In a recent post I discussed a 2013 survey which suggested that more US christians behaved like Pharisees than behaved like Jesus. And I had to admit I didn’t score as well myself as I’d have liked 1.
So what needs to change?
Are the questions a fair representation?
I think the questions give a reasonable picture of how a christian should behave, but I think they may slightly romanticise Jesus. For example, the gospels show Jesus was sometimes strongly critical of people, and argued doctrine with the religious leaders.
But it is certainly true that he was known for hanging out with “sinners” and was generally encouraging to them while critical of the religious. So I’m happy to go with the criteria used in this survey.
What do you think of the criteria?
The study points out that many Millennials (people aged about 15 to 35) “are often leaving church due in large part to the hypocrisy they experience” and makes the following observation:
“Many Christians are more concerned with what they call unrighteousness than they are with self-righteousness. It’s a lot easier to point fingers at how the culture is immoral than it is to confront Christians in their comfortable spiritual patterns.”
This suggests to me that christians and churches need to refocus:
Grace over legalism
The ultimate truth of christianity is that “God is love”. We believe God’s love and grace determine his action to save us and sanctify us. If anything we do obscures that truth, then we are heading in the wrong direction.
We believe it is the grace of God that has changed us, not so much our own good moral efforts. This should make us humble, not arrogant. If we are looking down on others (like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14), we have a wrong attitude. We are all on the journey of life together.
One important aspect of humility is to not pretend we know everything and do everything right:
- be vulnerable
- be willing to share doubts and questions
- we don’t always have to appear to be right
- be interested in others rather than self-focused.
Inclusive or exclusive?
Some christians seem always to be looking for ways to exclude people. They seem to look for fault in doctrine or behaviour, and sometimes even appear to be glad when they find it. Jesus was not judgmental to the downtrodden.
Christians should show acceptance of people even when we think they are living wrongly, just as Jesus accepted prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers and beggars. These days, many outsiders need to feel they belong and are accepted before they will believe. One church I know of trains its members to be accepting and non-judgmental of newcomers, no matter who they are or appear to be.
People, not scalps
If we only look to serve people so we can evangelise, then our love isn’t genuine. Of course we want people to follow Jesus, but we also want the best for them in every way. Being kind and serving others are valuable in themselves (Jesus told us to behave in these ways).
We need to be careful here. We all have different gifts, and not all are called to the same ministries. We need to apply these ideas to our churches as a whole, not just individuals.
Many christians want to talk about sin, but Jesus rarely talked about sin to “sinners”, mainly to the religious. Offering grace and the opportunity to be part of God’s kingdom is a more attractive way to present the gospel. Repentance will come. And when we do talk about sin, using the word is probably not helpful – perhaps we can re-phrase to talk about our feelings of guilt and our need for forgiveness.
Conviction and sanctification are works of the Spirit
Christians are prone to telling others where they are wrong, forgetting that the Holy Spirit has his own way to convict people. There is definitely a place for lovingly cautioning other believers, but our first priority with unbelievers must be to lovingly serve them and share the good news with them.
People walk different paths to God, and we need to look for how the Holy Spirit is working in each person and support that, rather than assume they are totally ‘lost’ and hit them with a formulaic statement of the gospel.
All we own is a gift from God, so we shouldn’t hold onto it too tightly. Stingy people are not attractive. We can be generous with our money and possessions, and also with our time and interest. Instead of wanting to meet our own need for self esteem and recognition in a conversation, we can offer the other person recognition.
Another aspect of generosity is not being judgmental, something Jesus warned us against. One of the major barriers between christians and non-believers is when christians are judgmental about others. Few of us want to be part of a community that always looks at the negative in people and organisations. On the other hand, love expressed in our words and in practical ways shows the essence of God’s character and is attractive to outsiders.
Another aspect of generosity is being hospitable. Not everyone has this gift, but those who do should be encouraged to have neighbours (not just fellow church members) over for dinner as Jesus asked us to do.
Practical love and community service
There are many ways christians and churches can serve their neighbours and the wider community:
- practical help (a meal, an offer to help with a job around the home, etc) when a neighbour is going through a difficult time;
- volunteer in community organisations and activities (cleanups, bushcare groups, etc);
- churches can sponsor playgroups, support groups (AA, family support, legal and financial advice, etc), childcare, community gardens, men’s sheds, etc; and
- much more.
The bottom line
“They’ll know we are christians by our love.” That’s the ideal. Let’s try to avoid being known by our judgmentalism or our lack of interest in others.
This is just a few ideas. Have you any further suggestions?
Note 1: For the record, if I score 2 for yes, 1 for sometimes and 0 for no, my scores would be something like: Actions: Jesus 4 – Pharisees 3; Attitudes: Jesus 8 – Pharisees 3. Not so bad on attitude, but not so good on action.