November 29, 1989
Question: Can a person become a Christian and continue to act like a jerk? Answer: That depends...
The recent church-related sex scandals and financial scams make well known the most prominent offenders but, without naming names, I’m sure everyone who is a Christian knows at least one other person we secretly wish would stop telling people they belong to the Christian church.
Jerks sometimes get the same negative attention in other organizations. The armed forces, lodges, service clubs and other groups might even toss out their “embarrassing” members. But the church? What are we supposed to do with them? Do we forgive and look the other way when “jerks” carry a Bible, name the Name and still play the ungodly fool? Or should we ask God to strike them with lightning? Or do we toss them out on their ears?
The disciples wondered the same thing. In fact, they came to Jesus ready to put out someone who merely was doing things in His Name but was not “one of us.” And this fellow wasn’t even acting like a jerk.
The Lord did explain part of it. He told a parable comparing the kingdom of God to a field. The good seed was sown and the good wheat sprouted, but sometime in the night an enemy came in and sowed tares or weeds. When the crop came up, the two were mixed; it was impossible to separate them, much like tame oats and wild oats. In other words, some of the jerks were imposters.
The Bible also talks about new and untaught people who need to be “rooted and grounded” in their faith. They need patient mentoring and encouragement. Since these “babes” merely have some growing up to do, their “wild oat” behavior eventually will change.
I don’t understand why God allows the continued mixture of imposters and genuine changed people all under the same banner. My own spiritual reputation may or may not be scarred by what some so-called Christians do, but surely the church in general suffers from the behavior of the “jerks”. Those who are not in the church have good reason to look at us and wonder.
But some things I do understand. One is that Jesus said there would be imposters, false Christs and false teachers. They would be like ravenous wolves, but disguising themselves as “angels of light.” The Bible tells us to watch out for them and put them out of the church.
Second, the Bible tells those who are genuine Christians to remain faithful to His Word and be utterly obedient so that their lives will not become filled with sin, making them look more like tares than wheat. And if it happens (and it does), the Bible says those who are “spiritual” should rebuke them, with the goal of repentance and restoration.
Third: God does change the inner nature of those He saves. It simply takes awhile for the outward behavior to match the inward change. The Bible tells us to be patient, to teach new Christians and encourage them as they learn how to act like what they are.
Take a good look at those three things. Isn’t discernment needed to determine which category a “jerk” falls into? I dare say many times the church, never mind those outside of it, are guilty of making the wrong assessment. We wind up trying to teach the false teacher (whose only goal is to undermine our doctrine), tossing out the struggling new Christian who needs our help to overcome those old habits and being patient with the sinning believer instead of giving him a good kick in the pants.
Yes, it is possible for a Christian to act like a jerk. Sad to say, I’m sometimes guilty. But the Lord does make a great promise -- He says He will finish what He starts in the life of His genuine children (Philippians 1:6). Someday all that are truly His will stand before Him, perfect and holy, made that way because He has the power to transform anyone, even the “jerks”, who submit to Him.