The Problem of Indifference

by Stephen Rhoda

A study of church history will reveal the consistent presence of three categories of people in the church.  In every given day of struggle for truth in the church, there are, 1. those who are committed to preserving and proclaiming the true Gospel, 2. those committed to corrupting and silencing the Gospel, and, 3. those who are indifferent.  It’s this third category of people that has most captured my thoughts and grieved my soul within my years of ministry, because the contribution of indifference to the loss of the Gospel in the church is hardly less than of outright unbelief.

Let’s be clear that there will always be a struggle within the church in this age that is passing away.  Jesus warned us, “In the world you will have tribulation,” and He gave this assurance, “…but take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  So even though God has “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in [Christ]” (Colossians 2:15), yet the result in this age is a struggle.  We are not called to gain the kingdom of God for ourselves but to receive the kingdom that has been bestowed upon us.  We are not called to win the victory for ourselves but to live by the victory that Christ has won for us on the cross and in His resurrection.  In short, therefore, we are called to “work out your [finished] salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).

Even further, the call of Christ to follow Him is not the call to a life of ease and comfort.  To put it another way, the call to follow Christ is not the call to build an impressive financial portfolio and to retire to ease and luxury.  Instead, Jesus said, “Whoever does not bear His own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”  And He added, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27,33).  If we find ourselves comfortable and at ease in our Christian faith at whatever stage in life, I am more and more convinced that it’s because we have ceased to struggle and have aligned ourselves with the ranks of the indifferent.

“The contribution of indifference

to the loss of the Gospel in the church

is hardly less than of outright unbelief.”

So who are the indifferentists?  They may or may not be true believers in Jesus Christ, but even if they are, they are illustrated in the disciples of Jesus on the night that He was betrayed.  It’s not that they were party to the arrest of Jesus (like Judas).  It’s not that they showed up looking for the opportunity to testify against Jesus (like the leaders of the people).  It’s not that they weren’t grieved to see Jesus treated so poorly (like the Romans).  But in the end, they were more concerned about keeping their own life and reputation intact than about honoring Christ and sharing His suffering and shame.  Thus in our own day, the indifferentists may go around saying, “Hrrrumph!” from time to time.  They may be willing to point out unbelief and unfaithfulness in the church on a certain day.  But they quickly return to their main concern, which is preserving their reputation, safeguarding their business relationships within the church and community, ensuring the affections of their spouse, and keeping up their pursuit of the “American dream” rather than a true following after Christ.

If you recognize yourself anywhere in this description, I urge you to repent, to take up your cross, and to seek strength and wisdom from Christ to be His true and faithful disciple.  Short of prompt repentance, however, I hope you will not prove my point by going merrily on your way with indifference.  The warning of Christ is clear: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). 

And what is the will of God?  To believe in Him whom He has sent!

And what is the mark of such faith in Christ?  The mark of true faith is a great love for Christ, in order to be willing to suffer with Christ and to take a stand for the Gospel.  The mark of true faith is a love for the Gospel, not just a willingness to use the word “gospel” and to speak generically of “God” and “the Lord,” but the eager willingness to confess to others the name of Christ and to uphold His honor and glory by preserving and proclaiming the true Gospel of sovereign grace.

May Christ Himself by His Word and Spirit stir the church out of her indifference!  As her hand is in the dish and she doesn’t even bring it back to her mouth, as she avows the imaginary lion in the street in order to excuse her place of ease and apathy, Christ calls His church to stand and preach the truth, to share in His suffering, and perhaps even to die for Him.