Behavior and Influence
Separating the actual behavior of Christians from how they ought to act can be very difficult because sometimes they do not line up properly. We know, on the one hand, that we have a standard given to us by God that ought to determine how we act. “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty” (Jas 2:12). Our actions are to reflect the light of Jesus so that we ourselves are lights (Matt 5:14-16). We are to do “all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Phil 2:14-15). Our conduct is to be kept honorable so that others “may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Pet 2:12). This is always the goal.
We also know that we are imperfect and that sometimes we act contrary to the holiness of God. While this does not excuse us, we are to be most grateful for God’s grace and mercy to forgives us our sins (1 John 1:7-9). We are surely given the grace by God that we do not deserve (Eph 2:8-9).
Because of who we are in Christ, we ought often to reflect on the importance of the effect our behavior will have on others who might be on the outside looking in. People are watching and taking note, whether good or bad, and we as God’s people are on the hook for appropriately representing our Lord.
Growing up, If I had decided to be a Christian solely on how I’ve seen some Christians act or by what some teach, I would have never become a Christian. We have probably all seen some awful behavior from those claiming to be Christians. We’ve all been on the receiving end of some terrible things. We’ve also acted poorly, to our own shame. We may say that this should not be the determining factor in others becoming Christians, but the reality is that people do make such judgments.
However, I haven’t given up on Christ based on what others do and say for the simple reason that committing to Christ is not based on what others do or don’t do, but upon what Christ has done. People will disappoint, act badly, and teach bad things — including Christians. That does not excuse us from following the Lord.
Even so, from the Christian’s perspective, we have to realize that how we act, what we say, and how we say it can have a disastrous effect on whether others will receive the gospel. I am fully aware that some will take offense even when we speak the truth in love and act as God desires, but that’s not what we are talking about here. Here’s what we are talking about:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:20-21).
People will take note of whether we love or don’t love one another, and they will see whether or not we seek to remain united in Him. From these, they will make judgments on the merits of Christianity. These are not little matters, for how we behave can destroy how others think about even Jesus Himself. “That the world may believe you sent Me” should be ringing in our ears. It doesn’t excuse their rejection of Christ, but it won’t help our case before God either. If they reject Jesus, let it for the sake of Jesus and not the influence of bad behavior.
Listen and be committed to what Paul taught here: “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col 4:2-6).
Teach truth. Teach it in love. Live truth. Live it in love for God and one another. In this way we can be the lights we are called to be. We must avoid being stumbling blocks on the path for others.