Christians Are Not Called to be Chameleons

 
Richard Coekin | June 10th 2021

When my wife and I visited Marrakesh in Morocco a few years ago, in one of the bustling souks we discovered a pile of wooden crates full of chameleons. As you probably know, chameleons are amazing lizards. By controlling the bloodflow to their skin, they can adapt their colouration to become camouflaged against any background so as to be invisible and safe from predators.

It struck me that Christians can easily become afflicted with what we might call the “chameleon syndrome”. Jesus plainly said:

If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man [Jesus] will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory. (Mark 8 v 38)

Christians should not be hiding their faith. We should not become spiritual chameleons: desperately trying to fit into the culture of this world to remain camouflaged and safe from predators who might expose and condemn our faith. But many of us are under immense pressure to do just that.

"Hebrews calls weary Christians then and now to persevere and not shrink back, for which purpose the writer has penned one of the most powerfully encouraging passages in the whole Bible: the famous Hebrews 11."

Weary, Cynical or Just Drifting Away?

There are many reasons why Christians hide their faith. It could be because of a weariness verging on cynicism after years of social rejection for following Jesus. Or it may be that during the Covid-19 pandemic, with churches unable to meet physically and ministries forced online, while more outsiders have been watching church on YouTube, others of us have quietly drifted away. Or it may be the stress of keeping our jobs where we’re bound by official or unofficial codes of conduct that inhibit or even forbid sharing our faith. 

Certainly in some countries the consequences of being openly Christian can bring economic or even physical suffering. An Iranian man at our church who converted from Islam to follow Jesus showed me the medical report with accompanying photographs detailing his brutal physical tortures and lasting psychiatric damage when he was arrested for trying to evangelise his community.

In the West the opposition has, until recently, been generally subtle. But the opposition is getting more hostile. Our children can be humiliated at school for the biblical view of marriage we’ve taught them; university Christian Unions find their speakers “cancelled” because they are considered homophobic by their Student Union; Christian doctors and teachers can find themselves facing a disciplinary process for offering to pray with a patient or student. Christian employees are refused their traditional carol service after complaints from humanists.

"It struck me that Christians can easily become afflicted with what we might call the 'chameleon syndrome'."

Hebrews Was Written for Christians Under Pressure

The letter to the Hebrews was written for discouraged Jewish Christians, probably living in Rome, afflicted with the chameleon syndrome. They were not tempted to go back to Judaism. They were tempted to hide their faith.

We don’t know who the author was. But he was clearly a deeply learned pastor who knew his Old Testament and loved his readers very much. Hebrews is his beautifully written extended sermon expounding a series of Old Testament texts. He calls his readers to keep listening to what God has spoken in the gospel of his Son, Jesus Christ. He combines dire warnings of judgment upon any who shrink back from Christ with warm encouragements of lasting heavenly blessing for all who remain loyal.

Eleven times in Hebrews he describes God’s revelation in Jesus as “better” than anything in the Old Testament: a better word in the gospel than came from angels, Moses or Joshua (chapters 1 – 4); a better priest in heaven than in any temple on earth (chapters 5 – 7); a better covenant arrangement with God, based on forgiveness rather than on law we cannot keep (chapter 8), established by Jesus’ better sacrifice as our true substitute on the cross, which animal sacrifices could never be (chapters 9 – 10). Jesus is far better than the best alternatives.

A Cloud of Witnesses Cheering Us On

Hebrews calls weary Christians then and now to persevere and not shrink back, for which purpose the writer has penned one of the most powerfully encouraging passages in the whole Bible: the famous Hebrews 11.

Chapter 11 is a reminder from Old Testament history of how God has enabled his people down the centuries to endure by faith in him. It celebrates the faith of our Christian ancestors—our spiritual family.

Faith for Life

Faith for Life

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Inspiration from the book of Hebrews on how to live by faith in Jesus.

That chapter is sometimes unhelpfully described as “heroes of faith”. Actually, they’re not a select group of heroes at all. Indeed, it’s hard to remember anyone in the Old Testament who’s left out! The whole point is that God has always empowered persevering faith in his people. The author is demonstrating what God can enable all his readers to do by faith. He is showing what God can empower us to do.

To illustrate from the walls of many schools: Hebrews 11 is not an honours board for especially heroic champions. It’s the wall covered with class photos from every year since the school began. Chapter 11 is not about heroes of faith. It’s about God empowering ordinary people like us!

If you are feeling the pressure to hide like a chameleon, if you fear the cost of open loyalty to Jesus and are tempted to “shrink back”: then Hebrews 11 is for you. It’s the spiritual refreshment we need to persevere, “by faith”.

Faith For Life by Richard Coekin will spur you on to live by faith in Jesus as you examine the witnesses of Hebrews 11. The refreshing honesty of their stories will help you manage your expectations in a world of lies and spin. They will remind you of the glory and blessing that await you at the finishing line.

Richard Coekin

Richard Coekin is CEO of the London-wide Co-Mission church-planting network and Senior Pastor of Dundonald Church, one of Co-Mission's churches in South West London. A renowned Bible teacher and the author of several books including Our Father and Ephesians For You, Richard is married to Sian and they have five children.

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