As a current student at a university to train future pastors and ministry leaders, I have a lot of friends that are Christian. As a graduate of a state university with no religious affiliation, I have quite a few non-Christian friends. When you throw them together on social media, prepare to watch the sparks fly.
The last few years in politics have been rocky for many Christians, to say the least. Many hold strongly to policies and politicians that some outside (and inside!) the Church would argue have little to no redeemable traits. Whether or not this is truly the case, the constant accusation from a multitude is this: “Why are you Christians acting so unlike Christ?”
A quote often attributed (probably incorrectly) to Ghandi goes, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ”. The recognition of a disconnect between the founder of the faith and his followers has seemed obvious for a long time now.
Why is this the case? Most Christians themselves recognize the gap between their own character and that of Christ. A big theological phrase that is often used in these circumstances is progressive sanctification– progressively growing more and more in the uprightness of Jesus over a person’s lifetime.
Recognizing this, many are still left bewildered at the behavior of plenty of the Christians they interact with. Since the job of a Christian is to grow more like Christ, why do these undeniable flaws remain in them? Here are three possible (though not the only!) reasons.
One of the most common metaphors Jesus uses to describe his followers is that of a tree. As the tree grows, it will eventually produce fruit, and that fruit is the good character that reflects Christ (Galatians 5:22-3). However, until that tree gets to a certain point, it won’t produce fruit. It has to grow a considerable amount first. And on top of that, the first harvest of a fruit tree is never the largest. Each one that comes after will increase in the amount of fruit grown.
The same goes for Christians. Expecting a follower of Christ to develop Jesus’ pure heart immediately is like asking a sapling to produce fruit overnight. True character is never produced on the spot, it’s grown. You don’t learn Calculus from one conversation with your high school Math teacher, and Christians don’t develop true righteousness with one prayer to God. It takes many more hours in study, discussion, and experience to develop Math skills; so too, with Christian behavior and morality in general.
Side note: most children have a key trait in common– they like to be loud. Whether it’s all the time or just some of the time, kids can reach volume levels adults avoid. Underdeveloped humans tend to be loud, and underdeveloped believers do too. It’s quite possible many of the people we encounter are simply the loudest (and oftentimes most immature) voices in the debate.
After roughly a year in Chicagoland, I think I’ve figured out how people drive in and near the city. People love to be productive and not even a red light will stop them from doing so. The amount of times a person has to honk to get the attention of the first vehicle in line at a newly green light is too high. I don’t mean to overstate things but that can be very……frustrating.
These people aren’t intentionally trying to slow down or harm others around them. Often they’re just unaware that their actions are causing others
In conversation, Christians (though this applies to people across the board) can be unaware of the way their words and actions come across. The intention may be good, but the result isn’t always the same. Tone, context, body language, cultural cues, recent events, and a whole host of things can factor into what may or may not make a statement or action offensive. Christ has one feature that most Christians don’t: he knows everything. He perfectly read every situation as it truly was and therefore didn’t have the ignorance typical of many of his followers.
Does this take away from the issues they cause? Not at all, the problems should be addressed. But they should be addressed from a posture of informing ignorance and not correcting evil-doers.
The last possibility on our list is the one many jump to first: the lack of genuine faith. It’s easy to pull out the “fake-Christian” card whenever a believer doesn’t act in a holy manner.
Jesus himself is quick to caution us against this. In the famous “judge not, lest ye be judged” passage, Jesus reminds his listeners that the judgement of a person’s heart is not humans’ job but God’s. The only one who can truly see what makes up a person’s heart is God and he will determine in the end who was truly genuine and who wasn’t.
Does this keep us from judging whether or not certain actions or words are wrong? Not in the slightest. The heart is unseen to mortal eyes and only visible to divine ones. Actions and words can be seen and heard by us, and we are told to judge with “right judgement” by Christ himself (John 7:24). We are able and encouraged to weigh actions and words, but not hearts.
With all of these cautions in place, it is possible a person claiming to be a Christian is actually an imposter. We hope it is rare, and we hope that it is simply immaturity and ignorance showing, but poor behavior can indicate a faithless heart.
Judge by the True Model
All of this goes to show that Christianity is only imperfectly understood by simply interacting with Christians. Some can give a wonderful picture of who Christ is, but often immaturity and ignorance can cloud that picture. The only true way to know Christianity is by truly knowing Christ.
Do you want to judge the merits of this religion? Look past it’s people and look to its founder, its God. His character is what true Christians will develop over their lives. Jesus lived a sacrificially loving life, giving his life to make up for unintentional and intentional evils in his people’s lives. He stood for truth and didn’t budge even though he was being ripped to shreds physically and spiritually. He devoted his life to caring for the weak and poor. To those who mocked him, he never shot back. To his followers who let him down, he never returned in kind. When people shouted, “Crucify him!”, he prayed to God, “Forgive them.”
If that’s the type of character you want to develop, look to Jesus. He’s the only one who can grow it in you.
But be warned, if you turn to Jesus, you’ll start to grow a heart for the immature and ignorant. If he loves them so much, you’ll begin to do so as well. It’s inevitable.