If you read this question without a wry chuckle and a face-palm, either you haven’t met very many Christians, or, you should immediately go to those that you know and ask them how they are following Jesus differently than the majority. Because the sad truth is, whenever I present this question, nobody argues with the fact that indeed, there are entirely too many mean Christians. But in fact, those two words shouldn’t be used in the same sentence.
When I worked in the corporate world, a dear friend was working for a Christian organization. The pain the she witnessed and experienced was astonishing to me. The drama and cruelty exhibited in that (very large) Christian institution was something I never saw in the Fortune 100 company I was at. Since then, I continue to see and hear stories of Christians who are just plain mean, especially in churches. It’s really shocking.
And let’s be real, sometimes we’re not very nice to our kids or our own spouse, right? It’s not like it’s just in Christian organizations.
Some say that this is because we’re just human. “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven,” right? Yes, of course. We do have to fight the self-life and natural tendencies of the flesh. But what nobody seems to be talking about is that it doesn’t have to stay that way!
In fact, it SHOULDN’T stay that way.
If you have really experienced the Anointed One, and heard his truth, it will be seen in your life; for we know that the ultimate reality is embodied in Jesus…Now it’s time to be made new by every revelation that’s been given to you. And to be transformed as you embrace the glorious Christ-within as your new life and live in union with him! For God has re-created you all over again in his perfect righteousness, and you now belong to him in the realm of true holiness.
In that passage in Ephesians 4 and continuing into chapter 5, Paul goes on to say that we should discard every form of dishonesty, lying, not to let anger control us or fuel revenge, never let ugly or hateful words come from our mouth, lay aside bitter words, temper tantrums, revenge, profanity, and insults…Instead, we should let our words become beautiful gifts that encourage others, be kind, affectionate toward one another, be imitators of God in everything we do for we represent him, our Father, as his beloved sons and daughters...
Paul talks about this New Creation Life throughout his writings. In Colossians 3, we are to eliminate evil deeds from our lives once and for all. What are these "evil deeds" he speaks of? Just your usual...anger, fits of rage, all forms of hatred, cursing, filthy speech, and lying. You'll also see it in Galatians 5, where he lumps what some would call obvious sins like sexual immorality, pornography, and murder...with other cravings of the self-life including chasing after things instead of God, manipulating others, senseless arguments, temper tantrums, only thinking of yourself...Ouch.
So what’s going wrong?
It’s a lack of transformation into Christlikeness at the heart level.
Jesus explains it simply in Luke 6:45:
Out of the virtue stored in their hearts, good and upright people will produce good fruit. But out of the evil hidden in their hearts, evil ones will produce what is evil. For the overflow of what has been stored in your heart will be seen by your fruit and will be heard in your words.
Our actions and behavior are an overflow of what’s in our heart. So if we intentionally focus on heart transformation, in partnership with Jesus but also doing our part, we will see a difference.
And if we really started living into this, the world would be an entirely different place.
Disciples are those who have been so ravished with Christ that others want to be like them. Others look at those disciples’ life in the kingdom of God, and they say, “This is the best thing I ever saw in my life. I must have that.” – Dallas Willard, Living In Christ’s Presence
It’s the perfect recipe for unparalleled church growth.
So what do we do with this?
A Refreshed Vision
First, I’d like to suggest that we need to re-set the vision and expectation for living as an apprentice (or disciple) to Jesus. We dive deeply into what that looks like here, so if you’re struggling to see the Biblical basis for the expectation of transformation, spend some time in this post (specifically, in the Scriptures listed therein). Ask Jesus to show you what the life of a friend of his looks like. And remember, we always aim at the heart for transformation; the behavior changes as a natural result.
An Actual Process
Secondly, we need to enable people to actually pursue transformation into Christlikeness. I truly believe that most if not all Christians really do desire change. They sincerely love God. They have a sneaking suspicion there should be a bigger difference manifested in their lives, but they haven’t seen it modeled and they don’t know what they’re supposed to do to help make it happen.
For this, I would point you to the Transformation Triangle, and a helpful look at the what and how of discipleship. In short (which I hesitate to summarize because you really do need to dive deeper) the crux of it is this:
Daily walking with Jesus and continually yielding to his Spirit within you.
Galatians 5:16-17 – As you yield freely and fully to the dynamic life and power of the Holy Spirit you will abandon the cravings of the self-life...the two incompatible and conflicting forces within you are your self-life of the flesh and the new creation life of the Spirit...
Romans 8:4, 9 ...and we are free to live, not according to our flesh, but by the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit!...When the Spirit of Christ empowers your life, you are not dominated by the flesh but by the Spirit...
Partnering with Jesus by implementing your own training in various disciplines.
God’s grace, which is given to us in abundance, is opposed to the attitude of earning, not to the action of effort. It’s not on you, but you do have a role to play.
Let’s become ravished disciples of Jesus that pull people into his Kingdom!
Resources for Diving Deeper:
Related Books by Dr. Dallas Willard:
Renovation of the Heart
The Divine Conspiracy
Spirit of the Disciplines
The Great Ommission
Dr. Willard's teaching on this topic (transformation -hope and how)
Healing the Heart & Life Session 2 Part 1 (35 min.)
Study the Scriptures listed in this post