It seems to me that we Christians have done more damage to our cause than we realize. I grieve when I remember the self-righteous arguments I have used on occasion to defend the opinions I was sure were correct! I find myself wincing when the press portrays us all as Bible-thumping, angry, vindictive hate-mongers. I realize, of course, that the press is capable of putting an unfavorable slant on the most well-intentioned behavior, but I also know that we often unwittingly contribute to our own bad press.
Do I want to be known just for the things I dislike — or do I want to be known for the things I applaud? Do I want to be remembered only for the truth I proclaim, or also for the way I proclaim it? John 1:14 describes Jesus as full of grace AND truth, not just one or the other. My heart yearns to have grace, forgiveness, and compassion for people who do not share my convictions, even as that same heart longs to speak the truth to those same people. This challenge is daunting, but not impossible. The key is to ask the Holy Spirit how to say what we say, and to be quick to ask forgiveness when we say it wrong. It is, in fact, possible to say the right thing the wrong way.
I have learned the hard way that loving people is more important than proving to them that I am right. If I really, really, really DO know THE truth (who, by the way, the Bible says is actually a person — Jesus Himself; see John 14:6), then the truth will ultimately become evident. God is perfectly capable of defending Himself. I am not proposing that we never should speak about Jesus when challenged by others to defend our faith; I am merely suggesting that we ask God HOW we should express ourselves in order to demonstrate genuine love for others as we speak that truth. I want people to WANT what they see in me, instead of being repelled by my behavior. I do not want anyone to reject Jesus because of the way I behave.
I am certainly imperfect, but I believe God is capable of revealing Himself in and through me to others whom He longs to draw to Himself. He wants to do it HIS way, not my way, and He doesn’t need me to condemn people when HIS plan is to save them!
I have also noticed that God doesn’t need me to dress Him up, make Him look cute, and market Him to other people like some kind of hip guy who caters to their every whim. Unfortunately, there is far too much packaging and marketing of Jesus in our seeker-friendly American Christian culture. We seem to get mired in one extreme or the other: either we blast people with condemnation and judgment, or we try to trick them into thinking Jesus is their cool personal guru who will help them get everything they want, when they want it. Neither position is particularly attractive to unbelievers. Our attempts to point out unrighteousness come across as self-important, and tricking people into swallowing a sugar-coated Jesus pill does not allow them to meet the actual Savior of their souls.
God help the Church in America! Pray for us! I desperately want people to know the God I serve. I want people to see the real Jesus in me! My heart longs for unbelievers to be thirsty for what I have — living water, springing up to eternal life (John 7:37-38). I want to conduct myself in such a way that others will desire to experience for themselves that great mystery that has become (I hope!) evident in me: Christ in me, the hope of glory! (Colossians 1:27) God help me, and God help us all in this regard. May people actually want what we have!