“Susan, is Victor in CSU (Christian Student Union)?” I innocently asked a student one morning before school. I knew the group was meeting in the auditorium, and I was trying to locate Victor to give him a field trip permission slip he had requested before I rushed to my duty station. I was absolutely floored by Susan’s reply. “Mrs. Sartor, there is no way Victor is in CSU. He doesn’t look anything like a Christian.” I know my mouth was hanging open. It took all of my Christian courage and steady application of 1 John 1:9 to not snap back, “And what exactly does a Christian look like?”
Hmmm, I guess I don’t “look like” a Christian either by Susan’s standards. Victor, in my mind, was a likely candidate for CSU membership. He had written essays about how he enjoyed singing old hymns with his dad and grandfather in a small church his family visited when they stayed with his grandparents. He had written that he appreciated how the simple wording of the old hymns clearly gave all the glory to God. “He certainly writes like a Christian,” I mused. But let me consider this concept of “looking like a Christian….” As much as I can tell, Victor looks like most of my other 7th grade boys. He wears blue jeans, t-shirts, and athletic shoes to school. His hair is neat, and he looks rather ordinary to me. Granted, I haven’t noticed any halo radiating around his head, and thankfully, he isn’t dancing in the aisles of my classroom and loudly singing any praise hymns while I am instructing the class. Perhaps that is what Susan is looking for….
Interesting enough, I haven’t seen a halo on Susan either, but I guess she does have “a look.” She and her friends wear t-shirts with variations of the phrase “I love Jesus” daily to school. The kids she hangs out with sing in church “rock” bands and wear skinny jeans. I guess they “look like” Christians. She regularly attends the CSU meetings and is available to help with every possible service project the group takes on. Is Susan a better Christian than Victor because of this? Is it my place to judge? Is it her place to judge Victor? Absolutely not!
It disturbs me that we, as Christians, sometimes get caught up in our “holier than thou” mindset. The Bible clearly identifies Christians of all types—doctors, beggars, wealthy kings, lowly servants…. I don’t believe any of them have a certain “look.” We cannot ascertain a person’s spirituality by his or her clothing, words, church affiliations, or even actions. I assume we judge others in our own selfish efforts to elevate ourselves in the eyes of our Christian friends and possibly even gain some points with God. I am sure Satan has a powerful role in this, and I am equally certain God is not impressed with our human efforts.
Equally disturbing is the trend for Christians to try to prove their great spirituality to others. As a society, we are extremely caught up in appearances and self-affirmation. As Christians, we seek to please other Christians. We believe we must attend a certain church, dress a specific way, listen to the most popular Christian music, be seen in public with only our Christian friends, participate in a youth group, save the children in Africa, and the list goes on and on. Social media makes it possible for us to easily broadcast all of the great things we are doing and gain that self-affirmation we crave. But in all honesty, are there any of these deeds that an unbeliever can’t do just as easily? What makes these actions tied with the concept of Christianity such great acts of faith? And who are you or I to judge their value anyway?
Clearly, our spiritual mindset determines the value of our actions, and this can only be determined by God as He is the only one who knows the true motivation of our heart. Approval from our Christian friends, although a nice boost for our human ego, should never be the intended goal of Christian service. When we judge others as not being proper Christians because they do not follow our Christian game rules, we have a serious ego problem. I often wonder how many unbelievers are completely turned away from the Christian life because of the difficulty of playing the Christian “game.” Sadly, our human efforts to obtain salvation, or even Christian approval, completely nullify one of the greatest concepts in the Bible—GRACE.
Grace is all that God is free to do for man because of the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross. God has done it all. Everything. He has provided the means for our salvation and a divine system which allows us to remain in fellowship with Him and live the Christian life. Regardless of how noble and gracious we appear to our human peers, we are completely helpless to approach the throne of God based on our own human merits. We are so entirely helpless, in fact, that God holds our hand through the act of salvation. All we have to do is BELIEVE in the total work of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, and the Holy Spirit finishes the deal and permanently seals us into God’s Kingdom. God’s grace is sufficient, and it is magnificent! How dare we try to complicate it!
Because “I faith it” and I believe God is the author of salvation, I have complete security in my divine inheritance. My character is not in question because it is God’s integrity that makes salvation possible, not my own. In addition, my relationship with God is personal. I do not need to wave a Christian flag, style my hair a certain way, or follow any other human mandates to prove my Christianity. Nor do I feel the constant need to wear my Christianity on my shirt, for it is best worn in my heart. My relationship with God is MY relationship with God. It is not for others to judge or criticize; indeed, there is no such thing as human perfection. I must realize when I hold others to some man-made standard to validate their spiritual status, I doubt the ability of God to save any and all that come to Him. I know better--God’s power is infinite!
To be clear, I enjoy spending time with my Christian friends, find satisfaction in helping others in need, and have no problem wearing a shirt that expresses my faith in Jesus Christ. Furthermore, I agree that Christian service is valuable when done with the proper spiritual mindset. However, I do see great harm in judging the spiritual status of others because they live their Christian life differently than I do. As Christians, we need to encourage our Christian friends, not belittle or judge them. God’s purpose for each Christian’s life is individualized because God, our creator, recognizes our individuality. He grants our spiritual gifts, which determine how we best serve in our Christian life, with complete understanding of our human personality and strengths. We are purposefully designed by an omniscient creator. Therefore, I believe God purposefully schedules our divine appointments with those who can best benefit from our personal Christian witness. As a result, my means of Christian service or witness may look quite different from yours. If we take our job of representing God in this world seriously, we will understand that it is our duty to spend our time in the study of truth so that we are always ready for His next divine appointment.
My pastor likes to say, “Living the Christian life is a human impossibility.” We need to focus our attention on the One who makes the Christian life a possibility. I truly believe when we are properly oriented to God’s plan for our life, it will be perfectly evident to others, even if we don’t have the t-shirt to prove it! Our Christian witness is not in the company we keep, the clothes we wear, or even in the church services we attend. God will place us in the right places at the right times to let His light shine in this world. We need only to follow….
*Please note that names in the article have been changed.