Sharing Jesus and sucky Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 January

If we make lousy representatives of Jesus, we’re often extra hesitant to share him with others.

There’s a popular saying among Christians, attributed to Ragamuffin Gospel author Brennan Manning:

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

It’s popular among wannabe-devout Christians, ’cause it lets us point the finger at irreligious Christians and say, “See, it’s their fault.” (And so much for grace.) But is it true? Has anybody bothered to poll nontheists and ask ’em, “Is that why you struggle to believe in God? Because of Christians who won’t act like Christ?” Have we sought to find out if there’s anything to it? Or is it too comfortable and appealing a “truth” to question?

I mean yeah, irreligious Christians need to shape up and stop treating God’s grace so cheaply. Duh. But I’m loath to park the blame for all the unbelievers in the world upon them. I’ve dealt with nontheists long enough to know better. The reason they don’t believe is ’cause they don’t wanna believe. All their reasons are after-the-fact excuses. Because that’s what humans do. We start with the hypothesis, then pick and choose any evidence which backs it. “The facts speak for themselves” only after we’ve thrown away any facts we don’t like.

Misbehaving Christians have nothing to do with nontheism. Anyone who tells you different, has an ax to grind against misbehaving Christians.

I certainly do, ’cause I used to be one of those misbehaving Christians. I grind an ax against my former self all the time. I tell on all the sins he committed, and use him for illustrations of what not to do. Many Christians do likewise with their former selves: We can do it with impunity, and not appear cruel. ’Cause it’d look totally cruel if we used, say, one of our kids as an example of what not to do. Or some other Christian in some other denomination.

I was a rotten kid in my youth. And yeah, I shared Jesus with people. But I actually got a few of ’em to come to church with me. Despite me. ’Cause that’s how the Holy Spirit works: He takes seriously messed-up humans, and does something good through us. He can, and does, use irreligious Christians to spread his gospel. I know from personal experience as one of those irreligious Christians.

That said, is it ideal when irreligious Christians share the gospel? Of course not. Got way easier to share the gospel when I started to act like Jesus. People don’t mind hearing the good news from good people. But when you’re kind of a dick, the good news doesn’t tend to come across as all that good. Too much hellfire, not enough grace. Too much hate; no love. Too likely to become dark Christianity, dark evangelism, and proselytism. Too likely to reproduce all those bad traits, like Jesus complained about the Pharisees doing with their converts. Mt 23.15

No; ideally we want fruitful Christians to exhibit all the same winsome traits as our Master: Love, kindness, patience, forgiveness, grace, compassion, peace, and joy. Because we’re trying to duplicate that in new believers; not the same fake fruit we find among Christianists, who’ve taken the place of Pharisees in that they’re creating the “sons of hell” nowadays.

Don’t misunderstand me. Irreligious Christians need to repent. But can they share Jesus, his gospel, and his kingdom? Of course they can. God’s used talking asses before, Nu 22.26-30 and apparently he still does.

As one of those talking asses…

When I was young and dumb and a giant hypocrite, some of my fellow junior high school classmates got into a religious debate. I don’t even remember what it was about. I just remember I was a young know-it-all, so I felt obligated to pitch my two cents. Both of them were getting the bible wrong, and I knew my bible way better than they. So I corrected them.

ONE OF THEM. “Wait, you’re Christian?”
ME. “Yeah.”
ONE OF THEM. “You sure don’t act like a Christian.”
ME. “Oh, [Unnatural act] you. I’m totally Christian.”

See, I should’ve felt shame at the fact I didn’t behave Christian outside of church. Instead I felt shame at the fact I hadn’t publicized my Christianity enough. From then on, I did. I’d tell anyone.

I still do, but the difference is nowadays I do strive to act like Jesus. But in my junior high and high school days, I was all talk; no action. Telling, not showing. Faith without works.

So whenever I shared Jesus with people, it didn’t make the impact on ’em it should have. Because I was hardly a sterling example of Jesus’s character, the Christian lifestyle, faith in action, anything. I wasn’t a good person. I wasn’t even a nice person. Y’know Paul’s saying, “Follow me as I follow Christ”? 1Co 11.1 MEV Who wants to follow a jerk who’s barely following his Lord?

You might be surprised how often pagans are totally aware of how Jesus acts. They know he’s way nicer than the Christianists who rage against sinners. Way more forgiving than their “devout” family members who somehow skipped all Jesus’s forgiveness requirements. When a dark evangelist doesn’t act as a Christian should, it’s a really useful excuse for pagans who don’t care to turn to Jesus today: “If that’s what religion has done for you, I want no part of it.”

I didn’t realize how my inconsistent behavior was hobbling my efforts to share Jesus. Didn’t figure it should matter anyway. Jesus is true, right? So why should it matter if I suck? ’Cause truth is truth, regardless of the messenger. Don’t tell me, “I can’t accept your Lord because you’re awful”; that’s an ad hominem argument, and logically unsound. (As if people are logical.)

Yep, being a sucky Christian killed my testimony. It kills a lot of Christians’ testimonies. We’re not gonna win people to Jesus when we’re more evil and self-centered than they!

Christians in hiding.

One of my pastors was convinced the reason Christians won’t share Jesus is the phenomenon I call “the Fear”—the irrational, baseless worry that if we share Jesus, terrible things are gonna happen to us. We’ll unexpectedly run into the most violent hardcore antichrist ever. The government will swoop in, drag us to Guantanamo, and waterboard us for fun. We’ll lose jobs, futures, relationships, opportunities, all sorts of stuff. None of it is reasonable, and that’s the point: It’s meant to stymie us from doing anything.

I would tend to agree with him it’s the Fear which keeps Christians from sharing Jesus. But sucky Christians have an additional fear to throw into the barrel, and one which isn’t all that irrational: If they try to share Jesus, people are gonna find out that they’re Christian. And exactly like young junior-high me, people’s response is gonna be, “Wait, you’re Christian?” But unlike me, these sucky Christians are gonna be so embarrassed.

So they reason they don’t share Jesus? Shame. Oh, they’re not ashamed of him; they’re ashamed of themselves.

To be fair, it’s well-placed shame. But there’s a pretty simple solution to the problem: Stop sinning, dangit!

Demonstrate the Spirit’s fruit right in front of people. Be loving. Be joyful. When you see strife, make peace. Be patient. Be kind. Be good. Be loyal. Control your temper. Control the rest of your behavior, for that matter. It’s the only way to show you’re an authentic Christian. Irreligious Christians can settle for Christian T-shirts.

Once you’ve got the behaviors down, people will either guess you’re Christian, or at least religious. And when they see you’re kind not judgmental, patient not angry, loving not hating, loyal not gossipy, they’ll wind up asking you religious questions. ’Cause you’re a safe person to go to. Not like their angry “Christian” parents, bigoted “Christian” in-laws, political nutjob “Christian” neighbors, or those weirdos who keep coming to their door every Saturday morning. You, they know—and you act like they expect a Christian ought.

For the love of God, do not figure once you reach this point, you can “drop the act” and body-slam them with the gospel. Do not share Jesus in any way other than loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, and all that. It’s not meant to be an act; it’s who you’re meant to be from now on. Any form of the gospel which lacks the Spirit’s fruit isn’t good news, and therefore not gospel. Stay fruity.

What if you’re practicing the fruit, and you’ve been practicing the fruit, but people just aren’t coming to you? Well, that can happen. Likely means one of two things:

  1. Your fruit is defective. Stop kidding yourself, repent, and seek and destroy your blind spots.
  2. The people around you aren’t actually interested in Jesus at all.

Hey, sometimes people aren’t interested in Jesus. For all sorts of reasons. One place I used to work, the last so-called “Christian” who worked there was a royal jerk to everyone around. Understandably, they didn’t wanna hear about Christ for a good long time. It took a long time to gain their trust. (Time I sorta needed to work on myself.) So if that’s your situation, practice that patience and work on yourself. Keep loving them. Your time will come.

But in general, start following Jesus. Then come out of hiding, with nothing to fear.