Solving the Image Problem

A few weeks ago, my seven-year-old, Will, met a boy we’ll call “Joey.” Will had certain expectations of Joey since the boys met in a church setting, but Joey was not the most charming of fellows. In fact, after many grievances Will was just utterly exasperated. “You know,” Will said, “I’m just having difficulty believing Joey is a Christian.”

Although we’ve had some good laughs over it, Will’s disappointment actually raises some interesting questions. Why do Christians have such an image problem? And what can believers do about it?

First of all, Will is my first-born son, and I may be just a tad biased, but I love his logic, because he didn’t say, “wow, that Joey is kind of a jerk, this whole Jesus thing must be a fraud.” And that may sound sort of silly, but that’s what a lot of people outside the church actually do. All it takes is one or two bad seeds and some people are really turned off by Christianity. Criticisms are often well-founded, and the stories which begin “I knew a Christian once who…” are common and discouraging. However, the idea of turning away from Jesus Christ based on the imperfection of His followers seriously misunderstands a vital biblical truth. The fact is, “Jesus Christ didn’t come to make bad people good, but to make dead people live.” (Ravi Zacharias).

So it’s first and foremost about salvation, not transformation. But people, like my son, like me, like you, still expect transformation. Should we? The answer is yes. Absolutely yes. The problem is that you don’t know how people started out, so you can’t judge their journey, and thankfully that’s not our job. Our job is a personal one: to pursue a life that glorifies God, a life that is not a stumbling block for others, a life that does not reek of hypocrisy, and one that is ever-imperfect but by God’s grace improving.

I’m never going to get it just right. I’m still going to falter and sin, and disappoint people I love. I’m still going to give critics a chance to point and scoff, “Look at her and she says she’s a Christ-follower!” But even though perfection is unattainable I want my life to be as Jesus-like as possible, don’t you? Just think, if the millions of Americans who claim to be Christians made this their goal, surely that would solve the image problem, right? No, it wouldn’t. While books like UnChristian are enlightening in terms describing the depth of the problem, there is actually no hope of fully fixing our “brand.” After all Jesus was neither hypocritical nor judgmental yet His image problem eventually sent him to the cross. Jesus led a perfect life but was absolutely despised and He said we would be too. (Luke 21:17)

So two thoughts to close. First, like Paul, we need to be a little more comfortable with the world hating us. (Galations 1:10). Secondly, although hypocrisy isn’t the problem, it is a problem, a big problem. So next week I’m going to start a series about living the Christian life right based on Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. I have never read this book in its entirety, but my goal is to tackle a couple chapters each week. I would be greatly honored if YOU would read it with me. My hope is that this series will be truly interactive. I mean what else are comments for? Why not order it right now, before you forget? Here’s the link.

Until then, may we offer ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to Him, and may we run the race set out for us, with grace and mercy and perseverance.