8 'Christian' Virtues That Aren't Really Christian

And the alternatives that actually are.

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).

Niceness

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.

Promptness.

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.

Top Comments

Peggy Perry

6

Peggy Perry commented…

I always disliked the WWJD business because I found that most people could find a way to rationalize what they thought Jesus would do in their situation. I always just told myself and others to go find out what Jesus DID do. In my almost 59 years, I haven't found anything yet that wasn't covered. Nice? No, I never noticed Jesus being nice. He was blunt when necessary and never soft-pedaled criticism. He was never politically correct. If He felt the need to get away from everybody, He went. He didn't say "Sure, I'll do it" to everything. He delegated and spread the work around. And, even He questioned God, but always obeyed despite doubts, reluctance, and exasperation caused by the people around Him. I just worry about following His example, and I find I'm pretty happy.

J Ason Paden

1

J Ason Paden commented…

I don't know.. that all sounds way too wish washy to me, honestly. He says I would rather you were hot or cold but because thou art lukewarm I will spew thee out of my mouth.
I get the whole attendance thing, we're so nit picky with our fellow Christians it's a hinderance. And I have tattoos's but I wish I didn't, I know it's wrong to have them. Let's not act like God is OK with our sin. He's clear about how we are not to mark ourselves. And what's more clear than what Jesus said, "If you love me keep my commandments." Something that will never make another person want to be different is this idea in the churches that we should look the same as the world. We have bumper stickers that say not of this world but then we look and act just like the world. We are supposed to be a different breed of people, a peculiar tribe, of the Royal Priesthood. " Be ye Holy for I am Holy" is what the Father said. He didn't say blur the lines so you never have to feel any conviction for the you do.

19 Comments

Royce E. Van Blaricome

48

Royce E. Van Blaricome commented…

"Like it or not, culture shapes our picture of Jesus." Not sure who "our" is being referred to as so I don't know if that's a group I don't believe to or a faux omniscience where Mr. Powell pretends to speak for all mankind.

I can only say that he doesn't speak for me. The Bible shapes my picture of Jesus and the Bible speaks pretty well about where the Culture is compared to the Kingdom.

That said, having read the article I have to wonder how much Mr. Powell actually believes that. And I will say that while he raises several good points I wonder if he realizes that with almost every good point he makes, he opens a door for a lot of falsehoods to be swallowed as well.

For example. Mr. Powell states, "Rather than equating righteousness with rule-following, let’s equate righteousness with Jesus." Ok, but how about a little balance and look at what Christ says in John 14:15 and 15:14?

That's not picking at nits either because there is a HUGE battle being waged in the Church today between Grace and Obedience and what it really means to be a Christian. There is NO shortage of Christians who are preaching on the internet daily that Obedience doesn't matter and that anyone saying "Follow The Rules" is a Legalist.

Jan Kast

1

Jan Kast commented…

Mr Powells description of a modern Christian is pretty wish-washy as someone else commented. To give readers the impression that its ok to skip Sunday worship is ridiculous. We are to keep holy the Lords day. We need to connect to our Christian community, here Gods word and be spiritually fed.

Joshua from Ohio

23

Joshua from Ohio commented…

Another Christian lowering the bar. Christ raised the bar, so high in fact, that it is impossible to make it without Him. If we truly understood what happens in the Sacred Liturgy, we would not will to miss Church. I understand what you are saying, rules, for rule's sake, are meaningless. Last Sunday we heard how Christ made the Ten Commandments even more strict, not less strict, but put them in their proper context (Mt 5:17-37). Jesus says, "I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." We live in righteousness by living a life in Christ.

Lowering the bar is not the answer. Let's take Wedding vowels for instance. Some couples like to replace the traditional vowels with more personal vowels. But, sometimes "more personal" really means living to how we think we aught and not how God calls us to live. Relevant should do a post about moral relativism.

I agree with you about questioning God and letting God know what's really on our minds. Being authentic is not a bad thing. Many times the apostles would ask Jesus questions about what He was trying to say to them. Sometimes Jesus would comment on how little faith they had, but He never instructed them not to ask questions. God wants us to keep it real with Him, while at the same time, understand that His ways really are better than our own understanding (Prov. 3:5-6).

Jeff Prock

4

Jeff Prock commented…

Don't read the Bible to much and be sure and doubt God. Stupidity Plus unbelief equals death in the wilderness.

Tim Ogle

3

Tim Ogle commented…

The "Promptness" aspect is a stretch.

You don't have to be Christian to be prompt. Promptness is a courtesy, but it's also a states that we have prioritized something.

When we are prompt, we reinforce the reality that relationships are important.

When we intentionally show up late to show the world that death is at the command of our voice, I'll say it's worth the wait.

I don't look for that to happen...

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