’Cause not every irreligious Christian wants to admit that’s what they are.
Yeah, I admit “Sharing Jesus… with liars” is a harsh-sounding title. But it’s accurate. Sometimes when we share Jesus with people, they lie about how Christian they are.
Four out of five Americans consider themselves Christian. That’s not anecdotal; that’s based on surveys. The Pew Forum currently has us at 70.6 percent of Americans. Gallup has us at 75.2 percent. ABC and Beliefnet have us at 83 percent. And the Barna Group has us at 78 percent. Now anecdotally, it’s been my experience that two out of three people tell me they’re already Christian. But I live in California, not the Bible Belt. Stats vary by state.
Of these self-described Christians, there are obviously a number of ’em who aren’t Christian. Do a little prying, and you’ll discover they’re pagans who think they’re Christian. They’re not what I mean by liars. They’re not lying. They honestly do think they’re Christian. It’s just they’re not; they like Jesus, but don‘t believe he’s any more special than any other religious leader, and figure they’re going to heaven because they’re good. And can’t understand their beliefs make us look at ’em so strangely: Doesn’t every Christian talk to their angels?
Nah; by “liar” I mean people who deliberately aren’t telling the truth about their Christian life. They are Christians: They know who God is, what Christ did, how God saved ’em, and all the usual orthodox Christian beliefs. They’re not ignorant about the basics. They totally know what God expects of them. They also know what Christian society expects from them. It’s just they’re not living like that, and they know it. They feel bad about it. Or they don’t; but they don’t wanna get into that with you today. So they conceal. Distort. Misrepresent. Exaggerate. Lie.
They want us to shut up and go away, so they tell us whatever they think we wanna hear. You know, like a lot of us do with telemarketers: “Actually, I’m quite happy with my current cable provider.” Oh, you know that’s a lie. Nobody likes their cable provider.
They don’t pray. Don’t go to church. Don’t read bible. Don’t do good works; they just don’t harm anybody, and figure passive non-interference counts as a good work. Don’t figure they sin as much, swear as much, doubt as much, dabble in superstition as much, as their pagan friends. Figure the amount of religion they can be bothered to engage in, makes ’em
But they like to imagine they’re good enough Christians. Good enough for saving. And hey, we’re not saved by being good anyway. We’re saved by grace. They’re not the best Christians, but even the worst Christians are getting into heaven; they’ll just be the least in the kingdom.
Lying about their church attendance.
There are a lot of
“I go to Twelfth Baptist Church.” Not really: They go to church for Easter and Christmas, and whenever their more-devout-than-them mother is in town and they need to put on a show of church attendance. Twice a year, or less, doesn’t count. Usually they know this, but often they’re in denial.
“I go to Calvary Temple Church.” The liar’s favorite self-justification is, “If I don’t believe it’s a lie, it’s not,” and they go through a rapid bit of logical gymnastics to quickly claim a church. What’s the last church they ever visited?—the one they went to years ago for their co-worker’s son’s wedding, or their niece’s Nativity play, or grandfather’s funeral. The pastor said something nice to them, and it was downright pastorly, and that sorta makes him their pastor, right? So that’s their church.
“I go to Harvest House Church.” It might also be a church they’ve always wanted to go to, and intention counts the same as membership, right? It’s their church in the very same sense they claim “Dibs!” on the next game, the next dance, the front seat in the carpool. It’s like when they claim a football player for their fantasy team. There’s no actual relationship, no real possession. It’s wholly in their head. Not real life.
“I go to St. Pancreas’s Church.” Or it might be the church they figure they would go to, if they went to church. If they figure they’re Baptist, they name the first Baptist church they can think of. If Catholic, they name the Catholic church in town. Of course, getting the name wrong is a bit of a giveaway. That’s St. Pancras.
Or they’ll just name the biggest church in town. Years ago I used to go to the biggest church in town. (It wasn’t when I first started going there, but we had a revival. I won’t use its actual name. I’ll just call it Big Huge Church.) When I shared Jesus with people, and they claimed to be Christian, I’d naturally follow up with, “Where do you attend?” and a lot of ’em picked my church—it’s the first church which came to mind.
- He. “I go to Big Huge Church.”
- Me. “Really? So do I.”
- He. [Startled; recovering] “…Oh yeah. I think I’ve seen you there.”
- Me. [Knowing he hadn’t, ’cause I worked in the video control room, where I was impossible to see—and where I saw everybody] “So. Which service do you go to?”
- He. “Um, the Friday night service” [which we discontinued last year] “but I mostly go to the singles’ group, with Pastor Jimmy” [who moved to Chicago six years ago] “so maybe that’s why you don’t see me.”
- Me. “Uh-huh.”
Honestly I’m not trying to catch people in lies. Nor embarrass them. But it happens anyway.
Even now. I go to a much smaller church today, so they’re unlikely to slip up and claim to go to my church. But they’ll still make all sorts of obvious errors and slipups.
- He. “I usually go to City on a Hill’s early-morning mass.”
- Me. “You mean service.”
- He. “Right, service. But the vicar—”
- Me. “Pastor.”
- He. “Right. Really friendly guy.”
- Me. “He is. But I thought he retired and moved to Florida three years ago, and his daughter’s now leading the church.”
- He. [Flinches, ’cause he doesn’t believe in women pastors, but plugs away nonetheless] “…That’s right. I meant her father. Now she’s the vicar.”
- Me. “Pastor.”
And so on. Some of these encounters turn into virtual Marx Brothers routines.
But look: If they don’t have a church, unplugged Christians need to find one and plug in. The goal isn’t to shame them by pointing out how they obviously go nowhere. It’s to recognize they go nowhere, and encourage ’em to go somewhere. It’s to point out the value of church, and dismiss any invalid excuses for why they don’t wanna go.
Lying about their devotional activities.
“I pray.” No they don’t. As proven the instant we ask ’em to pray: They haven’t a clue how to talk to God. Or what to say. Or lead a prayer. They stumble and sputter all over the place. We have to lead them.
“I read my bible all the time.” No they don’t. As proven by their biblical illiteracy: They don’t know certain significant Old Testament figures, like Gideon (“He handed out bibles?”) or Michael (“He rowed the boat ashore!”) They don’t know the bible’s book order, or that there’s no book of Hezekiah, or can’t tell you what story is found in what book. Some biblical illiteracy is understandable in newbies. But when they know as much as someone who never read the bible at all, it means they never read the bible at all.
“I give to charity.” Or they volunteer someplace, or otherwise do good deeds. Which is fine; Christians should do good deeds. But pagans do good deeds too, so charity proves nothing. In any case, liars exaggerate the few good deeds they do. They gave $50 to the Red Cross 10 years ago. They gave blood at a blood drive 20 years ago. They donated old clothes to Goodwill 5 years ago. They’ve been riding on these actions ever since.
“I read a lot of Christian books.” Or listen to a lot of Christian radio, or watch a lot of Christian movies, or read a lot of Christian websites: They consume Christian media. Which ain’t necessarily a good thing. There’s a lot of crap out there. But too many unplugged Christians do this as an alternative to church: They won’t trust any churches, but Reverend Mountebank’s radio program is just as good! And it goes downhill from there.
“My spouse does…” is a usual way they’ll evade the fact they don’t. Even so, I’ve met more than one Christian who’s pretty sure their spouse’s devotional life says something about them. It doesn’t. We all stand before God on our own.
The habitual liar.
Many habitual liars are that way ’cause they always wanna be seen as better than they are. They hide every problem in their lives. All their worries, doubts, troubles, and issues: Stuffed way down. When they talk about what they’ve done, there’s so much exaggeration mixed in, there’s no telling where the facts stop and the lies begin. They’re embarrassed by how deficient they really are, so they just can’t stop padding their résumé.
So their relationship with Jesus sucks. But they’re hiding how much it sucks. Sometimes for what they consider a good reason: They grew up with parents who forced religion on ’em, or are surrounded by judgmental legalists. They have to put on this act, just to get along. Part of the reason their relationship with Jesus is so lousy, is because they’ve never had access to good examples.
So once you realize they’re full of baloney, ignore everything they told you about their Christian life. Emphasize the grace. The forgiveness. The acceptance. The generosity. All the stuff which means they don’t have to keep up the façade.
I should warn you: If they do decide to get real with you, and the façade cracks, expect a lot of tears. A lot. You might have to direct them to a good counselor, ’cause there’s a lot of hurt behind that dam. But they’re out of the darkness now, so that’s a great start.