Don’t Act Like a Christian

Why is it so hard sometimes to act like a Christian? Basically, why is it so hard to act like Christ? I think there’s a problematic word in that sentence – “act.” “Acting” denotes a sense of falsehood, a character. We shouldn’t act like Christians. We shouldn’t act like Christ. We are Christians, and therefore we have the Holy Spirit inside of us. That means our behavior should be real, a result of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, not a result of our attempts to follow the rules.

I still struggle with this. I’ve grown up in the church and been in it my whole life. I went to a Christian college. I’ve almost always worked in places with Christian connections. And yet I still struggle sometimes with my attitudes and motivations being Christ-like.

I think there are three reactions we can have when someone wrongs us. We can react like the world says is right: seek revenge. Get paybacks. Treat them the way they’ve treated us. We can react the way Christ would have us react: sincerely love them and be kind to them. And we can react begrudgingly in a way we think Christ would want us to – not out of love, but out of obligation.

I struggle a lot with that third option. There have been times in my life that I found myself agreeing to be kind to someone not because it was what Christ would want me to do, but because I wanted to drive that person crazy by not retaliating. Not a very Christlike motivation. And there’s only one way to achieve the right motivation – prayer. Martin Luther King, Jr., said it pretty well: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” If we are motivated by darkness or hate, we can change nothing. We must let our motivations be powered by Christ’s light and love – and considering our fallen human emotions, we can’t develop proper motivations without His help.

So let’s go back to that second option. What exactly does Christ say about our reaction to being wronged? He says to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39: “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Also in Luke 6:29.). He says to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-44: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Also in Luke 6:27.).

First, I do believe there is a difference between turning the other cheek as Christ would and being a doormat. I don’t believe Christ is telling us to be a doormat to the evil people of this world or when someone wrongs us. However, He is telling us not to retaliate. He is telling us that we don’t have the right to avenge ourselves (that’s His job, Romans 12:19).

Second, He is telling us to love our enemies. He doesn’t tell us that in hopes that it will change our enemies (sometimes that’s a nice side benefit). He tells us to love our enemies because it will change us. During one of the many jobs I had during college, I had a coworker that made me want to punch a wall (ok, I actually did… at least it wasn’t my coworker’s face!). I was voicing my frustrations to a friend and he said something that knocked me feet out from under me. He asked if I’d been praying for my coworker. OOPS. Um, no. I hadn’t. And no, I didn’t pray for my coworker to change. Well, not really. I prayed that God would continue to shape my coworker into the person He wanted him to be, and I asked that God would change my heart and attitude towards my coworker. Did my coworker change? Nope. But God helped me by giving me more patience and self-control regarding my coworker. The situation was still not ideal, and I still battle feelings of bitterness over it, but I learned a valuable lesson from it. God doesn’t tell us to love our enemies in hopes that our “love” will change them. He tells us to love them (something we can only do with His help, by the way) so that we will change and become more like Him. We cannot see our enemies through God’s eyes until we ask God to help us love them.

The fruit of the Spirit (like kindness and love) are things that are supposed to become natural in us after we’ve accepted Jesus as our Lord and welcomed the Holy Spirit into our lives. Sometimes, they don’t come naturally, but rather than “act” like they are and rather than force ourselves to demonstrate them, we need to pray in a way that asks God to change us so that those traits will come naturally, even when we are being wronged or persecuted.

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