“The church spends much of its time trying to make non-Christians act like Christians.” This is an observation I have stated and written a number of times, and I think it is true. But once when I said it in a group of ministers, men honestly and earnestly preaching the Gospel, one godly pastor observed: “My problem is trying to get Christians to act like Christians.”
Sober thought reveals how true this is in our own lives, and in the lives of other Christians. How few of us act as Christians should act! How frequently our actions and reactions are unloving! How often we belie our Christian profession by word and deed!
People become Christians through faith in Jesus Christ and in no other way. It is impossible to do anything that will bring us into a right relationship with God. This has been done for us and must be received by faith.
Nevertheless, living as one of the redeemed is a matter of growing in grace and involves an act of the will, a will enlightened, motivated, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Living as a Christian means exhibiting many facets of God’s grace in our hearts, all of them the outgrowth of Christian love and all of them polished and brightened by practice. These graces are the outward expression of an inner Presence and attitude, the putting into practice of those things we know are good and right.
Sympathy. There is hardly a day that we do not come in contact with someone who has been buffeted by the winds of adversity. All around us there are those who sorrow, who are suffering from illness, poverty, despair, bereavement, or other troubles.
How utterly un-Christian to be indifferent toward this suffering. True sympathy is begotten by love and expressed at the personal level. The Christian, having experienced the comfort of the Holy Spirit, should know how to sympathize with others.
Speaking of this the Apostle Paul says: “[God] comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (2 Cor. 1:4).
Compassion. There is a distinction between sympathy and compassion, for compassion involves depth of understanding—one sinner’s being sorry for another sinner’s plight.
Compassion looks deep into the heart, suffers with and understands the need of the other person, and communicates that understanding. Compassion ignores the unlovely as it sees God’s image in most unlikely places.
Courtesy. Courtesy is the art and grace of treating others with respect and understanding—just as we would like to be treated. It is politeness in the face of provocation, the turning of the other cheek when we have been offended.
Courtesy involves the soft answer that can turn away wrath. It is observance of the niceties of social intercourse in the midst of trying circumstances.
Only too often unhappy situations develop because of the lack of common courtesy. That this should be true where Christians are concerned is a travesty, reflecting dishonor on the very name Christian.
Patience. Impatience has dimmed the witness of many a Christian. How often we must distress our Lord by our impatience with others. Some people seem slow, inarticulate, and inept—just the way we appear to our Lord, perhaps. And he is infinitely patient with us.
Tact. Frankness is not always for the glory of God. I have known some Christians who have prided themselves on being frank, and I have known some who have been hurt by this frankness. Telling the truth can be done in love, taking into consideration the feelings of others. There is a vast difference in the remarks of two shoe salesmen, one of whom said, “I’m sorry, madam, but your foot is too big for this shoe,” while the other said, “I am sorry, but this shoe is too small for you.”
Tact is that grace which enables us to sense the feelings of others and to act toward them or communicate with them in a way that preserves human dignity.
Forgiveness. Without a spirit of forgiveness, human relations cannot be maintained at the Christian level. We live in the light of God’s forgiveness, and it is an attitude that God requires of us. Forgiveness involves shedding the robe of self-righteousness and being clothed with the humility that is a part of true Christianity.
Practicality. We often are sound in theory but fail at the point of implementation. To many of us the Christian graces are nebulous attributes that we expect in others but fail to exhibit ourselves.
Practicality involves helping people in the place where they need help. It is not just a kind word but also a kind act where that act can do the most good. Where food is needed, give food. Where clothing is needed, give clothing, Where comfort, sympathy, courtesy, and patience are needed, show these. The Apostle James admonishes us: “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” Acting like a Christian means just that.
In these things the Christian must rigorously search his own heart, at the same time determining by God’s help to grow in those aspects of grace that so intimately affect others, while they reflect Christ in our own hearts.
C. S. Lewis has well said, “Do not waste your time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor or not; act as if you did. As soon as you do this you find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”
The exhibiting of the grace of God in our dealings with others must be for the glory of God. Unbelievers see Christ through the lives of Christians—and what a sorry spectacle is often paraded before them!
The exhibiting of Christian graces is a matter of practice, of growing, and of outward witnessing. In this the effectiveness of our salvation is exhibited to others. When we fail to act like Christians, we dishonor the One whose name we bear.
The world needs the evidence of sanctification in the Christian’s life. This is evidence of the power of God to redeem and change, and also a balm to a sin-sick world.
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