Jesus for reasons of hypocrisy is the true hypocrite.