There is a decline in Christ-like character among professed Christians. In recent research from surveys approximately 82% of Christians admitted to not engaging in spiritual disciplines and one out of three reported they rarely live according to the teachings of Jesus Christ (Barna Research Group, 2011; White, 2014).
What will become of the integrity of the Christian Faith without authentic Christian witnesses? If you look around you, how many Christ-like people do you personally see or know, without them ever saying a word about their faith? What about you? What does your Christian witness say without words?
Shirley Buckley (pseudo name) admitted that while she was saying she was a Christian and practicing sin someone was watching her life. She felt guilty because this person looked up to her as an authentic Christian witness. She believed she caused this individual to live contrary to the Word of God.
Shirley said, “I felt horrible about that and there was no convincing her I was wrong. She was a younger convert than I was and she used my backsliding life as an example of Christian behavior. We (Christians) reproduce others after our own kind. We don’t live in a box. We are not autonomous when living out the Christian faith. We are responsible for our character witness to others. I became aware of this, yet, I continued to live this double life, one foot in - one foot out of the Christian lifestyle.”
There are many people who live a genuine Christian life and are good role models for others. Shirley lived a double life until she met Pastor Benjamin Taylor. “This man “knew” the Savior and “I” just knew “about” Him,” says Shirley. It was his testimony that changed Shirley’s perspective of Christianity and God used Pastor Taylor to redirect her entire Christian experience.
After hearing this man’s testimony about his relationship with God through Christ and witnessing such a beautiful character Shirley went home with a broken spirit. She wept like a child in the quietness of her bedroom that night as she came to realized “...what a phony I really was. I came to realize two truths about myself and what was in my heart 1) I didn’t know God and 2) I didn’t love him.”
Shirley had become socialized into the Christian culture. Christianity was a part of her activities and moral code, but she had not been transformed by the Holy Spirit, because she didn’t really know Jesus Christ.
Knowing about someone is based on other people’s knowledge and experience, but truly knowing someone is based on your own experience and knowledge. Learning about Christ is always fundamental to spiritual growth and development, but Christian maturity relies on an individual’s personal relationship with God through Christ and personal transformation experience (Christ-likeness).
Without a lived reality of the Christian life through relationship with God through Christ and Christ-like transformation, the integrity of an individual’s Christian witness is jeopardized.
When Shirley was living an unrepentant lifestyle and the girl witnessed her life as Christian behavior -because she was professing to be a Christian - did she jeopardize the integrity of the Christian witness by her actions?
This is not about someone struggling with sin and trying to overcome it. It is talking about a professing Christian who is making a practice out of sin knowing it is contrary to the Word of God.
When Christian individuals make a practice out of a sinful lifestyle are they still practicing the Christian lifestyle too or can you do both at the same time? Or is it fair to say they are backsliders? Can a Christian witness be a follower of Christ and a Backslider who is not following Christ at the same time?
If one truly loves God and honors the sacrificial life of Christ, is it fair to label yourself a Christian witness if you have chosen not to live the Christian lifestyle? This is not about making someone feel guilty or condemnation, it is about honoring God by our chosen lifestyles and maintaining the integrity of the Christian witness.
If we are not choosing the way of the Lord that we know, at a particular moment in our life, we are in fact backsliders from the Christian faith. Again I am not talking about those who are struggling through issues and trying to overcome them, I am talking about those who are, by choice and total awareness, living a lifestyle contrary to the word of God.
I am also not talking about babes in Christ who are still growing and developing in the faith. I am talking about those who know to do right and are not doing it. They can say out of their own mouths or in the secret chamber of their own hearts, I know this is not right, but I’m doing it anyway.
God’s grace and mercy is always available to each person and the righteous fall many times, but the Lord lifts them up. Saying, “nobody is perfect” or “stop judging me” or “God is working on me” or whatever sayings and clichés you are using for backsliding behavior are not excuses for continuing in a certain lifestyle contrary to God’s word.
God’s word was not given to us to fit into our lifestyles and narratives, but it was given for God’s purposes and God’s desires to transform our lives. An individual’s Christian witness is for the glory of God and we dare not mar that witness by living contrary to the truths that are intended to set us free and others free as well.
Where is the 21st Century Christian witness?