The Confident Christian
2/8/15 at 05:54 PM 54 Comments

Why Don't Christians Act Like Christ?

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Last weekend was a fairly depressing one.

On our ride back from visiting our oldest daughter at school, my youngest was get text messages from a friend of hers who was at a big Christian teen event in our city. Her friend was distraught and in tears because other “Christian” kids at the event were bullying her and sending her cruel text messages (which she snapshoted to my daughter).

Literally at the same time, my wife was carrying on a conversation with a friend who was deeply saddened over another Christian they both know who is plunging conscience-free into serious immorality. Given that the person was about to start seminary and had worked diligently with various ministries, my wife and her friend were struggling to understand the new and unbiblical direction of their mutual friend’s life.

When we arrived home we were greeted with the fact that a Christian family that we have helped support financially and in various other ways for years decided to cut off their relationship with us. Why? We brought to their attention a personal issue on their side that had deeply hurt our daughter. While we wanted to forgive, forget, and reconcile, they decided they wanted nothing more to do with our family.

Now I’m not the sort who easily gets despondent, but stories like the above are starting to really get me down. Part of the reason is that they oftentimes seem to be more the rule than the exception in Christendom.

Years ago I wrote that what I consider to be the best argument against Christianity is not some silver bullet against the cosmological argument for God, any supposed contradiction or inaccuracy in the Bible, but rather the lives lived out by professing Christians. For me, this is still very true, and at least from what I see and experience, things are getting worse and not better.

Why is it that those who profess Christ don’t act like Him? Why do those calling themselves Christians prove out day after day Gandhi’s famous statement where he declared that He liked Christ but not Christians because they don’t mirror the one they claim to follow?

This question pains me both theologically and personally, especially when I see the man in the mirror acting contrary to the Lord’s character and teaching.

What’s At Stake?

We consistently read in Scripture declarations like, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17) and “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).

If this is true, why is it that the “new things” and “newness of life” in professing Christian’s lives either seem completely absent or appear so seldom? In my mind, it’s not hard to come to the conclusion that widespread and consistent failures of people who say they follow Christ but don’t manifest His character puts at stake the existential truthfulness of the Bible where the new birth is concerned.

If the Bible says that when you are regenerated and receive Christ as Savior you become something new and are infused with His life, then that is either true or false. The proof of that claim should be the goodness of Christ being lived out by his redeemed followers.

But when that doesn’t happen, what’s the explanation? Does it mean the Bible is wrong?

I don’t believe that’s the case, but I think the answer to the problem is more than just a casual dismissal of the issue and a recommendation to reread Romans 7. Allow me to give three reasons for why I believe professing Christians don’t act like Christ.

A False Faith

There’s no getting around the fact that, sadly, Judas isn’t unique.

When Jesus tells us that “few” are those who find the way that leads to life (Matt. 7:14), that there are those who call him Lord and superficially seem Christian but who actually aren’t real (Matt. 7:22-23), and when His Word says there are people who have been enlightened and tasted the goodness of God but eventually fall away (Heb. 4:4-6), we understand that not everyone who says they follow Christ actually do.

How can you tell the difference between a true Christian that struggles with sin and one who is fake and is simply acting as non-Christians should? While opinions vary, I agree with John MacArthur who provides the following litmus test:

“So what is the difference then between these two? The difference is as simple as this, repentance. . . .You find a lot of people who believe things that are biblical, believe in the Jesus of the New Testament, believe in the New Testament to one degree or another, believe in the cross, believe in the resurrection. The element of faith so often in the Bible, so often in the gospels, the element of faith is sort of a given, that they believe in God and the God who is revealed in Scripture, etc., etc. The issue comes down to whether or not they will repent of sin in a true and genuine act of penitence.”[1]

A False Teaching

I remember hearing John Piper tell the story of a woman who came to him and admitted that she was in an adulterous affair. But because she believed she was saved and, according to Piper, couldn’t lose her salvation, she intended to carry on her affair.

Piper’s said to her, “God will damn you to Hell if you continue in your sin.”[2] Was Piper telling her that true salvation could be lost or that sin could somehow undo Christ’s completed work on the cross? Not at all.

Instead, he was saying to her that by continuing in her adultery with an unrepentant spirit, she would be providing evidence that she was never saved in the first place. As Christians we know that works can’t save you, but as James says, there is a faith without works that is useless (James 2:17-20).

If there is no fruit in a Christian’s life and their behavior doesn’t reflect Christ, they might not be saved. Or, they may be listening to a false, antinomian[3] teaching that says a person can behave however they want and still be right with God.[4] Sometimes, this can be responsible for such un-Christ like behavior.

A False Attitude

One thing I’ve been guilty of is placing nearly all of my sanctification process on God. When I read statements like, “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13), I think that it’s all on God to make me righteous.

Not so fast.

I have a feeling that a lot of Christians like me take too casual an approach with our responsibility towards possessing a sanctified life and forget that Scripture says, “if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:21–24, emphasis mine).

Notice whose job it is to lay aside the old nature and put on the new? Mine. This fact is repeated numerous times in the Bible (e.g. Eph 4:22; Eph. 4:25, 31; Col. 3:8, Heb. 12:1, James 1:21, 1 Pet. 2:1) and showcases the twin responsibilities of sanctification – God gives us the new nature works within us to bring it about yet we also “work out our salvation” (Phil 2:12).

So, practically speaking, how do you do this?

I believe the best way is to starve the bad nature and feed the new one, just as an old saying advises:

Two natures beat within my breast

The one is foul, the one is blessed

The one I love, the one I hate.

The one I feed will dominate.

I liken it to when I gave up drinking sodas years ago. I lived on them for a long time, then for some reason I stopped and went cold turkey from soda for about six months. Then one day I drank one and about vomited. I remember thinking to myself, “how in the world did I ever drink this stuff?”

No, it’s not easy sometimes to starve the old nature, but if I was a betting man, I’d put my wager on this problem being the #1 reason many Christians don’t act like Christ. Most starve the new nature and feed the old nature far too well.

What About You?

So how are you doing showing Christ to the world these days? Could you look at other people and like Paul say, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ (1 Cor. 11:1), or do you find yourself acting the opposite of Jesus far too often?

It’s my hope and prayer that the Church of Jesus explodes with truly saved people who ignore cheap grace teaching, understand their obligation to sanctify their lives, and one day live so well that the world wonders what Gandhi meant by Christians not reflecting Christ.

[4] Romans 6:1-2 quickly dismisses this idea.

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