Like it or not, culture shapes our picture of Jesus. What if certain virtues we equate with following Jesus aren’t actually Christian?
But if we don’t identify false stigmas and misconceptions, we will devote time and energy to cultivating a “virtue” that isn’t really a virtue at all. I hate disclaimers, but what follows deserves one. These “virtues” below aren’t evil. I’m not asking you to avoid them—because most of these really are good things. Instead, I’m asking you to think seriously about what it means to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.
Here are eight Christian virtues that aren’t really Christian (and better alternatives).
I can’t help but wonder what we would think about Jesus in modern-day America. We’re talking about a guy who called one of his closest friends Satan. He talked disrespectfully to religious leaders. Nice wouldn’t be the first word I would use. Was Jesus kind? Absolutely. Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit. Here’s the problem, though. Niceness and kindness aren’t interchangeable. Nice is cheap. It costs you nothing. Nice avoids tension and always strokes your ego, even if Ray Charles could see you’re wrong. Niceness is not next to godliness.
Kindness, however, tells you what you need to hear. It won’t stroke your ego because you’re awesome. Kindness loves you too much for that. The seeds of kindness are planted in the soil of love. From this rich earth comes real tension. But the end result is a fruitful life. I wonder how many friends Jesus would have in an overly sensitive culture where ego stroking is a national pastime? I know Jesus would infuriate me. For much of my life, I equated niceness with godliness. Good friends would never call me out, I thought. Good Christians wouldn’t either.
But I struggle to equate niceness with godliness when I read the Gospels. Maybe we need more Christian like Jesus. Maybe we need more friends like Jesus. I know I do.
Always say, ‘Yes.’
When Tiffani and I graduated college, we immediately plugged into a local church. For the first two years, we said yes to everything. “Will you lead a prayer in worship Sunday?” Yes. “We’re short a few volunteers. Will you help out at the food pantry?” Yes. “Will you housesit our cats?”
No. I don’t do cats. Neither does Jesus.
Good Christians were servants, I thought. They never say no. They’re “yes men (and women)”…for Jesus. While you should serve your local church, the weight of “yes” can (and will) cripple you. For those who say “yes” too often, you feel this weight. Here’s why. Often times, we say yes because we want to feel needed. It’s about approval, not servanthood.
Saying no to a volunteer opportunity is hard. Saying no to a toxic friendship is painful. Saying no to peer pressure, negativity, temptation, and abuse, all of these are hard. But let’s not bow down to the god of yes. This god takes everything and gives nothing.
Perfect church attendance.
I’m still healing from years of unhealthy exposure to this false Christian virtue. Faithful Christians didn’t miss worship. Ever. They never missed small group. They didn’t miss any church function. Period. Gathering with Christians matters, of course. But it’s possible to have perfect church attendance and know very little about God. Much like perfect school attendance doesn’t guarantee good grades. God is much more concerned with the condition of your heart than the location of your butt.
Following the rules.
I grew up equating rule following with Christ following. Good Christians didn’t break rules. They didn’t miss curfew, cheat on tests, or drink alcohol. Oh, and they didn’t curse or have tattoos. A perfect driving record doesn’t qualify you as a Christian any more than an alcohol addiction disqualifies you. Besides, some rules need to be broken. They’re faulty and oppressive. Rather than equating righteousness with rule-following, let’s equate righteousness with Jesus.
Never doubting or questioning God.
Growing up, doubting God or questioning the Bible was disrespectful at best, and blasphemous at worst. Because of this, my faith journey was framed by an unhealthy picture of God. In my mind, God was this divine being with an enormous limb (probably one he picked from The Tree of Life). Positioned like a power hitter in baseball, He waited for someone to question him so he could smash you over the left-field wall. Then, in college, doubt chiseled away at my faith. I wasn’t sure how to process the hard questions. I couldn’t talk to God. He was mad. I couldn’t talk to other Christians. They would tell me to pray harder.
Then I found a life-saving book. Psalms. Psalms painted a different picture of God. Faithful men doubted and spoke “matter-of-factly” to God. He didn’t destroy them. He walked with them. He was patience and understanding. I still question and doubt. The God of love allows space for this. He stays with me through it, and celebrates when I reach the other side.
Christians with doubts and questions aren’t lacking faith. In fact, I would say doubt is an unavoidable by-product of growing closer to an infinitely powerful and knowledgeable God.
Knowledgeable about the Bible.
When I worked in youth ministry, I traveled a lot. Before loading the bus, everyone had an opportunity to pull the trigger on shotgun. But, to be honest, I only wanted one person to call it. Why? I had a Bible trivia app and no one else competed with me.
I could name every judge and pair people with weird, random facts. I knew the Bible. But this isn’t surprising, right? Faithful Christians know their Bible. Well, that depends. The apostle Paul says knowledge puffs up but loves builds up. My Christian journey proves this verse true. Knowledge alone is quite dangerous, actually. I look back on my Bible trivia days. While I rarely lost, my reward for winning was a crown of pride.
Jesus flipped the model of righteousness and holy living. Faithful Christians might know their Bible. But if you’re Bible knowledge doesn’t compel to serve your neighbor, you’re missing something. Great students are great servants.
While we’re here, let’s include other members of the squad. Organized. Efficient. Go-getter. #squad Granted, being on time can show concern and respect for the person you’re meeting. But promptness isn’t a Christian virtue. If Jesus lived in modern-day America, I’m not sure he would appreciate our infatuation with “to-do lists” and punctuality. We’re talking about a guy who arrived late to scheduled appointments, and on one occasion, his “lateness” resulted in a man’s death, Lazarus. Beggars and tax collectors distracted Jesus. He changed plans without warning. I’ve heard passive aggressive comments about being late for worship all my life. I’ve made them myself. While punctuality is good practice in America, it’s not a barometer for godliness or devotion to God.
Expressive and emotional.
I’m an emotional guy. I cry often. Don’t judge me. I also lift my hands and move around when I worship. Real Christians are expressive, I used to think. But spending time with Christians who aren’t expressive revealed something different, a deep love for Jesus. On the flip side, I’ve spent time with expressive, emotional Christians and found them to be bored and dry. Expressive, emotional behavior can reveal passion, but not necessarily. Let’s be careful not to make our perspective the perspective. God is infinitely creative. So are his people.