Christians are notorious for bad behavior. In some recent surveys (reported in books like unChristian and They Like Jesus but Not the Church), it appears that most people in our culture believe that Christians are about as trustworthy as car salesmen and lawyers.
And I will admit, I myself can behave pretty badly at times, and many of the Christians I know behave in far worse ways than many of the unbelievers I know. I am always amazed at the grace, love, support, and forgiveness that is found among the “unchurched” which is rarely found among those who go to church.
There are numerous contributing factors to this.
Reasons Christians Behave Badly
Some of it is our theology. Many Christians develop a sense of entitlement because we are the “chosen ones” the “elite” the members of the family of God. We feel this gives us the right to look down upon others who are not one of us.
Sometimes, our behavior is a result of our understanding of God’s grace and forgiveness. We feel that because God forgives us for all our sins, we can treat others in terrible ways, and God will still forgive us. While it is true that God will forgive us for such behavior, His grace is never a license to treat others so shamefully.
Then there is the critical, judgmental, legalistic attitude so often taught and practiced in churches. Since we feel we have a corner on the truth and that we are the ones who are always right, this makes us believe that it is our responsibility to be the world’s policemen, going around pointing out where people are wrong and how they are sinning. This is rarely received well by anyone, especially when we have glaringly obvious sins in our own life.
Finally, there is the fact that Christians love to pick and choose which sins are the worst – things like homosexuality and murder – while ignoring sins that are prevalent within our own congregations (which might actually be much worse) – sins like gluttony, greed, and pride. The watching world sees our blatant hypocrisy and criticizes us in return for our unjustified criticism of them.
But over the years, as I have personally engaged in hypocritical and sinful behavior, and as I have watched other Christians do the same, I have found that there are several excuses we give for our poor treatment of other people, and for sin in our own lives. When we treat others badly, we give excuses for why our treatment of them is justified.
Here are the top ten reasons I could think of:
1. We Christians are sinners too.
There are other versions of this excuse, such as “Hey! Nobody’s perfect!” or “I’m not perfect; just forgiven.”
The idea behind this excuse is that the watching world has put unrealistic expectations on us as Christians. We complain that they seem to think we should live perfect lives, which is impossible. So when we sin, and our sin is pointed out to us, we excuse our actions by reminding others that we are sinners too.
Theologically, this is correct.
But such a statement should never be used to excuse our sin. When our sin is pointed out to us, either by a Christian or a non-Christian, the proper response is not “Hey, I’m a sinner too, so get off my back about my behavior” but rather should be, “You know what? You are correct. I messed up. I am sorry. Thanks for pointing that out. With God’s help, I will do better next time.”
2. It’s nothing personal; it’s just business.
Sometimes people say, “This has nothing to do with my Christianity.”
Christians who say these things reveal a deep misunderstanding of what following Jesus is all about. For a follower of Jesus, there is no such thing as “it’s just business.” Truly following Jesus requires that we make changes in all aspects of life, not just in our behavior and dresscode on Sunday morning. If we are treating others shamefully at work and through our business practices, we are not properly representing Jesus in our lives. We must not divorce our spiritual life from our personal life or from our work life.
3: Judge not, lest you be judged.
People don’t like their sin pointed out to them. I know I don’t. And it is easy to get defensive and tell people to mind their own business. But if we are failing to be salt and light in the world, then we are supposed to be held to higher standards, and sometimes this means people will point out to us our failures.
When this happens, it is easy to get upset, lash out, and tell people that they have their own sin to take care of (which is likely true). But such arguments about who is the worst sinner rarely lead to anything good.
4. It isn’t illegal.
I know a Christian lawyer from New York who steals money from others legally. I challenged him on it once, and he said that he is not doing anything illegal, which was technically true. He had the law of the United States on his side, and he had figured out a way to legally swindle people. Nothing he was doing was breaking any of our nations’s laws.
But there is a big difference between not breaking the laws of our nation, and treating people with love, respect, and dignity. God’s laws are higher than man’s laws, and even though a person may be following man’s laws perfectly, this does not mean they are following God’s laws. So be careful when you justify your actions because you are not breaking any laws.
5. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. I’m just treating them the way they treated me.
It is funny how we often feel that retaliation is within our rights as Christians, and we quote Scripture to prove it. Quoting Scripture in this way is similar to how the devil quoted Scripture to Jesus in the wilderness: the Scripture is ripped out of context and completely misapplied.
If we are truly following Jesus, we will forgive our enemies, and love, bless, and pray for those who mistreat us.
6. They’re not Christians.
Some people have the misguided belief that we are only to treat those within the family of God with honesty and respect. Those outside the family of God can be slandered, abused, and swindled. Sometimes Christians will say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” In other words, the world operates on a different set of ethics than Christians do, and so when we deal with Christians, we must use their set of ethics.
All I can say to this is…. “Where is that in Scripture again?”
7. I have righteous anger. In your anger do not sin.
Be careful if you ever find yourself quoting this verse. When this verse is being quoted, very rarely is the anger in question actually “righteous anger.” Usually, it is self-righteous anger, and we are sinfully lashing out at someone who slighted us, and then justifying our anger by calling it “righteous anger.”
8. Don’t throw pearls before swine.
I actually know some Christians who say this. They say that all non-Christians are swine, and should be treated as such. We are only to treat Christians nicely.
9. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
No. It doesn’t. Enough said.
10. Hey, I’m not in church!
As with some of the other excuses above, this excuse reveals a deep-seated misunderstanding of what the church is and how followers of Jesus are supposed to live and function. Church is not a place you go to for a couple hours on Sunday morning. It is not an event at which you temporarily change your clothing and behavior.
Church goes with you wherever you go, and so no matter what you are saying or doing, you are representing Jesus and His church.
Bonus: We must please God rather than men.
I love this one, especially when Christians quote it as a way to justify being mean and rude to other people. Somehow the twisted logic is that we can please God by pissing off other people. Or something like that. But I have a feeling that if we are trying to please God and in the process are making friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors hate us, we probably are not pleasing God either.
Are there others that you know of which didn’t make it on this list? Include them in the comments below.
And remember: of course Christians still sin. But when our sin is pointed out to us, the proper response is not to make excuses, but to say, “You are right. I am sorry. Please forgive me.”