For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. ---2 Corinthians 10:18
Some years back, a man claiming to be a "former"* Christian began taunting a new Christian who attended one of our Bible studies. This new believer, fresh from the joy of experiencing salvation, felt duty-bound to defend Jesus and his faith, but soon found himself confused by the taunts. Eventually, his responses grew so defensive and angry that the person taunting him used them as an example of the failure of Christianity to change people.
When my friend finally approached me, I had to check my natural instincts to defend him and Jesus against this attack. Early in our ministry we discovered that engaging hecklers only fuels their fire. The best strategy, even for experienced believers, is to disengage from anyone who seems to only want to confuse or make us angry.
But what about attacks and push-back from people we know and love; or from genuine people who ask legitimate questions? What fuels the intensity and animosity that arises in these spiritual conversations?
It's been our experience that, more often than not, people's anger towards Christianity has little to do with Jesus and mostly to do with having been disappointed by Christians. In this respect, non-Christians make the same mistake most of us as believers make at some point in our faith journey: We expect Christians to be different than non-Christians.
When we take our eyes off of Jesus and begin to measure Christianity by the behavior of Christians, we've missed the point of grace altogether. Grace is something given to us we don't deserve, and it remains a gift we can never earn. Having experienced the forgiveness and mercy made possible by Jesus, we must now remain relentlessly focused on sharing that same attitude of forgiveness and mercy with others, including ourselves. Our lives and priorities must also change: We must be focused on learning about and growing closer to Jesus, or we slowly drift back to a faith that measures performance.
Jesus' disciples continually disappointed Him, betrayed Him, or failed to stand by Him in His darkest hours. If Jesus' closest followers failed Him, how much more likely is it that we will fail Him---and others? How much more likely is it those closest to us will fail us?
The only way we can find peace and continue to labor together for God is by accepting the fact that we all struggle to be faithful, and we all fail each other from time to time.
We must practice granting each other the mercy and grace Jesus gave us; and we must set about to learn more about the Man who saved us, in order to let others see Him in and through us.