Being a Christian Doesn’t Always Look Like You Think It Should

Churches need to ditch their religious cookie cutters.

Christian subcultures are an entertaining phenomenon. Multiple brands of Christianity claim the same Lord and read the same Bible, and yet they promote a set of values sometimes as different as apples and orangutans.

I once heard a story about a Christian woman from the East Coast who confronted a West Coast youth-pastor, who allowed “mixed bathing” at youth events. “I can’t believe any so-called Christian leader would allow boys and girls to swim together!” She expressed her concern, all the while puffing on a cigarette. The youth pastor couldn’t help but smile, speechless at the irony.

I attended a conservative Brethren church when I lived in Scotland. Some of the women wore head coverings and none of them spoke in church. When I had our Irish pastor and his wife over for dinner, I asked them what he would like to drink. “Beer please,” the preacher said. “And for you, madam?” “I’ll take a glass of Chardonnay, thank you.” Were they liberal or conservative? I guess it depends on which subculture you come from.

When you try to cut out Christians with a religious cookie cutter, you not only tarnish diversity, but you trample on grace. It’s one thing for Christian subcultures to cultivate unique values. But it becomes destructive when those values are chiseled on Sinaitic tablets for all to obey.

It’s even worse when Christians expect instant holiness from recent converts—holiness, that is, in areas where we think we’ve nailed it.

When you try to cut out Christians with a religious cookie cutter, you not only tarnish diversity, but you trample on grace.

It’s a shame that some believers have scoffed at some of Shia Labeouf's recent comments about converting to Christianity, pointing fingers at the fact that he still uses bad language weeks after becoming a Christian. It's worth noting that some are speculating that Labeouf's conversion may have actually been more of a rather dramatic example of method acting than a true conversion but, regardless, many Christians chose to focus on his language instead of his heart. God only knows the true believers from the false. But to judge a man’s faith because there’s a residue of potty mouth?

Bad language may take years to weed out. Even more difficult to extract is the pride that drives judgmental Christians to mock the Spirit’s work in a man seeking his Creator. That sin could take decades to discover. Grace means that we are all works in progress, and God shaves off our rough edges in His timing. Just look at the thugs God works with in the Bible.

I know we’re programmed to see the 12 apostles as saints with halos and contemplative faces. But actually, they were criminals. These guys were more like prisoners than pastors, and few of them would have been let inside our churches today.

Take Peter, for instance. Peter walked with Jesus for three years, witnessing miracle after miracle, sermon after sermon. Still, on the night before Jesus’s death, a servant girl asked Peter if he knew Jesus. “I do not know the man!” Peter responded. And he even evoked a curse on himself to prove he wasn’t lying (Matthew 26:74).

Can you imagine if your pastor did that? “Good morning, church. I just want to say that I don’t even know who Jesus is!” We have a hard time forgiving pastors who commit adultery. I don’t think we’d know how to handle a pastor who had a public bout with doubt.

Then there’s James and John, whom Jesus nicknames “sons of thunder.” Apparently, they never made it through an anger management seminar. On one occasion, these two hotheads wanted to nuke an entire village because they wouldn’t let them spend the night (Luke 9:51-56). The whole village—women and children. Luckily, Jesus stepped in to prevent the destruction. These two holy apostles would have been better fit as bouncers outside an expensive casino in Vegas owned by a mobster, than preachers of the gospel of love.

My favorite pair is Simon the “Zealot” and Matthew the tax-collector. How did those two thugs get along?

Matthew’s vocation was nothing less than political and religious treason. Tax-collector’s were Jewish agents of Rome, who mediated pagan oppression through taking money from innocent people. Imagine if you found out that your childhood friend was making a living off funneling money to ISIS. Would you use him to plant a church? Apparently, Jesus did.

You cannot sanitize grace. You can’t stuff it into a blue blazer and make it wear khakis. Grace is messy, offensive, and it sometimes misses church.

Tax-collectors were more than extortionists. They were known for living excessively immoral lives and hanging out with all the wrong people. Religious Jews, in fact, believed that tax-collectors were passed the point repentance. Matthew didn’t have a moral bone in his body. But of course, after becoming a Christian, he immediately stopped sinning and never used bad language ever again.

Yeah right.

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Simon, as a “Zealot,” probably grew up on the other side of the tracks. The “Zealots” were named such not because they were prayer warriors. They were just warriors—Jewish jihadists. The “Zealots” were known for killing their Roman oppressors or other Jews who were sell-outs. They were aggressive, violent, and they did anything but love their enemies. Had Simon met Matthew on the streets, there’s a good chance one of them would have been found lying in chalk.

To build His Kingdom, Jesus handpicks what could be compared to the leader of the Black Panther party and the grand wizard of the KKK. I doubt anyone closed their eyes at that first prayer meeting.

You cannot sanitize grace. You can’t stuff it into a blue blazer and make it wear khakis. Grace is messy, offensive, and it sometimes misses church. To expect God to pump prefabricated plastic moral people out of a religious factory is to neuter grace and chain it inside a gated community. If God’s scandalous relationship with the 12 thugs means anything, then we should expect a variegated spectrum of righteousness and be patient—or repentant—when such sanctification doesn’t meet out expectations. God meets us in our mess and pushes holiness out the other side.

Not anti-mixed-bathing holiness. But the real stuff. The holiness that serves the poor, prays without ceasing, redeems the arts, loves enemies, elevates community above corporate success, and preaches the life-giving Gospel of a crucified and risen Lamb in season and out.

Top Comments

Joe Briley


Joe Briley commented…

After reading this article twice I pictured what it would of been like last year for me to have read this as a self proclaimed christian who was still unsaved. I literally thought I was saved. If I would have read this I may have shrugged off the holy spirit who said I was telling me I still lost. In my mind this would made me feel ok with who I was. More than anything this is justifying sin, more than it is condemning it. Peter denied Christ 3 times because he was under thought he would be killed, did he still lie, yes of course. The 12 apostle's may have been "thugs" before, but they still gave their lives up for Jesus and followed him; they were changed. Of course sanctification takes time. God's grace and mercy allows us time, yes but we're also not to abuse his grace. 1 Peter 1:14-16 " As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” " Having a potty mouth is a reflection of your heart, if you still have one after a year, let alone a few years, there's a serious problem. Can you imagine a guy who claimed to be a christian but periodically practices getting drunk for the last year or two but reads this and then believes he is justified!?! Don't be deceived, the truth is not in him. 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11 " Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." We are to judge a tree by it's fruits. I use these examples to demonstrate the slippery slope line of thinking portrayed here. There is only one cut from a cookie cutter we should model, Jesus. This might have some biblical truth to it, but it's potentially damning.

Jessica Ferguson


Jessica Ferguson commented…

Love this article, I am definately one of those people that large swaths of the Christian Church would claim could never be a Christian. When I tell them that Jesus is my Lord, God, Savior, King and Christ, saved completely by grace, they are often surprised...


Bob Hickling


Bob Hickling commented…

I am often frustrated with fellow Christians who judge each other. God uses all types of people and calls all types of people to follow Him. None of us are perfect. We all sin. However, we must do our part to accept His grace and make better decisions about life and how our lives affect others. Are we sharing the love of Christ in all we say and do or are we playing Christian and living like the world?

Also, to the author, thanks for writing this but I would suggest utilizing a proofreader in the future to eliminate grammatical and punctuation errors.

Grace Lusk


Grace Lusk commented…

Yes, His grace is amazing. The relationship goes further than that and through the Holy Spirit will come a cleaning up. His word tells us to be set apart; a peculiar people we become; we loose that old nature and become a new creation in Him. You won't desire your old ways but desire change - a change that happens daily to become more like Him. The power and understanding comes through the Holy Spirit. As we desire more of a relationship with "Him" , you will experience the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Grace brings a true change in what comes from our mouths, and what we allow our heart/ flesh to hear, watch and read. The Word instructs us to guard ourselves. The "physical church" is a place to disciple God's new creations for ministry and to receive encouragement. The "spiritual church" is the new creations we become by God's grace.

Ted Larson


Ted Larson commented…

You are so right, one cannot stuff holiness into a blue blazer and it does take time for people to change. Jesus only changes that which we let Him change in our lives. That being said, we need to realize that God does expect us to allow Him to change us. That is called growth. We were never called to be spiritual babies for life. We were called to preach the gospel and to make disciples. To be able to produce more disciples means spiritual growth.

Tim Hilty


Tim Hilty commented…

A lot of bitterness expressed by the writer. Correctly pointing out flaws does not validate one's conclusions. I agree with the top response on the website by Joe Briley.



oz31001 commented…

To quote The O. C. Supertones: "One purpose is to worship and to make the body strong
I don't care about your haircut, can't we all just get along?
Not just get along, but to really love and care
If your eyes are on the Lord you can't see nobody's hair"

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