Seeing Christ in the worst Christians

How do we stop getting so depressed at the failings of Christian pastors and people? Here are five of the ten strategies I try to use. We’ll look at the remaining five tomorrow.

1. Try to see Christ in even the worst Christian
Although Christ is molding each of His people into His beautiful image, none of us show that image perfectly. Our immaturity and sin blight and deform His work. However, no matter how marred the image, there is still a trace of it somewhere in every Christian. Just as even a severely disabled person still shows some lovely aspects of God’s image in them, so the most fallen Christian has something somewhere in their lives where they excel us in portraying Christ’s image. It’s up to us to find that and admire that.

I’ve known some pretty ugly Christians through the years, but as I look back, I admit I overlooked or failed to linger on areas of their lives where Christ was undoubtedly leaving his fingerprints. And today, as we survey our fellow-believers, let’s make the choice to major on Christ’s positive work in them rather than on all the devil’s negatives.

2. Pray for seeming hypocrites
We’ve all done it. We end up in company where we start criticizing someone and very soon we’ve torn them in shreds and left them in pieces. Sometimes we don’t need the help of company to do our shredding; we can grind them to powder in the cruel confines of our own sharp-toothed minds. Although there can be some strange short-term satisfaction in these cruel pleasures, we are inflicting deep long-term trauma on ourselves.

When tempted to start drilling and sawing others, why not start to pray for them. If we really do fear that they are hypocrites, they need our prayers far more than our incisive analysis. And in the process, we’ll discover something: it’s very hard to hate someone we pray for. It’s almost impossible to pull someone down when we are prayerfully raising him or her up to heaven for God’s blessing. Prayer never changes God. It sometimes changes the person we pray for. It always changes us.

3. Spend time with the inconsistent
It’s easy to criticize from a keyboard or from a pew, when a person is at some distance away from us, we aren’t really involved in their lives, and we don’t really know them. It’s much more difficult to scorch people when we’ve had a coffee with them or walked a mile with them. Then we realize they are human after all, or that they’ve had an awful childhood, or that they are enduring a depressing marriage, or that there is some other stress in their lives that puts their words and actions in a different light. Or we might discover that we’ve completely misjudged them and that the fault is more in our perception and discernment than in their conduct.

4. Be patient
As a pastor I’ve been sometimes appalled at the way mature Christians expect young Christians to come out of the shell as fully grown men and women of God. And when they aren’t, down comes the sledgehammer upon them. Some older Christians have conveniently forgotten that they were young once, somehow imagining that they skipped spiritual infancy and adolescence.

I’ve sometimes been stunned at the way some poor specimens of Christianity have suddenly blossomed into beautiful flowers of grace, and even into majestic cedars of Lebanon. People I had given up all hope for are transformed into holy, zealous, steady and reliable Christians. Sometimes it’s marriage or children that does it. Sometimes it’s trial or suffering. But sometimes it’s simply the sovereign work of God. I think God loves to revive His work in those we have written off and given up on.

5. Speak positively about other Christians
One of the most lethal habits that Christians can fall into is to talk negatively about other Christians in front of their children or in front of unbelievers. I’ve seen children spiritually devastated due to regular Sunday meals that served up a diet of roast pastor, barbecued elders, and boiled Christians. In some cases, tragically, it turned the children off the church for life. In other cases, the negativity created perpetually discontented church members and adherents. They had gotten so habituated to criticism in their childhood that they could not break the cycle when they became adults.

One of the greatest favors we can do for our children is to speak positively about our pastors and about other Christians. Even when there may have been some flaws in the preaching, find the good things, highlight them, express appreciation for them, and discuss them with your kids. Draw attention to Christians who are serving the Lord well and use them as models for your children. And when, regrettably, you may have to discuss a certain Christian’s sins, then do your best to also mention evidences of God’s good work in their lives.

Previous posts in this series
If that’s Christianity you can keep it!
When Christians let us down and get us down

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The grace of affliction
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5 Reasons leaders finish badly
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We can measure educational value in words
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Paul Washer reviews A Puritan Theology [Video]


When Christians let us down and get us down

When Christians let us down and get us down, the key to rebuilding our faith and our feelings is to think less about Christians and more about Christ. As that’s easier said than done, let’s begin that re-thinking process today with some Christ-centered analysis of this problem, and tomorrow we’ll look at Christ-centered solutions. So how does Jesus view the horrendous hypocrisy and depressing deceit that we sometimes encounter in professing Christians.

1. Jesus hates hypocrisy
Jesus doesn’t wink at, tolerate, or excuse hypocrisy; He abhors it. In the Old Testament, He spoke through the prophets to expose the evil of Israel’s double-dealings and hollow hearts. No matter how many sacrifices they offered, God was wearied and disgusted by their duplicity and dishonesty. In the New Testament, Jesus targeted hypocrisy from the beginning to the end of his ministry. When we encounter professing Christians with double-standards or no-standards it’s a comfort to know that Jesus detests it more than we do.

2. Jesus experienced hypocrisy
Jesus not only saw inconsistency, He was a victim of it throughout His life and in His death. Much of his ministry was spent experiencing it, confronting it, and condemning it (Matt. 6:1-18; 23). He could see it far more clearly and deeply than we can. His X-ray eyes penetrated every Pharisaical mask and disguise to detect every contradiction between lips and life. His painful experience of hypocrisy in the worst Pharisees and the best disciples was a large part of His atoning and saving sufferings. They also give Him a sympathy and empathy with us. However pained we are by phony faith, we can take our pain to someone who felt it even deeper.

3. Jesus predicted hypocrisy
We shouldn’t be surprised at the existence of hypocrisy in the church. Jesus told us directly and through His apostles that there will never be a pure church in this world. It will always be a mixture of wheat and tares, true and false, right to the end of time (Matt. 13:24-30). Jesus gave us the parable of the tares to help us manage our expectations, to explain the pain of past experience, and also to avoid deeper disappointment in the future.

4. Jesus uses hypocrisy
Why did Jesus choose to do it this way? Why did he not create a pure church full of pure people? Why allow tares to be mixed with the wheat?

  • He uses these trials to test, prove, and improve our faith: if we hang on to Christ despite all the pain His professing people inflict on us and others, then our faith must be genuine.
  • He also uses these hassles to motivate self-examination: if so many people are so blind to their faults, there’s a good possibility that I’m blind to mine too.
  • Sometimes He uses these adversities to glorify His grace: when we see that even the best Christians have so much hypocrisy left in them, we marvel at what a gracious Savior Jesus must be.

5. Jesus will end hypocrisy
While the church has always been mixed throughout the ages, the Day is coming when Jesus will separate the wheat from the chaff and gather all the tares out of his field to be burned. He will end the pain and distress of this present mixed state of the church and establish a church made up of a perfect number of perfect people. It will be a beautiful bride without spot or wrinkle or any other ugly defect.

Tomorrow we’ll look at 10 practical strategies for thinking about Christ more than Christians.

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Brooks, Baseball, and Battles among believers
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Best Commentaries on Matthew
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“If that’s Christianity, you can keep it!”

If you ask most people why they don’t go to church, or why they don’t want to become Christians, one of the most common answers is, “Christians are a bunch of hypocrites!”

Those who have left the church often give the same answer. Both groups have encountered Christians, experienced their inconsistencies, and decided, “If that’s Christianity, you can keep it.”

Even those of us who remain in the church are often deeply disappointed and discouraged by the failings and double standards of some fellow-Christians. Of course, some are Christians only in name, but not in reality. However, even the best Christians have blind spots and inconsistencies that baffle and upset us.

Fallen angels
We might not see them at the beginning when we are first converted. In the first bloom of Christian love, we might even think that some Christians and preachers belong to angelic ranks. But, before too long, our initial impressions are discovered to be initial illusions and we might even wonder if it’s the fallen angels we’ve fallen in with!

Sometimes we too are tempted to give up and withdraw from our churches in angry disgust, but usually we just keep going along, inwardly seething or perhaps loudly criticizing the failings of others.

Satanic strategy
At the root of this disillusionment is the successful satanic strategy of turning our attention away from Christ and towards Christians. The more the devil can keep people thinking and talking about Christians, the less people will be thinking and talking about Jesus. And the more people think and talk about Christians instead of Christ, the more dismayed and downcast we will become. When negatives outweigh positives, there’s only one way to go, and that’s down.

I’ve certainly fallen into this soul-sapping habit at various points in my life, and I’m sure most of us succumb to it to some degree or another. Tomorrow I want to outline strategies that will shift our attention away from the double-standards and the no-standards of some Christians, and to lift our eyes and hearts upwards to the soul-elevating Christ.

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