Showing posts with label #Jerks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Jerks. Show all posts

Bad Christian or non-Christian?

by K.W. Leslie, 30 January 2024

Yep, it’s time to play everybody’s least-favorite game, “Bad Christian or non-Christian?”—the game in which we’re trying to discern whether or not a person’s saved.

I say “least-favorite” because I’ve been rebuked multiple times for playing this game. How dare I try to discern whether someone’s Christian or not. How dare I not take their word for it—if they call themselves Christian, why, that’s what they are!

…Well, unless they’re not Evangelical. Unless they’re Roman Catholic, or Orthodox, or Mormon, or mainliner. Unless they’re members of the opposition party. Unless they’re woke. Unless they’re gay. Unless they’ve trespassed in a way that, to these people’s minds, undermines or undoes their salvation.

…Yeah, the people who rebuke me are nearly always playing “Bad Christian or non-Christian?” themselves. The only difference between them and me: Different metrics. They base it on whether these people claim to be a member of our religious tribe, whether they’ve recited the sinner’s prayer, and whether they’ve otherwise not trespassed against their personal peeves.

Me, I base it on the two requirements Jesus laid out in his Sermon on the Mount: Fruit and obedience.

Matthew 7.15-23 NET
15“Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will recognize them by their fruit.
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven—only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many powerful deeds in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’ ”

Are they at the very least trying to exhibit the Spirit’s fruittrying to be more gracious, compassionate, empathetic, kind, patient, devout, peacemaking, humble? Are they at the very least trying to follow Jesus, not in a way which conforms to the crowd, but every once in a while opposes the crowd, because they recognize they have to abide by Christ Jesus’s higher standard?

I mean, if they’re not even trying—if instead they’re reveling in being dicks—we’re not just dealing with a bad Christian, a person who’s following Jesus but doing a poor job of it. We’re dealing with someone who knows Jesus teaches otherwise, but doesn’t give a rip; it’s more fun, and gets ’em more praise, to be evil. Jesus is in no way their Lord. They’re not Christian. They quit.

Humility, and the “cage-stage” Christian.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 March 2023

The starting point of theology may be revelation, but the first principle of theology is humility: Recognizing we’re wrong about God, and Jesus is right, and following Jesus so we can know God better.

The purpose of theology isn’t to learn so much that we become God-experts, then correct everyone else around us. It’s to correct ourselves. Our beliefs. Our poor character. Our bad attitudes. Jesus may have redeemed us, and granted us access to God’s kingdom, but we still suffer from a depraved sense of selfishness, and need the Holy Spirit’s help and power to overcome that, and become like Jesus—the only human who ever did it right.

The problem? A lot of Christians have utterly skipped this first theology lesson. Or weren’t paying attention, ’cause we were too busy staring at the syllabus. Or promptly forgot all about it, ’cause all our new knowledge puffed us up. However it happened.

Hence too many of us imagine theology’s first principle is, “I was wrong. But now I’m not! Jesus fixed me.” Supposedly when he gave us new life, he also gave us a new nature. His nature. And now we have a Jesus nature, and fruit of the Spirit now grows in us spontaneously on its own, and we have the mind of Christ. 1Co 2.16 Whatever we think… it’s miraculously just as Jesus thinks. All our motives are good and pure and noble and godly. We have arrived.

And if you claim we haven’t… well, [UNNATURAL ACT] you. I have the mind of Christ, and you’re just some dirty heathen who thinks he’s Christian, but you probably voted for the other guy, didn’tcha? Who are you to claim I’m just as corrupt as before I came to Christ? You don’t know Christ. I do. [Cue Genesis’s “Jesus He Knows Me.”]

I run into Christians with this mindset all the time. They’d be the folks who email me to explain, patiently or in full fiery wrath, why I’m wrong and heretic and going to hell. Or who show up on discussion boards to loudly, angrily correct everybody who varies ever so slightly with their infallible doctrines. Back when they were pagan, they’d get this way about plenty of other subjects, like politics and Star Wars. Now they do it with doctrine. Or apologetics.

There’s a term the Calvinists use when their young, overzealous theologians get like this—when they’re a little too enthusiastic about “the doctrines of grace,” and forget to be gracious altogether. Calvinists call it “the cage stage.”

Christians who want us to be angry at sin.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 October 2022

“Doesn’t this make you angry? Well it should! It’s sinful, and it’s an abomination, an outrage, to God. It should be an abomination, an outrage, to you too. Don’t just tolerate it. Get angry!”

Betcha you’ve heard this statement, or something like it, before. Hopefully not from your pastor, from the pulpit, as part of the official messages and teachings of your church. God forbid. But I know churches where it doesn’t just slip into the messages; it’s the message. They feel it’s every Christian’s duty to hate sin. It needs to offend you so much, you’ll stay away from it. If you don’t do this, falling into sin is inevitable; if you won’t do this, it’s like you’re inviting sin into your life, and they want nothing to do with you.

It’s a pervasive teaching in some denominations. They think it’s how we achieve holiness, which they’ve confounded with goodness. To their minds if we’re gonna be holy, we gotta love what’s good—and hate what’s evil. Isn’t that how it’s done?

It might not be how your denomination thinks; your bishops, pastors, and presbyters may know better. But I guarantee you there are always gonna be some people who were exposed to one of those sin-hating churches, who consider it a mandatory Christian discipline… and who are regularly outraged it’s not taught as one in your church! (It’s one of many things they’re angry about, y’notice.) Lots of ’em will take it upon themselves to make sure it gets taught. They’ll promote it in the small group meetings, the Sunday school classes, the bible studies, the prayer groups, or simply the conversations individual Christians will have with one another.

These’d be the folks who preach, “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” and spend 99 percent of their efforts hating the sin. They insist Christians have to hate the sin; hate it with the very same white-hot intensity God hates it. Shun it. Ban it. Vote for politicians who will outlaw it. Kick anyone who does it, out of our churches till they repent. It’s how we stay pure—pure as that white-hot hatred we’re supposed to have.

Um… what’s with all this hatred? Aren’t enmity and anger works of the flesh? Even if we should avoid sinning whenever we can, isn’t this emphasis on hating sin gonna drive us to unintentionally hate sinners, and drive them away from Jesus?

I’ve brought this fact up quite a few times to Christians who claim we gotta be angry at sin. Their usual responses are to

  • accuse me of compromise, or of secretly committing such sins myself: “Are you saying we should tolerate sin? You realize God’s gonna judge all the nations which tolerate sin.”
  • be okay with hating sinners: “Those people hate God, as you can tell by their bad fruit. They’re destined for hell. Why waste time and effort on people who hate God?”
  • claim it’s actually easy to do both: “People can both hate sin and love sinners. I can absolutely hate when my kid lies to me, but still totally love my kid.” (Sure; I get that. But now try again with someone whom you don’t unconditionally love. Say, a coworker who constantly lies to you. Or a politician from the opposition party.)

In general, the thinking is we Christians have to be angry at sin… because if sin enrages us, if we absolutely hate it, we won’t commit it. It’ll repel us, and we won’t sin.

It’s a useful trick to help us resist temptation. Does it work? Not at all. Didn’t for Paul of Tarsus.

Romans 7.15 NRSVue
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

Paul sinned, same as every human. And Paul knew better than to sin, and didn’t wanna sin… but he did. He blamed his body, his “flesh,” for having sin embedded in it, and doing what he didn’t want.

Romans 7.22-23 NRSVue
22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched person that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Well, Jesus. Ro 7.25 But rather than trust Christ Jesus, a whole lot of Christians have adopted the “useful trick” of trying to get us to be angry at sin. Since it’s already quite easy to get people angry, may as well put that anger to good use, yeah? Get ’em angry at evil.

Angry Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 October 2022

Anger’s a work of the flesh. If you didn’t know this, you need to check out Paul’s list again. It’s right there in verse 20.

Galatians 5.19-21 NRSVue
19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

A number of present-day translations have weaseled out of translating θυμοί/thymí (KJV “wrath”) as “anger” by translating it as a type of anger which sounds more brief. More temporary.

  • AMP, ESV, “fits of anger.”
  • CSB, ISV, LEB, NASB, NET, WEB “outbursts of anger.”
  • CEB “losing your temper.”
  • GW “angry outbursts.”
  • NABRE “outbursts of fury.”
  • NIV “fits of rage.”
  • NKJV “outbursts of wrath.”

But I’m pretty sure the KJV’s “wrath,” and its synonyms “anger,” “rage,” and “fury,” are fully accurate descriptions of what Paul wrote and meant.

Why are the translations trying to weasel out of it? Because there are a lot of angry Christians out there. A LOT. Too many. It’s everywhere. And just like gluttony in the United States, Christians are pretending anger’s not the profoundly serious problem it is.

Christians are pretending anger’s not the thing which regularly makes us least like Jesus. We’re mighty quick to point out Jesus himself got angry, more than once. Evil, sin, hypocrisy, and inhumanity regularly enrage God throughout the scriptures; heck, in Revelation entire bowls of wrath get dumped out in judgment for humanity’s sins. If God himself can get so righteously pissed off, why can’t we?

But when we know God, and know ourselves, we know exactly why not. God is love. We aren’t. We’re meant to develop God’s love in our lives… and don’t. When God gets angry, his love mitigates this; it’s why it takes a lot to get him angry. Ex 34.6, Nu 14.18, Jl 2.13, Jh 4.2 And when he does get angry, he doesn’t go berserk and do reckless things. He only concentrates on stopping evil.

Christians who’ve developed the good fruit of love oughta be just as slow to anger, Jm 1.19 and when we do get angry, we still keep our cool enough to keep from sinning, nor listening to devilish temptation. Ep 4.26-47

Oughta be. Aren’t. Instead we’re full of excuses. Our anger is a “righteous anger” because we insist we’re enraged by the very same things God is. And we need to stamp these things out now. Right now. Right the f--- NOW. Get your guns; we’re gonna go lynch some evildoers. We gotta eliminate them before they finally piss off God and he starts dumping wrath on all of us.

Really what angry Christians do, is justify their anger, justify never being rid of it, and justify incorporating it into their Christianity. Their anger, they insist, is biblical. Not mitigated by God’s love; these folks dismiss God’s love as irrelevant by pointing out, “But God is also just,” and therefore their his outrage at “evil” cancels out any love he might display towards sinners. Instead they do “tough love”—a type of casual cruelty towards sinners, which is supposedly “love” because they don’t straight-up murder them, like they feel they have every right to do.

Angry Christians’ anger completely wipes out any love, compassion, grace, and christlikeness they oughta have in their lives. It doesn’t look like Jesus at all. Since pagans are generally aware of what Jesus oughta look like, it means these self-described “Christ-followers” aren’t Christian; they’re hypocrites. Since there are so many angry Christians out there, these pagans often wonder whether all Christians are actually Jesus-denying hypocrites.

Heck, some of us Christians wonder that too.

Are Christian jerks even Christian?

by K.W. Leslie, 10 August 2020

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.

Being a jerk: “It’s just who I am.”

by K.W. Leslie, 16 July 2020

Many a novelty T-shirt warns you they’re coming. “I speak fluent sarcasm,” or “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best,” or “Back up till I’ve had my Risperdal coffee,” or “I can go from zero to [awful] in 60 seconds.” There, that counts as their necessary legal notification that they’re gonna be a jerk.

That, and pitching a hissy fit when somebody asks ’em to put on a face mask. Yeah, those folks are just a ray of sunshine whenever their faces screw up… Sorry, I’m also kinda fluent in sarcasm. But I’ll stop now.

I used to be a jerk myself. It came out as sarcasm, which is how I got away with it for so long in Christian circles: It amused and entertained people. I still have pastor friends who enjoy the fact I can say the things they can’t. Not because I’m being a dick and they have to be better than that; plenty of pastors are dicks, and Christ Jesus expects better of both them and me. No; it’s because when the things I say bug people, it’s not gonna make ’em quit my church, or try to get me fired. But back in my a--hole days, my pastor friends were jerks like me, and appreciated how much better I was at ridiculing people than they. I had more practice, I guess.

In any event, I mocked people so often I became known as “the sarcastic guy.” Which is not a badge of honor… but I wore it like one. I thought it was a compliment: “Look how clever he is.” Wasn’t just me either: When people met my family members, they immediately noticed we were all that way. Looked like it was hereditary: Mom did it, Grandpa did it; it’s our thing. So that became my excuse: It’s in my genes.

It really wasn’t. Sarcastic people are angry, the anger gets turned into angry humor, and that’s where sarcasm comes from. Grandpa was angry that Grandma treated him like crap. Mom was angry that Dad treated her like crap. I was angry with Dad too; same reason. Sarcasm was my outlet, and since I didn’t know psychology I of course misdiagnosed the problem. And since I enjoyed making fun of others, I justified the problem: It was hereditary. I was born that way.

Humanity does the very same thing with all our favorite sins: We blame ’em on anything but ourselves. It’s because we’re the products of evolution, of our environment, of the culture, that our families messed us up, that it’s a birth defect… and of course that it is a product of our birth, but it’s not a defect; it’s like mutations in the X-Men movies, which might have their down sides but ultimately grant us superpowers. We take neither credit nor blame for them; we can’t help them either way. We have no control. It’s all predetermined.

And if it’s all predetermined, if it’s all part of the design and the plan for the universe, who’s ultimately responsible? God. He put it in us. Who else?

And God is good, and God doesn’t create evil, so if he made me this way, it can’t be evil. Doesn’t take long before determinists discover this logical argument, and immediately apply it to themselves: “I may be a rotten bastard first thing in the morning, but God didn’t make me a morning person; he made me this way. So back up. Touch not the Lord’s anointed.

So yeah, this is how jerks justify a whole lot of jerkishness. We pass the buck to God.

God’s not gonna accept it though.

I didn’t put it in you.”

Yes, in the beginning God created humanity, and called us good. Then humanity sinned, and now we’re not good. We sin; we’re self-centered. God didn’t put those traits in us, and it’s wrong to credit him with ’em. Even when we like some of those traits; if we think they’re badass. God doesn’t agree.

Imagine an automobile manufacturer who puts out a really good, reliable car, then sends ’em to the dealerships. The dealer thinks they’ll sell better if she repaints them, so she does. The dealer’s mechanic thinks he knows a trick to get better mileage out of the cars, so he tinkers with the engines. The customers don’t know any of this, and when they buy the cars they assume they’re getting ’em just as the manufacturer made ’em. Well, that’s kind of humanity’s deal. We’re not as God originally made us. Sin’s tweaked us a bunch. We need a factory reset.

The stuff God actually does put into us, is the fruit of the Spirit. We just have to cooperate with the manufacturer. But we don’t; we’re kinda fond of the “customizations”—which are actually flaws.

Jerks enjoy being jerks. They don’t care to change their character and become more like Jesus; they’d far rather be jerky than fruity. They like being known as the tough guy or the bad b----; they identify with these traits and consider them essential to who they are. They don’t want the Holy Spirit to mess with “perfection.”

But he will, ’cause he’s got an entirely different idea of perfection.

I had to get over my desire to remain “the sarcastic guy.” The Holy Spirit had to convince me I need to be better than that. ’Cause as far as I was concerned, there wasn’t better. Sarcastic Guy had fans, got laughs, was fun. I had a few arguments with the Spirit about it; I wasn’t gonna win, but I didn’t know any better. I insisted this was who I am, but he countered with, “But I didn’t put it in you.” And if it didn’t come from God, it’s gotta go. True of everything.

A lot of people are avoiding this particular conversation with the Holy Spirit… ’cause deep down, they know it’s coming. He really does want us to change, to become better people, to be more like Jesus, to produce fruit. And we’d really rather not. We’re comfortable where we are. We’re having fun; why’s the Spirit anti-fun? Well he’s not, but they don’t trust him enough to accept that he knows better, and has better things in mind for us.

He’s not content to leave us where we are. We shouldn’t be content where we are either. We should always strive for self-improvement. The path to that, is through Jesus. Follow him.

Zeal’s a work of the flesh.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 July 2020

Frequently the excuse Christians make for being jerks is… they’re just so dedicated to God. He comes first. Orthodox truth and godly standards and biblical principles come first. Your feelings, your hangups, your boundaries, your convictions, most definitely do not—nothing comes before God. They’re never gonna compromise that. It’d be idolatry.

So while they’re defending God and his favorite things (which coincidentally happen to be their favorite things, ’cause projection they’re so tight with God), if they happen to set aside kindness, patience, gentleness, forgiveness, grace, love, or any other of the Spirit’s fruit… well, that’s just gonna be a casualty of the culture war. Fruit’s important and all that, but orthodoxy? Principles? Standards? Absolute truths? We can’t compromise those things; the whole universe will fall to pieces if we do. But we can totally compromise fruit, ’cause on God’s cosmic totem pole fruit’s probably not that important.

Which only goes to show how Christian jerks don’t really know God as well as they imagine. The Spirit’s fruit is God’s character. You think his character’s not important? Not so important, he deposited God himself in us so he can teach and grow this character in us, transform our very nature, and make us like Jesus? Seems fruit’s rather high on God’s list of priorities. But not theirs. They’d rather remain the same jerks they’ve always been, but slap Christian labels on all their works of the flesh instead of do the hard work of transforming into what God wants them to become. It’s way easier. It’s hypocrisy though.

And one of the things they slap Christian labels upon, is their impatience. Which they call zeal, and claim God wants ’em to be zealous. Wasn’t Jesus zealous when he flipped those tables in temple?

John 2.12-17 KWL
12 After this, Jesus went down to Kfar Nahum with his mother, his siblings, and his students.
They stayed there—not many days; 13 it was nearly the Judeans’ Passover.
Jesus went up to Jerusalem, 14 and in temple he found cattle-, sheep-, and pigeon-sellers,
and coin-changers taking up residence.
15 Making a whip out of ropes, Jesus threw everyone, plus sheep and cattle, out of temple.
He poured out the money-changers’ coins, and flipped over the tables.
16 He told the pigeon-sellers, “Get these things out of here!
Don’t make my Father’s house a market-house!”
17 His students were reminded it’s written,
“The zeal of your house will eat me up.” Ps 69.9

Look how zealous Jesus was for his Father’s house! Shouldn’t we be just as zealous for our Father’s house?—and for all the things in it, like orthodoxy and principles and standards? Shouldn’t we be willing to whip a few people if need be?

Here’s the problem: When Paul wrote about the Spirit’s fruit in Galatians, he first stated there are a few character traits we shouldn’t see among Christians, ’cause they indicate a person who’s not following the Holy Spirit. Instead they’re following their own selfish, fleshly impulses. And he provided a list—not a comprehensive one, but it gives us the general idea—of the behaviors we’ll find in such people.

Galatians 5.19-21 KWL
19 Fleshly works are obvious in anyone who practices the following:
Promiscuity. Uncleanness. Unethical behavior.
20 Idolatry. Addiction. Hatred. Rabble-rousing.
Too much zeal. Anger. Partisanship. Separatism. Heresy.
21 Envy. Intoxication. Constant partying. And other people like these.
I warn you of them just like I warned you before:
Those who do such things won’t inherit God’s kingdom.

Now check out that item in the second line of verse 20: “Too much zeal.”

Sometimes fleshly… and sometimes not.

What’s it say in the original Greek text of Galatians? Ζῆλος/zílos. Our word comes from their word. It’s not a different word. But it certainly gets translated as other words:

  • CEB: Obsession.
  • GENEVA, KJV: Emulations.
  • WYCLIFFE: Indignations.

Jealousy, y’notice, is the most popular translation. Because people don’t wanna translate zílos as zeal.

In part because of that quote from John, which is a quote from Psalms, “The zeal of your house will eat me up.” Jn 2.17, Ps 69.9 If Jesus was zealous, and zeal is fleshly, we can’t say Jesus was being fleshly. The Spirit’s fruit is his character and nature; fleshly works are antithetical to Jesus’s very nature!

Likewise Paul wrote it’s okay to be zealous in certain situations—and in the very same letter to the Galatians; in just the chapter before.

Galatians 4.17-18 KWL
17 The legalists are zealous for you. Not for your good:
Instead they want to isolate you, so you can be zealous for them.
18 Being zealous is good—when it’s for every good thing,
and not only when I’m present with you.

He used the verb-form of zeal, ζηλόω/ziló. Means the same thing. And stated zealousness is good—when we’re zealous for good things. When we’re zealous for God, for trusting and following Jesus, for loving our neighbors, for the scriptures… and yes, even for orthodoxy, principles, and standards.

Yet Paul still called zeal a work of the flesh. Because, when misplaced or taken to extremes, it can go very, very wrong.

Same with jealousy. Y’notice those other bible translations turn zílos into “jealousy,” figuring zeal’s fine but jealousy’s not. Well, sometimes jealousy is fine. God is jealous. Straight-up calls himself jealous. Ex 20.5, 34.14 Which means he doesn’t want us worshiping anyone but him, and he’s right to feel that way; worshiping anything else will ruin us, and not because God does the ruining. And when humans get jealous, it’s likewise because we want someone’s exclusive devotion. Sometimes rightly so! You don’t want your spouse lusting after other people; you likewise don’t want our fellow Christians trying to borrow contradictory ideas from other religions, just because they prefer what the Buddha taught to what Jesus teaches.

Now. When I point this fact out to certain Christians, it freaks them out. Because they like their lists of dos and don’ts to be absolute: Always do this; never do that. Makes it simple. Means you don’t have to think too hard. Means you don’t have to practice wisdom—and there’s the real issue, right there. They’d rather not think! Or they’re a bit legalistic, and would prefer that other Christians not think; just act. They don’t want such things as situational truths, to exist. Some of ’em insist there are no such things; that everything’s a black-and-white issue; that this is how loopholes and relativism and sin happen.

But the reality is the bible was written for wise people. And if you lack wisdom, go get some; the Holy Spirit’s giving it out for free. Jm 1.5 He’ll tell you where and how to apply it. He’ll tell you whether you’re practicing proper zeal for God’s house… or improper zeal, which rightly alienates Christians and pagans alike.

Improper zeal.

And of course improper zeal demonstrates most of the other works of the flesh. It’s unethical. Hate-filled. Rabble-rousing. Angry. Partisan. Separatist. Heretic. Envious. And when it’s hopped up on caffeine, sugar, alcohol, adrenalin, or (less likely, but it happens!) liquor and cocaine, yep it’s intoxicated.

Improper zeal ditches the Spirit’s fruit because that stuff gets in its way. It doesn’t bother to be patient and kind. It claims it’s acting in tough love, or harsh love, or “love” modified by all sorts of adjectives which take all the actual love out of it. It’s not about winning people over, but about winning—we gotta defeat our opponents in the debate, or purge sinners instead of rehabilitate them. It’s not about growing closer to Jesus, but about achieving personal goals in knowledge, power, or prestige. It’s not about love of God; it loves his stuff or his perqs, like miraculous power or New Jerusalem—and God himself is secondary, and sometimes we can even take or leave him.

Proper zeal exhibits good fruit: More love, more patience, more grace. Those who demonstrate proper zeal are never gonna get called jerks by the people they interact with—or even the people who oppose them. Even their opponents will appreciate their zeal. They might totally think it’s misplaced—“Y’know, all that effort she puts into her ministry would make her far more money in the private sector”—but they’ll still appreciate it, and recognize she’s a good person regardless of their feelings about her ministry.

Improper zeal? Just the opposite. Their opponents don’t appreciate their enthusiasm; to them it just demonstrates how they’re dicks through-and-through. Any good which might’ve come from it, is wholly squandered.

So yeah, when the subject of zeal comes up, we gotta use our noggins. What kind of zeal are we talking about?—the good kind, or the evil kind? What kind of fruit is it producing? Pay attention. And be cautious, ’cause human nature means it’s more likely to go wrong than not.

“But Jesus was a jerk sometimes.”

by K.W. Leslie, 14 July 2020

Probably the Christian jerk’s favorite excuse for their awful behavior is Jesus himself: He’s a bit of a jerk sometimes, they’ll argue. Therefore sometimes (although it’s way more often than sometimes) it’s all right if they get a little bit jerkish.

Since when is Jesus ever a jerk? Well, they got proof texts.

Let me preemptively say they really don’t. They’ve got Jesus stories where yes, he can be accused of rude, harsh, thoughtless, dickish behavior. But this interpretation is entirely based on the presumption Jesus had a bad attitude: People pissed him off, so he was clapping back at them. Despite having God’s very nature, he decided to act entirely unlike himself, and be fruitless instead of fruity.

Why do they presume Jesus had a bad attitude? ’Cause they have a bad attitude. ’Cause they’re projecting their own bad attitudes upon Jesus. The gospels don’t remind us of his motives and character in every single story; the authors figured we oughta know Jesus already, or at least we oughta hear the stories from someone who does. They didn’t take into account all the selfish people who spin Jesus wrong in order to justify their own fruitless behavior.

And that’s what we have in all the Jesus stories they use to defend themselves: Misinterpretations. Every last one of ’em.

If you truly follow Jesus, you know what he’s like. He’s loving, patient, kind, generous. He’s thoughtful, not reckless. He’s self-controlled, not impulsive; especially not angrily impulsive; he gets ahold of himself so that love, not anger, is his driving force. Really love’s his only driving force.

If your interpretation of Jesus has him acting with any other motives, you don’t know him. Get to know him.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”

Every Christian jerk’s favorite proof text is Matthew 23, where according to popular interpretation, Jesus has absolutely had it with the Pharisee and their scribes, and tears ’em a new one. This is the “woe to you” chapter, and the way people like to imagine Jesus, he’s just livid with rage and bile. Here’s a few pull quotes.

Matthew 23.13 NIV
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”
Matthew 23.27-28 NIV
27 ““Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
Matthew 23.33 NIV
“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”

Pretty much every translation from the King James onward has thrown in a number of exclamation points, ’cause they wanna give you the idea Jesus was yelling his head off at them. That’s how popular Christian culture has chosen to interpret Matthew 23, and far be it from them to disagree. To most, Jesus is cursing the Pharisees, calling down woes upon them in condemnation of their hypocritical behavior.

That’s not accurate. The bit the NIV renders “Woe to you” is οὐαὶ ὑμῖν/ue ymín. The ue is actually a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word אוֹי/oy. We have that word in English, ’cause Yiddish-speakers used it so often: “Oy vey,” meaning “woe to me.” No, those who say “oy vey” aren’t cursing themselves; they’re expressing their own misery. Life is rough, and they’re lamenting this.

The Good News Translation puts it a little better:

Matthew 23.33 GNT
25 “How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You clean the outside of your cup and plate, while the inside is full of what you have gotten by violence and selfishness. 26 Blind Pharisee! Clean what is inside the cup first, and then the outside will be clean too!”

I mean it is terrible for them that their hypocrisy blinds ’em to the fact they’re not as good as they imagine. But again, Christians have traditionally read our own bad attitudes into Jesus’s statements, and assume he’s lecturing them. In reality he’s diagnosing them. This is what’s wrong with too many Pharisees: They focus on looking outwardly devout, but they’re not any more fruitful than before. Christian jerks are exactly the same.

Those who claim Jesus is raging at Pharisees, really don’t understand what he’s doing. He’s lamenting too. He’s weeping in dismay and frustration. As is obvious from how he ends his rant:

Matthew 23.37 GNT
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!”

He’s a spurned father, not an angry crank. Anybody who thinks otherwise is projecting.

And anyone who knows what Jesus is actually doing, but doesn’t care because it doesn’t let ’em get away with being a Christian jerk, is just as much a hypocrite.

Flipping tables, cursing trees, rude names, dead pigs, and the poor.

Moving along, we got Jesus flipping tables in temple. This one’s real popular with jerks who like to pick fights: Jesus got to whip people, so why not they? But double-check that story: Jesus doesn’t appear to whip anyone. Nor does anyone arrest him, or object that he shouldn’t do as he just did. They wanna know who gave him authority to act, Jn 2.18 but they never object and say he did wrong. Because those who ran the concessions legitimately weren’t supposed to be where Jesus found ’em. Jesus simply did the temple cops’ job for them.

There’s where Jesus was annoyed, so he killed a fig tree. Mk 11.12-14 Which strikes me as a little strange when people comment, “Aww, the poor tree.” Jesus used to be a carpenter; he had to get wood from somewhere, so this can’t possibly be the only tree he ever killed! But I think it’s the fact Jesus killed it with words alone which make people pay attention. Words can hurt as well as heal, and in this story Jesus demonstrates this profoundly—and that’s the point. Mk 11.20-24 People miss this point, assume Jesus killed the tree for petty reasons, figure that permits them to be petty… and no, that’s not the point either.

There’s the story of Jesus and the Syrian Greek woman who wanted Jesus to cure her daughter, and Jesus called her a dog. Mt 15.22-28 Most Christians realize Jesus wasn’t really being racist; he was testing whether her pride would get in her own way. It didn’t.

There’s Jesus calling Antipas Herod a fox, Lk 13.32 which is kinda like how we nowadays call somebody a weasel: It’s a sneaky, thieving, ignoble animal. Doesn’t show a lot of respect for his king. (To be fair, Jesus is the proper king, and Herod was a weasely, murderous politician.) I should point out “fox” is as bad as Jesus gets in his descriptions of others, whereas Christian jerks say far, far worse. And we often slander our political opponents, just ’cause they’re on the wrong team. Calling a weasel a weasel was at least honest of Jesus; jerks can’t even do that.

Lastly I’ll point out Jesus letting demons kill a few thousand pigs. This one, jerks tend to skip ’cause they never realize how useful it can be to justify serious property damage. It can’t have gone over well with the Syrian Greeks who owned those pigs; it implies some thoughtlessness on Jesus’s part, ’cause he should’ve known the evil spirits would’ve slaughtered them. But we actually don’t know whether the evil spirits killed themselves… or whether the pigs chose to kill themselves rather than be possessed. Bible doesn’t say. And Jesus might not have known what the consequence would be; all he cared about at the time was the poor demoniac in front of him, and people take priority. Putting people first, and wealth second, is the correct move y’know.

Lastly Jesus’s comment about “the poor you will always have with you,” which materialists like to use to justify doing nothing for the needy. That one’s clearly not Jesus being a jerk; it’s purely taken out of context. There are many verses where Jesus obviously isn’t being selfish or jerklike at all, but Christian jerks misuse ’em to defend their behavior, ’cause any excuse will do.

Jesus is nobody’s excuse.

But I hope I’ve made it clear Jesus is not at all a valid excuse for Christians to behave badly.

Oh, they’re still gonna use him. And think they’re entirely right to. The human mind is wonderfully creative, and can psyche itself into believing anything that’ll let it get away with anything. Nobody likes to think of themselves as evil (well, unless they wanna terrify others, or have totally sold themselves out to evil), so they’ll bend, fold, spindle, mutilate, and outright deny any facts which say otherwise. They wanna claim Jesus, so they’ll go out of their way to distort him first.

And in so doing, convince pagans maybe Jesus is a jerk too. That, in many ways, is a far greater problem than the predominance of Christian jerks.

Christian jerks.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 July 2020
SHE. “Ugh, religious people are the worst.”
ME. “Hey. I’m a religious person. How am I ‘the worst’?”
SHE. “Oh, you’re not that religious.”
ME. “I beg to differ. I’m extremely religious. If I weren’t, I’d be a massive jerk. Now explain how I’m ‘the worst’.”

You can tell my pagan friend recently had a bad experience with a Christian, and wanted to vent. Wanted to complain how religious Christians are bigoted, narrow-minded, and judgmental.

I could likewise start ranting about her own religious prejudices here. Y’notice I was trying to burst this “Christians are the worst” stereotype. But, as bigoted people will do, she figures her generalization is the rule, and I’m an exception: I’m “one of the good ones.” It’s why you can have some of the most racist coworkers, and they’ll insist they’re totally not racist because “I have black friends”—but they’ll still insist, those few exceptions aside, their favorite stereotypes are true. Yep, still bigots.

But enough about her. Some stereotypes are based on lies and fiction; others on serious cultural misunderstanding. The stereotype of the Christian jerk, however, is based on real-life Christian jerks. Because we’ve all seen Christian jerks. Most of us know Christian jerks. Some of us are Christian jerks: They’re the folks hwo claim they follow Jesus, but they’re just awful to other people.

Sometimes they’re only awful to non-Christians. Sometimes they’re equal-opportunity offenders to pagans and Christians alike. Generally they display all the impatience, bigotry, narrow-mindedness, and judgmentalism my pagan friend objected to… and think we all have.

And we don’t!—’cause some of us are actually trying to follow Jesus, and exhibit his fruit. But way too many of us Christians are impatient, bigoted, narrow-minded, and judgmental. I don’t know the percentage of Christians who are like this. Jesus does, but he’s not told me. However big the percentage is, it’s absolutely too many.

’Cause I know where my pagan friend is coming from. I’ve visited churches where they’re all jerks. All of them. The preaching was all rage and bile and sarcasm; the people weren’t friendly at all, and had zero patience for one another, and certainly none for visitors. I left early; I walked down the street to a Wendy’s and waited there till my friends left too. Wasn’t the first time I encountered such a church; I hate to say it, but it’s likely not my last time either.

People from the angry church in town like to leave Chick tracts in my workplace bathroom. Jack T. Chick was a wrathful, graceless jerk, and it shows in his tracts. “Chick tracts work!” the tracts themselves say, and I suppose they do, but I’m always reminded of Jesus’s comment to Pharisees about traveling land and sea to make a convert… to turn him into twice the children of hell they are. Mt 23.15 Jerks love Chick tracts because it wins ’em jerk converts.

And then I’ve visited churches where none of the people in ’em were jerks. At least, none I could see; I don’t know how they behave when they’re on Reddit hiding under their screen names. Regardless there are far too many Christian jerks in the world, and they give antichrists a useful reason to despise Christians.

How do these Christians justify such fleshly behavior? Any way they can. Any excuse will do. Usually by preemptively condemning the people they wish to be terrible to. They’re sinners; they have it coming; God’s gonna smite them, so they’re just making little contributions to the smiting.

Being a member of the jerk club.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 June 2018

One of the neighbors, out on a power walk, decided to pause for a moment and strike up a conversation with me as I was doing some yardwork. Once he found out how old I am, he realized I was the same age as his son. “Do you know Cloelius?” he asked.

No, Cloelius isn’t his son’s actual name. I don’t care to give his name, and you’ll see why. It took me a few seconds to recall him. “Yes,” I told him, “I know of him. We weren’t in the same circles.”

There’s actually a bigger story behind this. One I didn’t care to tell Colelius’s dad, ’cause I don’t think he’d have been happy to hear it. But to be fair, we were kids then.

The summer before my freshman year of high school, my family moved into a new neighborhood. Across the street lived a boy whom I’ll call Azad. And for no reason I could figure, Azad decided I was his sworn enemy.

No, I still don’t know why. Knowing myself, it’s possibly for the very same reason I irritated frat boys in college: I was mouthy and opinionated. I probably said something which rubbed Azad the wrong way. It’s also possible Azad was just looking for someone to bully. Either way he declared eternal hostility against me.

There were about a dozen kids in the neighborhood who went to my high school at the time. Mostly boys. Azad knew them all, having lived in the neighborhood way longer than I had. As we waited for the school bus in the mornings, most of the boys waited in a garage across the street, Azad among them. Because I didn’t care to interact with Azad, I’d just stand at the bus stop. Azad would get bored every so often, so he’d try to provoke me, and try to get the other boys in his clique to join in. I wouldn’t take the bait, so I wasn’t much fun.

Cloelius was a year behind me in school. When he started high school, he joined Azad’s bus-stop clique. So that’s how we knew one another.