Debunking the Squeaky Clean Myth
I’ve had to take the passages about intentionally loving your neighbor literally lately.
A new neighbor just moved in to the house right next door. Before his boxes were even unpacked he started badmouthing the rest of us in the neighborhood. He complained that our grass was too tall, our sheds didn’t meet code, and our vehicles were parked in a way that irked him. He threatened to call the police and then tried to intimidate us with threats of his own when the blue lights didn’t start flashing because of a tall weed emergency. And he didn’t stop there. After establishing himself as the new neighborhood bully, he followed up by tracking each of us down to announce that he’s a pastor and that if we ever need prayer, he’d be happy to help.
I’m just going to say it: sometimes Christians are jerks. And the question I’ve been asking myself lately is, "How should I respond when a fellow believer exhibits really bad behavior?" I’m no expert, but here’s what I’ve come up with so far.
Expecting Christians to be perfect ignores the Gospel.
In Philippians 3:10-12 Paul says,
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Paul admitted that when it came to living like Jesus, he had not yet reached perfection. What he meant was, he still messed up sometimes. But, he pressed on. Why? In order to take hold of the life that Christ died to give.
When Christians are jerks, it’s a reminder that we all need a Savior. Jesus didn’t die on the cross to help a group of perfect people, and He didn’t make us all perfect when He said, “it is finished.” Our sin is a reminder of why the cross matters so much. If we expect Christians to be able to behave perfectly, we forget what Jesus saved us from.
Use mistakes to talk about the Gospel.
My husband and I have lived in our neighborhood for six years. We’ve prayer-walked it a zillion times. We’ve built relationships over the tops of fences and through conversations about yards, dogs, and the weather. We’ve occasionally invited a neighbor or two to church, but we’ve never talked much about our faith.
After our neighbor followed up his complaints and threats by waving his Christian flag, suddenly our neighbors were talking to us more about faith and the church. It gave us a chance to share openly about what we believe, but it also allowed us to say, “We are just like you. The Christians at our church live messy lives but find strength, hope, and encouragement from each other as we worship a loving God together.” It was actually a great way to debunk the myth that you have to have your act together before you can step foot in a church. And it taught me the lesson that I need to stop inviting people to my church because “there are a lot of great people there” (even though there are). Instead, I need to offer reasons to visit that have more to do with encountering the Living God.
I’m afraid we have led our neighbors astray by putting out an image of squeaky clean faith. Trying to convince others that we have picture-perfect lives because we are Christians doesn’t do anyone any favors. God hasn’t hired us to be his PR firm and even if He had, I’m fairly certain He would want us to be upfront about our brokenness so His image as the Healer could be put on display.
Be metal, but not a hammer.
Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” As Christians we have the power to sharpen each other’s faith and help each other become more like Christ.
Hebrews 10:24 puts it this way, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”
It’s important to encourage each other to be more and more Christ-like. When our Christian brothers and sisters fail, it’s a good idea to incite them to do better and hold them accountable to God’s Word. But it isn’t our job to drop the hammer every time a believer messes up. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but we all need to work at spurring our brothers and sisters on in the faith instead holding it over their heads when they miss the mark.
I may not have threatened to call the cops on anyone lately right before extending an invite for prayer, but I’ve had my share of bad behavior. My neighbor reminds me of the plank in my own eye (Matt. 7:3-5). Christians will always make mistakes. More and more I want to be a bearer of grace to other Christians when their sin nature starts to show. Don’t you?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to respond when Christians are jerks—right after I return from mowing my lawn.