Are Public Displays of Faith Ok With God?
And so it concluded. Among a multitude of events, traditions and programs, the college football season reached a crescendo with an onslaught of bowl games packed into a condensed period of days. Athletes, coaches, trainers, managers, support staff, agents, sponsors, attendees, viewers – a mind-boggling array of humanity intently focused on a singular event within a collection of episodes. As broad a spectrum of diversity as one can imagine, with practically limitless combinations of backgrounds, experiences, perceptions, values and ambitions.
As such, we could determine that such an event provides an ideal setting to communicate a message, invoke specific emotions, or peddle a product. It is a proven commodity – sporting events are prime marketing vehicles for all sorts of merchandise and services, as well as ideas. Sometimes, the “marketing” of those ideas take on a spiritual form – the placard with a scripture verse, the sign of the cross after an exceptional play, and the inscription on the sole of a shoe.
One particular display caught my attention: during a pre-game interview with a team coach, the camera shot redirected to a lone athlete on one knee in the end zone in an apparent moment of prayer. Not to be confused with self-reflection, as his head was bowed, eyes were closed, hands were crossed. The definite impression was that this person was engaged in prayer.
The question therefore, for a Christ-professing Bible-believing follower of the Living God, is this: do acts such as these, “public displays of faith”, bring glory to God and advance His kingdom, and if not, do they conversely provide an opportunity for the enemy?
As with many things pertaining to true Christianity, putting our faith in the forefront is not optional – it’s a requirement. Believers are called to “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). In our homes, at our workplaces, during our social events, within our leisure activities, throughout our personal endeavors, the display of our Savior should be noticeable to all. Faith can manifest itself in several ways; contentment with modest possessions, rejoicing in the midst of suffering, hope when all seems lost, a calm and gracious spirit when confronted with venomous anger, and many others. Perhaps the actual level of faith can vary at times (let’s be honest, we’re still humans living in a broken world, sometimes faith can be hard to come by) but there is still a call to have it and that it be visible.
So, there’s the rub, living our faith is a requirement: but trying to fulfill that mandate can open the door for evil.
The manner in which a Christian publicly displays their faith is crucial. It must be done with a spirit of humility and a healthy dose of caution. Jesus provides specific instructions in Matthew 6:1-6, including “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Spouting off menial knowledge, excessively throwing scripture verses around, constantly looking for opportunities to display our righteousness, defaulting to a “holier-than-thou” attitude, making sure all are aware of our good deeds – these actions can turn the aforementioned light into a blazing luminary that blinds all viewers within range.
There’s a reason why Christ gave the direction (Matthew 5) followed by the warning (Matthew 6). At our very core, humans are prideful. Jesus is cautioning us to make sure the light shines not on us, but on Him.
Practically speaking, how do we meet the standard of genuine faith in plain sight that doesn’t distract or detract from Him?
Public displays of faith are not singular or isolated events. They aren’t staged, contrived or rehearsed. Our entire lives should be public displays of faith. We are called to be living testimonies. “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12). And in 1 Corinthians 10 “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” It’s an all-encompassing result of a life redeemed by faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. It becomes such a part of us that we don’t even think about it – it just happens. And when it does, the projected result of Matthew 5, 1 Peter 2 and 1 Corinthians 10 is had: God is glorified!
Ultimately, only God knows the full intent of the heart. We can put on our holy mask and fool the masses, but we can’t fool God. Matthew 23:27-28 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” God completely understands our inner objectives and hidden agendas. He examines our motives and totally discerns pure from evil.
Public displays of faith should be a natural outpouring of a sinner transformed by the finished work of the cross. Every moment, action and aspect of a Christian’s life is a public display of faith. Make every effort to have those displays positively reflect His marvelous light. Ultimately, everything must display the Spirit that dwells within us and point others to the saving grace that is Jesus.
With that, I leave you this final verse to summarize the central idea of this article, Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”