Childhood: Seeing Christians from a Christian point of view
I grew up not knowing a single non-Christian friend. My family never hung out with people who were non-Christians. I was surrounded by my safe, happy little Christian bubble, insulated from the world and totally uninitiated in the things of the world. All the parents I knew were married. They raised their kids in stable, structured homes. They worked for their living and went to church on Sundays. Their imperfections were slight enough (or camouflaged well enough) to convince the average observer that they were the perfect family. This is what I grew up seeing. Overall, while I knew that the concept of "perfect family" was simply an illusion, because everyone has their hidden problems, it was a positive impression of wonderful people. This is what a Christian can see about other Christians.
Adulthood: Seeing Christians from a non-Christian point of view
Fast forward to adulthood, where I find myself as a bank teller, interacting with a huge range of customers from a broad cross-section of society. All of my coworkers are unbelievers, and all of a sudden, I find that I have the ability to see these customers as an unbeliever would see them.
To put it a different way, as a child in a conservative Christian subculture, I saw how people behaved on Sunday. As a bank teller, I see how people behave on Monday. Or Friday. Or even Sunday.
What I see makes my heart sink at the blasphemy that is being done to the name of Jesus by so-called Christians.
Three Categories of People
Do you know what I see?
1. I see a small handful of people who are outspoken about their faith. These are the people who pepper their conversation with phrases like, "I was praying about such-and-such" or "Lord, this" and "Lord, that" or "The Bible says..." I'm sorry to say this, but honestly, these people are our worst customers. Everyone in the branch despises them, and it's not because they are persecuting them for righteousness' sake--there's no righteousness to be found. These people walk up complaining noisily about everything going on in their life. They start ranting and raving like lunatics about their pet end-times theory and how we had better get "married to Jesus" because judgment is coming. They spout off how they're so holy that people walk up to them and get choked up just for the privilege of talking with them. They are full of all kinds off-the-wall stuff, but they are entirely empty of Christlikeness or fruits of the Spirit. So when they bring the name of Christ into the conversation, my heart sinks. "No!" I want to exclaim. "Not here! Not after you've dragged his name through the mud by the way you have lived before our eyes." And after they leave, my coworkers make comments like "I feel like I want to shoot myself," or "I just can't stand that *%&! person."
2. Then I see an even smaller handful of people (actually just one) who will hand out a tract with a friendly word and make pleasant conversation. It makes a difference--but the problem is, the people in the first group outnumber the people in the second group by such a large margin that unfortunately, to the unbeliever, everyone gets lumped under the same stereotype. Especially because they used to have a customer who would always hand out "You're going to hell" tracts, so they got jaded. And even the tract givers are more comfortable defaulting to harp on their favorite side issues (such as end times) rather than sticking to the plain gospel, and then they themselves, without realizing it, have just jumped up voluntarily into the first category.
3. Finally, I see a third group: all the rest of the customers who make no pretense or expression of religion. Believers and unbelievers look alike to us. I have tried so hard to deduce who of them might be Christians (because surely some of them must be), but there's no hint, no visible evidence, no clues from how they use their bank account, no way to guess from the way they dress, or the way their family interacts, or the things that interest them, or the conversation they make. They have blended in so seamlessly that for all practical purposes, they are invisible.
Therefore, all we see is this:
1) Satan's best servants parading as believers in order to create a powerful sense that Christians are counterfeits and hypocrites
2) Half-effective attempts not done in the power of the Spirit of God that end up (justly or not) getting lumped into the first category
3) Nothing. Invisible. Undetectable. Indistinguishable.
The unbeliever does not see (and, in fact, can not see) what I saw growing up. Some of our customers in the third category might very well be those married, stable families who study the Word and raise their children in a godly way, whose lives would be attractive if we could see them. But they are invisible to us. We know nothing of that.
Do you see the problem here? Does this concern any of you?
By the way, would your banker know whether or not you were a Christian? If your banker wanted to know, would he or she have to squint really hard for clues and try in vain to guess?
The Missing Category
The matrix below shows four different possible approaches to living and speaking the Christian life.
In the bottom left corner, it says "Despised." This is the person who is outspoken about his or her faith but lives a life that even the non-Christian would be ashamed of. There are a few of these, not very many, but enough that their stench spreads through everything and would taint the very name "Christian" if it were possible. This person threatens the ability of the real Christian to do his work, but if the "mystery person" ever showed up, it would counterbalance and throw off the work of the hypocrite, just as genuine cash exposes and triumphs over counterfeit money.
On both the top and bottom of the right-hand side, it says "Invisible." No matter how good or bad your life is, your Christianity is invisible to the unbeliever if you do not give it some expression. Many Christians in recent days have quoted to me in a hopeless sort of tone, "We're supposed to be ready to give an answer to every man who asks us a reason of the hope that is in us, but no one is asking!" That is because the unbeliever can see nothing to ask about if you don't give them some hint. Unbelievers are dense when it comes to spiritual truth. They are not intellectually dense, but they are spiritually dead, and it's hard to get a subtle spiritual hint through a dead man's head. The only medicine for a dead man is life from the dead, and the only way to get that is through the gospel. So when I say that they need a hint, I don't mean that Christians should go around hinting, "Have you noticed something different about me? Will you ask me what it is?" I mean that Christians should become experts in drenching everyday life with the gospel. If you are invisible to the unbeliever to the point where even a Christian is trying in vain to tell if you're a Christian or not, then it's time for you to re-evaluate your approach.
Reader, you who love Jesus and know sweet intimacy with Him, rise up, push that big question mark off the page, and let yourself be seen! Imagine what an unbeliever sees on a daily basis in their line of work, and then shatter their preconceived notions. Show them what they've never seen before: love, joy, peace, patience. Make up a way to weave the gospel right into your everyday conversation, so that you can take a generic comment like "How has your day been going so far?" and turn it into a way to reflect Jesus.
Invisible Christian, rise up and let your voice be heard. Of course you will be discreet and not obnoxious like the outspoken hypocrites, but begin to unveil the riches of the gospel before a dying world.
Recognize that people in all walks of life have conversations every day. At the bank, we hear stories. We hear jokes. We hear raw grief as someone spills out all their overwhelmed soul to perhaps the only listening ear they know. We laugh over their funny stories and congratulate them on their accomplishments. We stand and talk to people sometimes for 30 minutes or more when we are not busy. People are not opposed to having conversations. Talking helps to pass the time and adds interest to our day. So why do we studiously avoid just that one conversation topic? Why is it that every other subject can come up, but not the gospel? Could it be that we are self-censoring ourselves from sharing what the listener, perhaps, would have accepted? Therefore, become adept in weaving the gospel into natural conversation, not coming with guns blazing of "you're going to hell," but rather, "Let me tell you a story," or "Have you ever considered..." or "I love cars, too, but there's something I love more."
Become so saturated in the gospel and in the person of Jesus yourself, so that everywhere you go, you simply can't help but exude the wonder and delight of it.
Finally, walk in obedience. God could command or forbid you to speak. Be sensitive and instantly responsive to His voice, and walk in an attitude of continual dependence on His power.