Over the years we have participated in many discussions with unbelievers in different formats. One of the most glaring issues that were a common theme throughout those discussions was the misconception unbelievers have about Christians.
This misconception whether purposeful or not hindered the discussion and made it harder to talk to unbelievers. While the word Christian means ‘Christ-like’ it is difficult for unbelievers to see that Christ-likeness is not achieved at salvation.
To illustrate the point we are about to make, different verses from Matthew 26 will be quoted. These verses, in one form or another, are mentioned in all 4 gospels but we will only use Matthew 26 here:
40 And He *came to the disciples and *found them sleeping, and *said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? 41 Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
43 Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. 45 Then He *came to the disciples and *said to them, “[k]Are you still sleeping and resting?
56 But all this has taken place to fulfill the Scriptures of the prophets.” Then all the disciples left Him and fled.
69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” 71 When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and *said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” 73 A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk [z]gives you away.” 74 Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
There is a common theme in those verses as well. That theme is not to make believers feel guilty about not being perfect and doing everything Jesus needs when he asks or instructs.
There is something that believers do need to focus on as it will help them in their sanctification and becoming stronger believers. Upon salvation, Christians are not made perfect.
You will notice that those disciples who were with Jesus for 3 years, saw all the miracles he did, learned at his feet and more still became afraid and made mistakes. One injured a man with his sword, another lied and the rest ran off afraid that they may be next to be arrested.
At salvation here is what Christians are not:
- all knowing
- all powerful
- always telling the truth
- and more
This is what confuses the unbeliever. They think that salvation automatically bestows perfection and other supernatural characteristics upon the new believer and they will be perfect people in all situations.
At salvation all believers become are saved from sin and put on a new path as a new Christian. That new path gives them access to the aid of Christ, his ear to unburden themselves, the Spirit of Truth, and a new way to look at and do things.
As you can see that after 3 years with Christ the disciples certainly were not perfect, holy, unafraid and able to tell the truth with confidence. They still needed help as well as realize their weaknesses. The disciples still had a long way to go to reach holiness, total honesty, and be mature believers.
The same goes for the new modern believer. Many times Christians are accused of not being believers because they made a few mistakes or were called out for lying or doing other things that did not seem in line with Christian teaching.
A lot of those accusations and accusers fail to realize that most believers are in different stages of their spiritual walk. They have not learned all the lessons they need to learn nor have conquered all their sins or be able to withstand temptation and so on.
If the disciples can fail at being solid believers in Christ, then so can we and othe rbelievers do the same thing. We have to be slow at accusing them of being non-Christians and look to see if they need further instruction, support, or help to correct their mistaken way of living, much like Apollos needed correction in the book of Acts.
Many times, the victim at the side of the road, a Christian who has fallen or erred, needs a Good Samaritan to stop and lend them a hand. They have been passed by the self-righteous, the holier than thou, and better religious people.
All it takes to get them healed is one person willing to take the time and pay the expense till the fallen are back on their feet again headed in the right direction.
If a believer is afraid today it may be that they have not been filled with the Spirit, allowed the spirit to reign in their lives, or have not reached perfect love for God which casts out all fear.
If a believer is accused of lying, it may be that they are telling what they think is the truth and need humble correction and teaching. They do not need more accusations as they get enough from the unchurched world.
If a believer is acting in a sinful manner, he or she may have fallen to temptation, made a simple mistake, error in judgment or became frustrated at something. They do not need more attacks, and abuse or have their actions held over their heads but understanding and forgiveness, then help to overcome those issues.
Being a Christian means one gets involved with his or her fellow believers in a Christian manner using Christ given methods not the secular world’s ideas. Those do not help the sinners of the world and they certainly won’t help believers reach the goal that God set– to be holy.
When we examine those mistakes we see Jesus’s response to those failings. First, he did not cast Peter, James & John out of his church or being a disciple. He knew that they had more to learn
Second, he did not rebuke them more than the offense required. He did not withdraw his friendship, his guidance, or his insight from them but was patient and waited for the time they realized how wrong they were and were ready to correct their errors.
Third, Jesus did not side with the accusers and heaped more accusations or abuse upon those that made mistakes. He corrected one of their mistakes with an act of love and more teaching that made the point he needed to make.
Fourth, he did not leave his disciples alone, while they fled and made mistakes, he came back later with more to help them overcome their fears. It took seeing the physical resurrection for that to take place at that time, but we have that same event to look at to see that Christ has not left us either when we make mistakes.
Fifth, Jesus still gave them the Holy Spirit, helped them reach perfect love, and used them in mighty ways. This means that believers should not wallow in their mistakes crying woe is me, etc. Instead, they should be up, learning from their mistakes, and correcting them, so they too can be used by God while there is still time.
Sticking with Jesus means sometimes being divided from your loved ones. The example of Matthew Vine and his experience with his family shows us what parents cannot do when their children turn to error and leave the truth.
Instead of standing with Jesus and the truth, his father joined his son in his error. Parental love does not over-rule a person’s love for God. If it does then those parents do not have the love that casts out fear. They love their child more than they do God & Jesus.
It is a hard thing to do but your children, your parents, and your relatives or friends are not offering salvation, eternal life, or other gifts that God does. The one strong in Christ must stand with Jesus then offer understanding, correction, and the truth to their loved ones.
That shows their love for their children, parents, and so on. Joining them in error is not showing love but the weakness a believer may have and never conquered.
The key to all of this is that believers are not granted perfection at salvation and that mistakes, errors in judgment, and other failings will take place. The believer must know how to handle those issues correctly when they happen and build a stronger faith in Jesus.
They need to study correctly so that they get the truth, they get wisdom, & understanding so that they can become strong warriors for Christ able to withstand temptation, false accusations, and abuse, etc.
Their fellow Christians need to help them in this by accurately discerning what is wrong and asking God for help to administer the right words. That means putting aside personal preferences, opinions, and other personal nuances that make things worse for the one needing help.
One cannot help if they make the wounded believer worse off than he or she was before the mistake took place. Modern believers have a long ways to go to reach perfection, the truth, holiness, and so on.
The road is rough and not easy so be ready to be strong and dedicated for quitting means you lose. The good thing about the Christian faith is that God’s grace lets those that quit, try again if they have not left their faith.
In conclusion, not being granted perfection, etc., at salvation is not an excuse to purposefully error and participate in those aspects of life that are not of God’s kingdom or in line with his or Jesus’ teaching.