Today the word “Christian” is almost worthless. It is a sad fact that the term has been wrenched from its original meaning and recast to mean something that is so universal, so all encompassing that it has lost the ability to be meaningful. Today the word Christian simply means a “good person.” It’s reverse, unchristian, means a “bad person.” This devaluation of the word suits God’s enemies just fine. Polite society now demands that we call all nice people, any who have any outward pretention of morality, Christian. It no longer has anything to do with their faith, religious beliefs, or underlying moral outlook. If we suggest that there is a significant religious, moral, and faith-based distinction between being Christian and not being Christian, then we are not only accused of being impolite, but also judgmental. This is a very crucial matter for those of us who feel called to go, make, baptize, and teach disciples for Jesus, because we can’t even approach someone about faith in Christ without offending them by suggesting that they are less than Christian.
So how do we deal with this difficult situation? Well, simply clinging to the classic usage of the word Christian will not help. That is water under the bridge. The truth is that Jesus saw this coming. When he addresses his disciples, he tells them that he is sending them out as “sheep among wolves.” One tends to question a shepherd that sends his flock into a wolves’ den, but it is our failure to fully grasp what this means that is the heart of this problem. We think that being Christian should entitle us to safety, respect, and success. But that is not the case. We are sheep among wolves. It should not surprise us when the wolves devour even the word “Christian” making it useless in our day and age. So now we go, make, baptize, and teach disciples from a position of weakness, vulnerable and foolishness before the world. We don’t like this, but it is precisely how our Lord wants it.
So again, we can ask, how do we deal with this difficult situation? Again, we find the answer in Christ’s words. At the same time, he told the disciples that they were “sheep among wolves” he also told them to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” This is the key to being Christian. Christian is not a label. Christianity is not a state of being. Christianity is not a fan club for Jesus. Christianity is the way sheep act when they are sent among wolves. Christianity is about being as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. In other words, Christianity is a “skill-based” distinction. It’s like the term “plumber.” No one ever calls someone a plumber to flatter them. Only people who have the skills to be a plumber are plumbers. In the same way, only people who have the skills to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves are Christians. Without those skills all they are is dinner for wolves.
That said, it is time to talk about the skills that our situation, sheep among wolves, require Christians to have. Over the next seven weeks I will address seven different skills that are commonly identified for Christians to master in their efforts to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. I did not invent this list. I am gratefully adopting it from the great Christian writer, C. S. Lewis. He addresses these skills in his book, Mere Christianity, as seven “virtues.” Unfortunately, virtue is another word this world has made nearly useless. I think it is better to talk about these as Christian skills rather than virtues for current understanding. This fits better with Lewis’ highly practical approach to the kinds of activities that enable us to be both wise and innocent. So, over the next seven week we will look at the following seven Christian skills: Prudence, Temperance, Justice, Fortitude, Faith, Hope, and Charity. At first, some of these names will look a little old fashioned, but that is ok since they name skills that have been around for a very long time. One by one we will examine them carefully to better understand how they can help to shape our lives into both wisdom and innocence for a life of sheep among wolves.