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Bernie Sanders and the Offensive Gospel

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The recent episode between Senator Sanders and Russell Vought, presidential nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, has made headlines. If you missed the controversy, Sanders rebuked Vought for an op-ed in which he claimed that Muslims “have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.” Here’s a sample of Sanders’ response:

In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world…. I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about. I will vote no.

Many Christians are appalled and outraged at the comments that Senator Sanders made to Vought at the Senate hearing. Vought is asserting a basic Christian belief about salvation.

However, are we Christians really surprised that Senator Sanders attacked Vought’s Christian values? Are we really caught off guard that the gospel is offensive to those that don’t believe in Jesus Christ? Why are we so often surprised when attacked by the unbelieving world?

Don’t misread my intentions for this post. I fully support religious liberty. I hold firmly to the U. S. Constitution. I believe all people have the right to believe in and not be hindered by others for their religious convictions. I am convinced that Christians in America should speak up for freedom of religion. However, we should be prepared for more incidents and attacks like the one Vought experienced by Senator Sanders. Why you ask?

For two reasons:

1. The gospel is offensive.

Christians need to be reminded that the gospel is offensive to the world. The gospel is offensive because the gospel states that only through faith in Jesus Christ can anyone be saved from their sins. In other words, trusting in Jesus’ life, death and victorious resurrection is the only means of salvation.

To an unbelieving world, that truth makes no sense. Many want to believe they are “good” enough to earn God’s favor. The gospel message offends them because the gospel says no one is good enough to earn God’s favor. God’s favor comes only through faith in Jesus Christ. Additionally, the Bible explains that anyone who does not place his or her faith in Jesus Christ stands condemned (Romans 1:20). This seemed to be what Senator Sanders was most angry about in the hearing.

But this turn of events shouldn’t be surprising. Jesus told his disciples, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). “If they persecuted me,” he continues, “they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Jesus is teaching us that we are to expect the world to hate us and to persecute us.

I agree that Senator Sanders’ comments were knocking on the door of being unconstitutional, but Christians should not be shocked by the hatred the world will have towards Jesus and his followers. Jesus told us it was coming. He told us this because he wanted us to be prepared. Such critics don’t hate you on a personal level, they hate the One you represent. The gospel is offensive.

Do not be surprised when the world hates and persecutes you.

2. The hatred of the world gives you a platform to share the gospel.

Vought calmly and with poise took the verbal assault that came across the bench from Senator Sanders. He did not back down. He did not recant his position. He continued to affirm that he was a Christian and held to the Christian values as set forth in Scripture. As Senator Sanders attacked a foundational belief of the Christian faith, Vought’s Christian character and faith shined through for the watching world. What a platform! This news story made headlines, and multitudes of people saw Vought’s faith in Jesus Christ on display.

In the same verse that Jesus talks about persecution, he says, “If they kept my word, they will also keep yours” (John 15:20). In other words, there are two messages in the persecution of the world against Christians. One is of hatred towards the believer, and another is that some will embrace the gospel on display in the midst of persecution. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to his believers during these times so that his believers “will bear witness” about him (John 15:27).

Don’t miss this: The persecution and hatred of the world leads to the proclamation of the Word—Jesus Christ. God can use your suffering because of the gospel to save more people by the power of that same gospel.

Responding to the Hatred

How, then, should you respond to this event? Pray for Senator Sanders and others that their eyes may be opened to the glorious message of the gospel. Write letters to your Congressman and take a stand for the freedom of religion.

Most importantly, do not be surprised when the world hates and persecutes you. Jesus warned us this would happen. When it does happen, be bold to use these sufferings as an opportunity to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ for all to hear. Remember the words of Christ,

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

Image credit: Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons

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Jeremy Bell

Jeremy Bell serves as the Director of Certificate Services at Southeastern. He is a graduate of SEBTS (Th.M. and M.Div) and is a Ph.D. Candidate in Christian Ethics. Jeremy is married to Katie, and father of Avery, Landon, Addilyn, Lincoln, and Levi. You can find more of Jeremy’s thoughts over at beimitators.com.

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