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Why Would I Want to Be a Christian if Christians Aren't the Kind of People I Would Want to Be?

The “big question” we examined in our series last weekend was “Why would I want to be a Christian when the Christians I’ve met aren’t the kind of people I would want to be?” This question focuses less on what Christians believe and more on how they behave.  Some people think Christianity isn’t for them because of particular beliefs that they find confusing or hard to believe. Another common reason some people object to becoming (or staying!) a Christian is because they see people who profess to be Christians treating others poorly or not helping those  in need. In fact, it is often the behavior of Christians which leads people to re-examine and question the claims of the Christians faith; our poor behavior can prevent people from believing. There are no shortage of quotations that show this reality of people rejecting the faith because they find the behavior of Christians problematic.Here are a few examples that have always stuck with me:

  • “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” (Gandhi) 
  • “If Christ were here, there is one thing he would not be - a Christian.” (Mark Twain)
  • “The trouble with born-again Christians is that they are an even bigger pain the second time around” (Herb Kaen)

How should we respond when we are asked this question?

Admit That Christians Have Done (and Continue To Do) Horrible Things - And Others Do, Too

One thing to recognize in these conversations is that we do not need to defend the actions of every person who has ever labeled themselves a Christian. We can look at both the harmful things that Christians have done over the years, (ranging from things like the inquisition to justifying slavery) and the things that Christians have failed to do (such as speaking out against injustices). Christians have failed in what we have done and left undone in thought, word, and deed. Like the scribes and Pharisees described in Matthew 23, Christians often have all the outward appearances of religion and perform the rites and rituals, but their conduct and treatment of others does not match what God calls for. Rather than being defensive, we need to admit that Christians - including ourselves - have done some bad things over the years and we do not always faithfully live out the teachings of Jesus that we hold.

At the same time, it is important to remember that non-Christians have also committed some of these sins of omission and commission, so it is not really accurate to say these sins were committed because of Christianity; Christians have committed injustices, but Christianity is not necessarily responsible for these injustices. If you reject Christianity because of what Christians have done, you are also going to have to reject other worldviews and religions (including atheism) because of what people have done.

Christianity Also Confronts the Failures of Christians

Christians have failed to live out their beliefs, but they have also sought to confront and correct this issue. I have noticed that people focus on the bad things that Christians have done, especially those justified using the Bible. In America, slavery is the most notable example, as it is undeniable that Christians used the Bible to claim to defend the practice. However, it also needs to be noted that Christians confronted the practice, with many leading abolitionists using the Bible and Christian principles to fight against it. For example, you can look to John Woolman and (in England) William Wilberforce whose Christian faith is what led them to actively oppose slavery. 

In fact, when we look at Jesus, we see that the Christian faith consistently confronts its followers for failing to live up to the standards of the faith. Jesus says some harsh words (see Matthew 23) and at times would confront sin and injustice. However, Jesus was not the first to do so, as he was following in the footsteps of the Old Testament prophets who would call out injustices among God’s people. The Christian faith is one that is self-critiquing, that understands people’s struggles to do what is right and to live out God’s ways of living in this world. This critique makes sense when we consider the heart of the Christian message. 

The Christian Message Gives Hope for All Who Fall Short 

Christianity is not for perfect people, but for sinners -- those who struggle and need forgiveness! Christianity teaches that we are saved because of what Christ did, not by our own works (Ephesians 2:8-9) and that not all who profess to be Christians will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21-23; 13:24-30). Matthew 7:15-20 warns of false teachers who will come in the name of Christ and do evil things, and in James 2 we read that believers’ lives will be changed. Christians will still struggle with sin (Romans 7:14-24) and non-Christians will do good things too (Matthew 5:45; Romans 2:14-15). Christianity does not teach that we become perfect or better than others by following Jesus, but rather that even true Christians have flaws and that not all who profess faith authentically know Jesus.

Therefore, one would expect that Christ’s followers will at times stumble and fall and mess up and commit sins, and that there will be pockets of false teachers and false professions of faith. The reality of professing Christians falling short of his standard should not be an argument against Christianity, but rather a way of confirming how the Christian faith actually reflects the realities of the world. In addition, this is a reminder that when we do stumble and fall as Christians, there is forgiveness and hope -- our faith and witness is not built upon our actions but on the work of our Savior.

Examine Your Own Life

This critique of Christianity is one that we must keep in mind at all times; rather than ruling out the faith, hopefully it will lead us to examine our own hearts and our example to others. As we read Jesus’s words in Matthew 23, do we see similar hypocritical behaviors in our own lives? Do we fail to speak out about injustices in the world around us, tend to religious duties but not matters of justice? Do we say one thing but do another? May we acknowledge these sins and bring them to Jesus, the one who is the only perfect example (Hebrews 12:2; 1 Peter 3:18). He died to free us from our sin (John 3:16) - including the sin of hypocrisy. Let us also recognize that he has come to transform our lives and live out this transformation. 

You see, sometimes the behavior of Christians can  be the reason  people reject the Christian faith.; However, we also have the opportunity to lead people to Christ by living our lives the way Christ intended us to.. The hope that we display in great moments of trial can lead people to ask us to explain the reason for our hope (1 Peter 3:15). In fact, I look at my own life and it was the example of Christians that kindled me to put my faith into action, as there was something different - in a good way - about Christians I encountered at my school. 

May we as God’s people not be the type of people others do not want to be like, but rather display the fruits of the spirit in our daily lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Our lives and examples can show others that the Holy Spirit lives in us. We can’t control (or defend) the behavior of  Christiansin the past or present, but we do have power in our lives and in our circles to either repel people from the faith or draw people to Christ through our conduct. Lord, let us live as those who are the sweet aroma of your grace in this world.

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