Why is it increasingly unpopular to identify yourself as a Christian? Moreover, why does being a Christian conjure up unsavory images in the minds of so many people? While there are many factors that have contributed to the negative stereotype of Christianity, there are two main causes.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)
One of the reasons our society sometimes thinks poorly of Christians is that it no longer knows what Christianity is. Since the removal of religious teaching from the public school system close to fifty years ago, generations of Americans have grown up unfamiliar with the basic teachings of Christianity, resulting in a vulnerability of ignorance. When you don’t have an even elementary understanding of a particular issue, you tend to believe whatever you’re casually exposed to. These days when the average un-churched person thinks of a Christian a hypocritical image, which is the antithesis of a person genuinely following Christ, tends to increasingly come to mind.
The second reason the average person has an increasingly unfavorable view of Christians is because the church has unintentionally misrepresented Biblical Christianity. This is because salvation in America has meant “accepting Christ as Lord and Savior” for far too long. We mustaccept Christ as our Lord and Savior, but the problem is that most people get the “Savior” part while missing the “Lord” part.
Christianity is so much more than what many people today believe it to be. Biblical Christianity, is, by its very definition, God’s definition—not man’s sound byte—of Christianity. Humankind always wants to compartmentalize, to define, to put everything, including Christianity, into a nice, neat package. But Christianity is very difficult to abbreviate. This is why we have the entire Bible—all of it is necessary. Yes, we can try to paraphrase concepts and summarize ideas, but we need to be careful because we tend to fixate on the summaries while neglecting the rest, as has been the case with the “accepting Christ” phrase.
Unlike man’s well-intentioned abbreviations, being a Christian is so much more than just any one-time action. Presenting salvation as merely “accepting Christ” has generated scores of people who experienced a momentary softening of the heart without any subsequently lasting change in behavior—people who believe they’re “saved,” but are actually not.
True salvation involves a 180 degree change in lifestyle. Prior to salvation, I decide what I do. Subsequent to salvation, I defer to what God says in His Word. Reading His Word enlightens me as to what is good and what is evil, and as I consider the way I live, I make the necessary adjustments and changes, and continue this process throughout my life. In other words, I truly FOLLOW CHRIST.
Previous generations of Christians understood this. Christianity was never thought “easy” because Jesus explained otherwise:
“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also [Jesus is not teaching us to hate our loved ones or ourself; He is prioritizing our loyalty—obedience to God must take precedence in our lives above all other loves], he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me [do the hard thing in obedience to Christ] cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower [considering whether to become a Christian], does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all [put God absolutely first] that he has cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26-33)
Does this sound like an easy faith? To the contrary, Biblical Christianity requires a whole-hearted, lifelong commitment to Christ.
Jesus finishes the previous explanation with the following words,“Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill, but men throw it out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Luke 14:34-35) People who claim to be Christians but do not exhibit Christian lives misrepresent Biblical Christianity. According to Jesus Himself, a follower of Christ (the salt) who does not actually follow Christ (does not have the defining characteristic of salt, saltiness), is worthless.
But it is difficult to be a Christian—to consistently deny my sinful nature and do what God wants instead. How can I actually do this? God tells us in Galatians 5:16-18: “I say then: walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the [condemnation of the] law.” The point here is that we do not want to be under the law; under the law, all are condemned because no one can keep it perfectly. Our only hope of salvation and forgiveness is through Christ. But what is “walking in the Spirit?”
Walking in the Spirit is a lifestyle pattern of denying the sinful things I would like to do and following Christ. It is the heart of the Christian lifestyle–one of consistent obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit. This means we read His Word and apply it in our lives as we go through our day. It is God’s solution to the temptations we face daily. If we are preoccupied with the things of the Lord, we will be less vulnerable to the temptations of the flesh. It doesn’t mean we will never be tempted; it just means it will be easier for us to resist the temptations when they do come.
But how can I tell the difference between a Christian and someone who isn’t? The answer is simple: by the consistent pattern of their life. As Jesus put it, “…a tree is known by its fruit.”(Matthew 12:33b) Galatians 5:19-21 elaborates:
“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
A person who follows Christ is different, however, because the Holy Spirit is at work in Him and there are results:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:22-26)
Today’s verse tells us that there is a reason, a purpose, for God having called us to a knowledge of Him. This is the good works which He prepared beforehand for us to accomplish during our lifetime. Each of us has a plan, a purpose which God has laid out before us. There are things He wants us to do, and it is our job to figure out what they are. Not only are we to change our patterns so that we no longer do the bad things we used to do; we are also to actively seek out the good God wants us to do.
In conclusion, Christianity has a bad name because of 1) the secularization of our society–the increasing lack of knowledge of what Christianity is due to a number of reasons including the removal of Biblical teaching from the public schools and because of 2) the misrepresentation of Christianity to the culture at large by those who believe they are saved but whose lives haven’t changed. The influence of the latter is stronger because of the former, because people don’t really know what real Christianity is anymore, but our duty as people of God is the same.
We are to be the salt and the light of the world. We are to speak God’s truth—clearly and consistently tell people what following God really looks like. We are to model true Christianity ourselves, to the best of our ability. This involves everything we know it to be, including reading His Word consistently, and studying it in whatever way works best for us, so long as the end result is that we are growing in our knowledge of God. We are to pray actively to our Lord. The Bible says, “Pray without ceasing.” This may seem unreasonable, or even impossible, but when you consider that prayer is not necessarily just the formal bowing of the head and repeating of memorized prayers but also the heart-felt deep conversation of between the created and the Creator, the saved and the Savior, the empowered and the Empowerer, it isn’t impossible.
Faithfully doing these things will acquaint our fallen world with Christ and fulfill the Great Commission: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age…” (Matthew 28:18b-20) Christianity is not worthy of a bad name. Let us honor the name of Christ!
Help us to understand what You call us to do, how You call us to live as Christians. Help us to obey You faithfully that we not misrepresent You to the world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.