Are Christian jerks even Christian?

by K.W. Leslie, 10 August

Bouncing back to the question my pagan friend had in my first article on Christian jerks: “So you’re the real Christians, and they aren’t?” My response is “Kinda.”

Other Christians will respond “No.” Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit, and if we’re not producing fruit as Jesus expects, these folks will point out there’s no evidence of the Spirit within us, so he may not even be within us. No fruit, no Spirit, not Christian.

And that’s a valid point.

No seriously: That’s a valid point. If we’re truly following Jesus, fruit’s gonna grow! In part because we’re gonna mimic his compassionate, kind, loving character: We see how Jesus treats people, and we treat ’em the same way. We’re not gonna project our bad attitudes on him so we can justify ourselves; we’re gonna choose to adopt his good attitude. And the other part is when the Holy Spirit pokes us in the conscience—“Hey, quit being a dick”—we’re gonna listen, instead of pretending the devil’s tempting us to stop being so zealous.

If we’re truly following Jesus, our character’s gonna transform into his. If we’re not, particularly if we’ve been self-identifying as Christians for decades, we might not even be Christian. Gotta repent and be saved.

But the reason I don’t just say Christian jerks aren’t real Christians, is because I’ve been one of ’em. And I was legitimately Christian. A sucky Christian, but still Christian. Fruit took a long time to develop, in part because instead of adopting Jesus’s character, I embraced the idea of cheap grace and took my salvation for granted: I did as I pleased, and didn’t bother growing fruit. Some grew, ’cause some always will, ’cause it’s how the Spirit marks his people. But it grew in spite of me, regardless of my poor efforts or lack of effort altogether. (I did grow in my knowledge of bible trivia, which was all the “fruit” my fellow Christian jerks cared about.) When the Spirit corrected me, or sent others to correct me, too often I’d blow him off: Didn’t God save me by his grace? He did? Well then I’m good… right?

Only good enough to be the lowest in God’s kingdom. Mt 5.19 But you realize Jesus expects more of us than that. Which is why the Spirit didn’t stop going after me till I got the point and worked on the fruit. Took me years. Takes others decades.

Some of Jesus’s first students committed some pretty serious dick moves, y’know. James and John wanting to rain fire on Samaritans. Lk 9.54 Simon Peter straight-up denied Jesus. Yet these things didn’t unsave them. I know; you mighta heard sermons which claimed otherwise. There’s a popular misinterpretation going round which claims Jesus had to restore his relationship with Peter by asking him “Do you love me?” thrice, Jn 21.15-19 to make up for Peter's three denials. Almost as if Jesus had to restore Peter’s karmic balance—which is how we know this interpretation is crap. Jesus totally foreknew Peter would fail him, Jn 13.38 and loved him anyway. Likewise he foreknew we’d fail him, as we regularly do. And no, there are no restorative incantations necessary. We won’t have to spend a thousand years in purgatory answering “Do you love me?” to make up for every boneheaded act we’ve committed.

Yes, Jesus saves jerks. Jerks like me. They’re not fake Christians, false Christians, phony Christians, lapsed Christians, heretic Christians. If they are, it’s because other things put ’em into those categories: Jerkish behavior isn’t what does it. You could totally be both a Christian and a jerk.

But please don’t.

Disowning Christian jerks.

I write this because lots of Christians don’t wanna be associated with jerks. Myself included. They’re an embarrassment to Christianity, get in the way of the gospel, discourage people from coming to Jesus, and give antichrists an excuse to mock, resist, harass, or even persecute us. I have the darnedest time sharing Jesus with people who’ve been burned by Christian jerks. First I gotta prove I’m not a jerk, then remind ’em Jesus isn’t a jerk, then get ’em over the impossibly large hurdle of forgiving all the jerks.

Because of their destructive behavior, a lot of Christians claim Christian jerks aren’t even Christian. Again: No fruit, no Spirit, not Christian. And again: Valid point. Because it doesn’t matter how we self-identify: Plenty of people who self-identify as Christian, aren’t getting into the kingdom.

Matthew 7.21-23 KJV
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

On the other side of the coin we got Christians who would never say Christian jerks aren’t Christian. Because we’re saved by grace, not works, and even though jerks do evil, it doesn’t mean God can’t still forgive them and let ’em into his kingdom. Where they’ll be the lowest… but they’ll be in, ’cause grace.

I admit I ping-pong back and forth between these extremes. With some jerks I’m willing to say, “Well they’re immature, but I’d say they’re still Christian.” For others, “Nope, not even close; not even making an effort.” I wrote as much about the president recently, because his public behavior (it’s not just private reports, which might be partisan) indicate he’s not listening to the Holy Spirit at all. It’s easier to tell when you personally know the jerk in question, but public behavior and reputation is still important, 1Ti 3.7, Tt 2.8 and gives us plenty enough evidence to show whether a person follows Jesus or not. It’s a judgment call, and we Christians are fully authorized to make those judgments.

It’s tricky to make these judgements though. ’Cause jerks are irritating! We have to acknowledge this when we discern whether they’re fruitful or not: Are we biased in favor of them not being Christian? And on the other extreme: Have we confused grace with liberalism, and want ’em to be saved so bad we’re willing to overlook their continuing defiance of the Holy Spirit? Because that’s not wise either.

So yeah, I don’t claim every Christian jerk is no true Christian. I see just enough fruit in ’em to say, “The Spirit’s still at it, so they’re a work in progress.” It’s only the people where I can see no such fruit, and no repentance at all, where I say, “Nope, they still need to be saved.” Keep praying for such people.

And if you have a Christian jerk in your church, bear this in mind. They might be Christian, but immature. Or they might not be Christian at all. Pray for them either way. Nudge ’em towards Jesus. Do not put them into leadership roles! (And God help you if they’re already in leadership, ’cause they’re the pastor’s family members or because people overlook their immaturity ’cause they’re so talented. Yikes.) Be patient with them, just as God is patient with us. Love ’em anyway. I know it’s hard, but try.