“I thought they were a Christian.”
That’s a statement that always makes me cringe whenever it pops up. It’s normally muttered after someone acts in a way that’s contrary to how people believe Christians should act. We all know people who talk a big game about their faith, but don’t translate it into their everyday life – sometimes these people are the biggest jerks we know; they’re judgmental, uncaring and rude. To be fair, Christianity is a strong label to carry in Australia and New Zealand.
And when something has a label, it sets expectations for what it is. It reminds me of when I used to try and sneak chocolate buttons from the pantry when I was a kid. Mum would often have a stash of carob buttons stored in a jar that looked identical to the chocolate one. I’d look at the jar, grab a button and chuck it in my mouth, leading to an inevitable wince and moan of disgust as the carob taste hit me, which I’m sure mum would’ve found quite amusing. It’s that same surprise that people have when someone acts in an unexpected way compared to their expressed beliefs; the experience didn’t meet the expectation.
What happens once someone becomes a Christ-follower? Well, making a one-time decision for Jesus isn’t the end point of following him. After deciding “Yes, this is for me”, the process of “renewing the mind” begins. And out of that renewing flows love, joy, patience, kindness and self control alongside many other positive things. The things is that people often assume the label of being a “Christian” without changing the contents of the jar. Inside, it’s still the bitterness, anger and hurt – and it’s in the heart that God wants to make the biggest impact. Otherwise, the heart’s attitudes creep out in words and actions that hurt and surprise others.
Jesus talked with the religious rulers of His day about their hypocrisy; they said prayers in the streets, gave large gifts in the offering, but allowed no real change in their hearts. I wonder if Jesus would say the same thing to me in the office today: “Ian, you make great jokes as an MC, talk a lot about leadership and best practice, but your actions towards others show where your heart is really at.”
Christianity, or literally the choice to follow Christ, is not just a label someone should put on lightly. The choice to follow Jesus is an intentional one with very real consequences; Jesus made this clear when he told people to pick up their cross and follow Him. Of course there are seasons in life, and I know I screw up all the time – that’s a reminder of how much I still need Jesus’ grace in my life – and I hope I can extend that grace to others every day.
If you’re a follower of Jesus like me, perhaps the question to ask today is: Am I still open to Jesus’ work in my heart? Or (at the risk of taking this metaphor way too far) is the lid on my jar still shut tightly? I can’t answer that for everyone who’s reading this, but I trust and pray you’ll join me in considering what following Jesus means to you today.