Compromise, Conformity and Courage

By Pastor Doug Batchelor

An Amazing Fact: Because of its unusual growth habits, the tropical Banyan tree is known as a "strangler fig." These large trees usually start life when their seed is deposited by a bird high in the foliage of another tree. The Banyan's roots descend over the trunk of the host tree seeking out the soil below. Once they have rooted themselves, the roots of the strangler fig rapidly thicken and lengthen. Where the fig roots cross each other they fuse, creating a lattice around the host tree's trunk. Gradually they prevent the host tree from growing by robbing all its light, water, and nutrients. Eventually the Banyan chokes out the host until it dies and rots away, leaving the strangler fig standing in its place. Likewise, as the seeds of compromise are rooted in God's remnant church, spiritual life and fruit are being sapped away.

Everyone yearns to be accepted. But for the true Christian, it is impossible to have both the acceptance of the world and the approval of our heavenly Father. Jesus said, "No servant can serve two masters" (Luke 16:13). And James wrote that friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4.)

But the sad truth is that millions of professing Christians are searching for a way to strike a workable compromise between their convictions and the ways of this wicked world. I feel passionate about this issue because I too struggle with the insidious influence of compromise in my own walk. We are all under relentless pressure to conform to the world. The devil is always offering to negotiate our values and principles, rarely using an all-out frontal assault. Instead, his most effective game plan is an internal, step-by-step erosion that we often barely perceive until it is too late.

Make no mistake: Compromising with the devil is deadly to the spirit, and it will never bring lasting satisfaction. Our Lord clearly tells us we cannot play the middle. "He that is not with me is against me" (Matthew 12:30). And in reality, it is impossible to truly compromise with the devil. Any attempt to negotiate with Satan will ultimately bring total capitulation. Only by constant dependence on God and personal vigilance can we hack off the tentacles of this monster called "creeping compromise."

Good and Bad Compromise
Compromise is not always a dirty word. It can be a wonderful principle that helps provide and maintain peace and unity within relationships. But when Christians begin to compromise elements of truth, sacrificing biblical principles for the sake of achieving peace, it can be eternally fatal. In the words of Martin Luther; "Peace if possible, truth at all cost."

In an article like this, it is tempting to launch a moral blitzkrieg targeting the many areas in which the church is compromising. I could parade a list of Christian standards that have been sacrificed on the altar of compromise to gain acceptance with the world. I could even take on the most dangerous of all conformities: the watered-down, generic theology in which believers are never called to deny self and take up their cross. Each one of these compromises has neutralized peace in the hearts of believers, diluted the potency of the gospel, and strangled church growth.

Alas, the limited space will not permit me to unpack each of these issues in detail. So instead, I will direct your attention to the broader principles that lead to bad compromise and sinful conformity and how we can resist the temptation to fall in line with the devil.

Don't Play With Compromise
While the Egyptian captain Potiphar was away on business, his two-timing wife attempted to seduce Joseph, his most trusted servant. Joseph was tempted to consider the benefits of that forbidden relationship - he could have enjoyed more prestige and wealth in his household with a manipulating lover on his side. In the least, it seems he would have avoided jail time for spurning her advances.

It must have been a powerful temptation for a single, healthy young man to compromise his principles for power and pleasure. Yet even with all the whisperings of the devil, Joseph knew it was wrong and refused to consider the evil deed.

"So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her (Genesis 39:10 NKJV). If you didn't notice, not only did Joseph refuse to commit adultery, he also stayed away from the temptation. Be warned: If you stray near forbidden boundaries, the deadly vortex of sin will suck you in like a category five tornado.

When you are being tempted by someone or something to compromise your convictions, steer as far away as you can from the edge of evil. Don't let sin work on you, whittling down your resolve. Eve wandered too close to the forbidden tree and then waited to hear Satan's rationalizations. As soon as she saw that tree and heard the serpent question God's truth, she should have run. The Word of God commands us to flee from temptation (1 Timothy 6:11).

"Just a Little Sin"
It's not very popular to speak out against sin, especially those that have been generally accepted by the church. Those who do speak out can count on being called uncompromising and legalistic by their fellow Christians. I know, because it has happened to me many times. As just a small example, I once attended a Christian wedding reception where someone poured champagne in the glass at my place at the table. A little surprised, I politely responded, "No thank you. I don't drink."

The host assured me, "This champagne is only eight-percent alcohol. It won't get you drunk."

"But I don't drink any alcohol," I affirmed.

Obviously annoyed, the host answered, "We're just celebrating a wedding tradition. Don't you want to offer your best wishes and toast the bride and groom?" He even suggested that I put the glass to my lips and pretend to drink. It was just like the devil was saying, "After all, everyone else is doing it."

"Don't you care about anyone but yourself?" "Just do it this once." "Don't be a fanatic." These familiar rationalizations often precede a compromise. But we have to say no to the temptation. "Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof" (Romans 13:14). Wanting to avoid even the appearance of evil, I refuse to even hold a glass of alcohol in my hand (1 Thessalonians 5:22).

Another familiar mantra of those who endorse worldly compromise is "balance." I can't count how many times I have been told that I need "more balance" in my Christian walk. But when it is carefully evaluated, the definition of "balance" is usually to conform our Christian standards to worldly values. It sounds something like this: "It's okay to take the family to the football game on Sabbath once in a while. You need to have balance." In other words, they are recommending that we balance our holiness with a little sin. But is being Christ-like being out of balance?

Compassionate Compromise
Another popular rationalization used for compromising Christian standards is to make Christianity more attractive to the world, an approach taken by some church leaders in the days of Constantine.

The Roman and Greek pagans loved their idols. The second commandment regarding idolatry was a real stumbling block that prevented countless pagans from easily embracing Christianity. The thought of defacing or destroying their precious idols represented a tremendous struggle for these devout but superstitious pagans.

So in the interest of evangelism, these leaders suggested, "Why not allow them to rename their idols after Christian heroes and saints? After they come into the church, we will slowly educate them to abandon their idols." But you know the rest of the story - instead of the church converting the pagans, the pagans converted the church. It is how things like this typically work: The world makes sin much more palatable for church members.

Compromise or Combat
In the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, the Jews began to rebuild the temple that had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. In Ezra 4, the Bible records, "Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity [were building] the temple ... they ... said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him." But the Jews knew these neighboring nations commingled the worship of the true God with Assyrian pagan gods.

How did Israel respond? They "said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD." They made the right choice, refusing to let an unconverted pagan help build the Lord's holy temple. But then catch this: "Then the people of the land," that is those who offered to help, "troubled them in building." Suddenly, the Jews' peace-offering neighbors showed their true colors and became their harassing enemies.

Likewise, when you stand up for what's right and do not get involved in apostate alliances, you'll be persecuted for it. First the devil's approach will be, "Let's just work together. Let's all love each other and be united. Unity is so important!" If you don't fall for that trap and take a stand for truth, they will become your worst enemy, which tells you where their hearts really were in the first place.

This is a vitally important lesson as we head into the last days. Eventually the world's religions will make concessions to form a united front that will ultimately promote false worship. If we are developing a pattern now of sacrificing our convictions for the illusion of peace, we are paving the way in preparation to worship the beast.

A Fear of Offending
Have you ever heard about the pastor who did not want to offend his wealthy congregation? He said, "Dear brethren, unless you consider repenting, in a measure, and be a bit converted, as it were, you will possibly, I regret to say, be damned to some extent."

In reality, a great percentage of compromise and conformity worms its way into our lives and the church because nobody wants to offend anybody. We are trained from our earliest years to be polite and considerate - to comply with people's requests and not do anything that might upset somebody. But Jesus taught that it is not possible to preach the gospel without causing some offense (Galatians 5:11).

Suppose you should develop a small spot of malignant skin cancer, but the dermatologist, not wanting to upset you, told you it was poison ivy. Would the dermatologist be your friend? By its very nature, the convicting essence of the gospel turns a blazing light on our hearts to peel back our layers of hypocrisy and expose our selfish motives and impure thoughts. For many, such a revelation is offensive.

The apostles were all slain or imprisoned for their faith because their message offended somebody. "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12). I believe one reason we do not see more severe persecution of Christians in North America today is because we have compromised so much with the world that the offense of the gospel is virtually non-existent.

A Straight Path
The reason a river becomes crooked is because it follows the path of least resistance, the same reason that Christians become crooked. But the path of the Christian should be like a tight rope rather than a meandering trail.

Moses told the children of Israel before his death, "You shall be careful to do as the LORD your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the ways which the LORD your God has commanded you ... that it may be well with you" (Deuteronomy 5:32, 33 NKJV). This is advice that we need to heed today, and advice that Christ took to heart.

Luke 4 records the devil's chilling attempt to get Christ to compromise. "And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. ... All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them. ... If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine" (vs. 5-7). The devil wanted to make a deal. He asked Christ to negotiate a treaty to end the great controversy between good and evil, enabling Jesus to avoid the cross and rule the world ... if He would only give Satan worship. On the face of it, it would seem very tempting for Jesus to avoid the horrors He would face in saving our souls.

But what did Jesus say? "Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve" (vs. 8). Jesus would not even consider it. This was the same answer Christ gave Peter when he also suggested that Jesus shouldn't go to the cross. Sometimes the devil will work through those closest to us, but when we're tempted to compromise Christian principles, we need to learn how to say, "Get thee behind me, Satan. I am not going to do it."

Compromise Killed Christ
In the events surrounding the trial of Christ, we can see that compromise ultimately crucified the Lord. In John 18, while being interviewed by Pontius Pilate, Jesus says, "I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice" (vs. 37). Pilate's response, "What is truth?", is a telling indicator of the vacillating ruler's cynical attitude about absolute truth.

In the Roman Empire, everybody debated everything. (It's not much different in America today.) In fact, one philosopher in Rome encouraged every person to debate both sides of every issue, hoping to broaden the minds of the citizens. But Augustus evicted the man because eventually people thought of truth as something fluid and relative - nobody would stand up for any definite truth. No one would take a stand, because every position had some rationalizing argument against it.

In this case though, the truth was very clear, and Pilate openly admitted Jesus was innocent: "I find in him no fault at all" (vs. 38). Yet instead of taking a stand for truth and releasing Jesus as innocent, Pilate sought to compromise his conviction of truth to win approval of the crowd, a behavior that frequently plagues politicians.

Wanting to appease the majority, Pilate explains that he will have Christ beaten and then released. Yet if Jesus is innocent, why have Him beaten? The answer is that once you begin to walk down the road of compromise, no matter where you stop, the devil will pick you up and complete the walk for you. Why? You have already signaled your weakness by displaying a willingness to negotiate with wrong if the price is right. Once you begin sacrificing your convictions, it is very easy to slide down into ruin.

Sensing Pilate's weakness, Satan used the crowd to press the wavering ruler all the way for crucifixion. Pilate already started down the road of negotiating with evil, and that's where the devil wanted him. That's why when Pilate attempted to outsmart the devil, it backfired. He offered them Barabbas as a compromise instead of Jesus. Pilate paraded the cold-blooded killer in front of the throngs as an example of real evil to contrast with the example of the sinless Christ. He must have thought to himself, "They just want to see a crucifixion. I'll offer them a compromise, and they'll obviously pick Jesus to release." He never dreamed they would ask him to release Barabbas, but that's what they did.

Finally, Pilate's little concession to compromise got to the place where it was completely out of his hands. "When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it" (Matthew 27:24). But was he really clean? He had declared the Savior innocent but conformed his judgment to the pressure of the crowd.

Likewise, when we begin to compromise with truth, and our actions finally get out of hand and the consequences come full and hard, we won't be able to claim innocence either. Once you start thinking of going down the road of compromise, remember Pilate. Remember that Jesus died because someone thought he could compromise truth.

Be Courageous!
Refusing to buckle to the pressure of compromise requires divine courage. The Lord told Joshua, "Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper withersoever thou goest" (Joshua 1:7).

We don't need to worry that God won't forgive us if we sincerely repent of our compromise and turn the other way. But when we sin, when we stumble into error, we train ourselves to go down that road again. God can give you a new heart, but don't think you can continue to compromise and not reap the hazards that come with it. Continued compromise can and will numb your conscience, so that your fruit is one of total conformity with the world.

That is why the devil is setting up the church in the last days, preaching a message of unity through compromise. Little by little, he's softening up our resolve, encouraging us to make little concessions and compromises so that when that big test comes, he has us. And worse, he will be able to effectively crumble our influence so that few will be persuaded to become followers of Christ.

Read Daniel 3 and bear with my expounded paraphrase. Nebuchadnezzar said to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, "So you didn't bow down? I'll tell you what: I don't want to lose you; you're good workers. I'll give you another chance and have the band play the music one more time. Perhaps you just want a different song? But when you hear the sound, you need to bow down."

But the three young Hebrews resolutely told the king he need not waste his time on them. "O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up" (Daniel 3:16-19). They didn't negotiate, even when the devil tried to engage them.

The devil wants you to die after you've disobeyed, not as a martyr and victorious example. But if you die in this world upholding the Word, you will live in the next. So today we need to be faithful in that which is least. We may not think the little tests we face now are so important, but if we compromise and conform without a death threat hanging over our heads, what are we likely to do when we are threatened with imprisonment or death?

When the children of Israel reached the borders of the Red Sea and their Egyptian enslavers were riding hard on their heels to capture them, the situation looked bleak. But Moses told the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today" (Exodus 14:13 NKJV).

Once we know that something is right according to God's Word, our responsibility is to take a stand. God will do great things for us if we choose to stand still in His will. "For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him" (2 Chronicles 16:9 NKJV). When you stand firm for truth, your life will be a saving witness to your family, your friends, and your neighbors. God will look down from heaven and say, "Have you considered My servant, that there is none like that on the earth, one who fears me and shuns evil?" (See Job 1:8.)

Ellen White, one of my favorite Christians authors, said it like this: "The greatest want of the world is the want of men - men who will not be bought or sold; men who in their inmost souls are true and honest; men who do not fear to call sin by its right name; men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole; men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall" (Education, p. 57).

Paul concludes, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:2 NKJV). We should not be conformed but transformed.

With God all things are possible, including living a life without worldly conformity and compromise. Resolve now by His grace to stand on the Rock and resist the waves of compromise that are sweeping God's children from the shores of salvation. And always remember that when you take your stand, you do not stand alone. Jesus stands with you.


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