Christians, Your Neighbors Don’t Get God’s Law

In Christian stories, songs, and conversations, we keep assuming we can refer to God’s Law and non-Christians will get it.
on May 19, 2016 · 6 comments

Professing Christians: why, in all our stories, songs, sermons, and conversations, do we keep assuming our non-Christian neighbors think like us?

Why do we assume non-Christians especially understand two key Christian concepts?

I’m speaking about two key concepts in particular: law and grace.

We just keep assuming we can refer to God’s law, and non-Christian neighbors will get it. Or we assume we can refer to God’s grace, and non-Christian neighbors will really get it.

In both cases, we reveal our naïveté. We betray the fact that we’re culturally sheltered.

Let’s look at one recent example, thanks to a statement by Franklin Graham.1 In this May 15 post, Graham asked readers, “What would you take a bullet for? What are the principles and beliefs that you would not compromise under any circumstances? Even if it meant putting your life on the line?”

He went on to refer to a biblical account in the book of Daniel. Then he concluded:

I want to call on every Christian and every pastor to stand firm like these patriarchs of old and not bow to the secular, increasingly godless culture in which we live—even when (not if) we’re criticized, mocked, and labeled intolerant. The God of the Old Testament that delivered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from their fiery execution is the same God today—and He is still more than able to save. Will you stand against ungodliness? What are you willing to take a bullet for?

A few disclaimers.

First, Graham is clearly writing this for Christians only.

Second, there is a time to address people “inside the clubhouse,” without painstakingly explaining every reference and definition to people who are listening in at the windows.2

We aren’t always in The World. We get to have “subcultures” just like everyone else.

But here Graham seems to have forgotten something: He’s not in the clubhouse. He’s on Facebook. He has the little blue-check at his name; he’s a public figure. And when you’re even a Christian semi-public figure, you cannot assume non-Christians think like you.

1. Non-Christians do not understand God’s Law

Graham makes this assumption when he talks about “patriarchs,” without being wise about knowing how this word has been negatively charged. He also mentions alien names like Blenfwoof, Ermaderd, and Jingunvish (this is how non-Christians hear them).

But he and his many supporters in the comments section3 fail to understand this fact:

Non-Christians do not understand God’s Law, including sin, death, and repentance.

God’s Law is His standard of holiness. It’s His moral perfection. It’s not defined by laws of the universe or nature, or any “rules” outside of Himself. It’s defined by Himself in Person.

God’s Law (which can be upper-cased) is seen across the Bible: in legal code and in song.

But our non-Christian neighbors do not have a clue what God’s Law is, what Christians believe about it, or why it matters for the universe. This means that when our stories, songs, and comments reference God’s Law, they make no sense to non-Christian neighbors.

I can read this Graham supporter’s comment and understand the code. Maybe you can, too:

There is the judgement side of God too , when he comes back to judge at the great white throne !! The sheep and the goats , the unbelievers !! He isn’t just love, but wants to be our Savior and Lord !! And will condemn the unbelievers to everlasting fire !! 😊. Remember he disciplines those he loves !!

But to the non-Christian neighbor, it’s nothing but jargon. Or worse, it looks like this:

God is a hater. He personally hates you and judges you on his great white shark. Animal references for some reason. I personally hate unbelievers. God isn’t love. Spiritual talk. God hates you and wants you to burn in hell. That makes me happy. He wants to abuse you, like the parental abuse you’ve experienced or heard about.

So what’s the solution? How else do Christians assume their non-Christian neighbors understand the biblical concepts of God’s Law, along with concepts like sin, death, hell, and repentance? How can Christians better communicate the truth of God’s Law, by using Scripture first and foremost, but also echoing this truth through our stories and songs?

Tomorrow I’ll explore another growing problem: Christians who assume non-Christian neighbors only feel false guilt from “legalists” and will therefore easily understand grace.

  1. Thanks to Rebecca LuElla Miller for telling me about this.
  2. In fact, that is what I will do here, with only footnoted references to the doctrinal concepts.
  3. Never read the comments section, Stephen! I know, I know.
E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.
  1. notleia says:

    Especially doesn’t help if you throw in denominational differences about the nuances of “God’s Law.”

  2. Erin Hawley Cronin says:

    In talking to friends about a Christian class I was told this story. . .two young (20-something) women were in the class and the presenter kept talking about sin. They didn’t know what “sin” was and went home to Google-search it. You are right. . . we need to define what we mean, and we need to be sure what we say reflects God’s unconditional love for ALL of His Creation.

  3. Lauren B says:

    Yes, sometimes we’re so steeped in our culture it’s hard to remember not everyone grew up watching Veggie Tales and listening to WeeSing Bible songs.

    I attended a “technically” Christain college, but lots of non-Christains also attended. I especially recall taking a lit class where we read Dante’s Inferno and had a discussion about our concepts of hell. I was having a rather spirited debate about Purgatory with a Catholic classmate, when a student from India admitted she was confused. What is hell? Why would someone be punished forever?And what is baptism? And what about Mormons?

    This whole chunk of our culture was very confusing for her, and I’m afraid we didn’t set a very good example for her. Catholic dude telling me Lutherans go to hell . . . Not exactly the first impression of Christianity we should have made.

  4. HG Ferguson says:

    Stephen, God bless you. you’ve identified the problem, but let’s don’t lose sight of the solution. I don’t think you will. But God’s Word — His absolute truth — answers these concerns, We live in an era where people don’t want to hear the following words, much less the concepts: sin, judgment, hell, God’s just wrath against sinners who spit in His face and rebel against His law, guilt (gasp) and accountability before a Holy God whose standards we all have violated, myself included (Rom. 3:23). I think these are what Franklin was and is fighting for, that they not be discarded. These aren’t just nuances or concepts needing explanation. These things are true. God’s Word answers them. A question is raised below, “What about Mormons?” Gal. 1:8-10 answers that in no uncertain terms. The world is fast heading toward its end (I Jn. 2:17). All the more reason to find ways to make the message of the Cross speak to today’s generation, for it may very well be the final one. My plea is a call to declare the whole counsel of God in everything. Yes, God is a God of love — but He is also a God of wrath against those who love the darkness more than the light. Just read the last book in His Bible. I just want to encourage you to find ways to speak to those who need to hear today without avoiding what’s unpleasant or not politically correct. Based on your work in other posts, as I said, I don’t think you will. Just be cautious. And above all, true to the Word. May God give you the wisdom you need!

  5. Lisa says:

    I totally agree with what you are saying, in that it is very true that explicitly Christian language and idioms are not understood by the general public. But I’m not sure I completely understand your point. Are you saying that any Christian public figure (or semi-figure, or heck, any Christian) should not put posts that are explicitly Christian on their Facebook feeds? Am I am missing your point here? Are you saying that the only place Christians should use explicit Christian “language” is in church? Or among Christian friends?

  6. Thank you! I’ve been speaking about this very topic to my Christian circle and all I get are either crickets or “God is also a God of wraith” comments. When has negativity, put-downs and hateful talk ever won over anyone? They don’t understand!

    Love and compassion comes first. We have discarded Matthew 28:19-20 in favor of shortcuts. We are commanded to go and make disciples first. We attract them to the love of God first. “If you love Me you will keep My commandments.” “Love casts out all fear.”

    Most Christians have evangelism backwards–they think obedience comes first and then love. When are we going to get that one cannot legislate morality or especially salvation? Increasingly, I see Christians who are far more hateful than non-Christians. When the Word says when iniquity abounds, the love of many shall wax cold, I wonder if God is in fact talking about His own people?

What do you think?