6 Reasons Why Christians Behave Badly
It's not fun to be treated poorly by anyone, but why do people who are supposed to be loving, kind, and forgiving—yes, I'm referring to Christians—behave badly? Here are six reasons why:
1. Some people who claim to be Christians aren’t.
There are people who think they are Christians because they grew up in homes with parents who considered themselves Christians—and maybe even went to church regularly. Growing up in a Christian household doesn't make a person a Christian. Just as the Pharisees saw themselves as more righteous than other people because of their heritage (Luke 3:8), some people think it is a matter of the family into which they are born when it comes to one’s standing before God. Belonging to Christ is not a matter of heritage; rather, believers are declared righteous based on both Christ’s perfect sacrifice and perfect righteousness counted to them by God’s grace alone through faith alone. The new life within every believer comes from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, not from one’s family lineage.
2. All Christians are still sinners.
Even though Christians are hagios (holy; set apart; Col. 3:12) as God's adopted children, they are also in the process of dying to the old self (mortification) and living unto God (vivification). This work of sanctification by God’s word and the Holy Spirit is a gift from God given to all believers. Christians will not be free of their sinful flesh until they pass from this life. Growing in holiness is a lifelong process that is never complete in this life. The Heidelberg Catechism in question 114 summarizes the state of believers:
Q. Can those who are converted to God keep these commandments perfectly?
A. No, but even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience; yet so, that with earnest purpose they begin to live not only according to some, but according to all the Commandments of God.
It is true that Christians can be selfish, thoughtless, mean, and rude—just like non-Christians. Christians, however, have God’s Word and the Holy Spirit working in their hearts to conform them to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18). Believers also struggle with laziness, lack of discipline, pride, and various temptations, like everyone else does. Christians may not realize the harm they have caused to others, and this doesn’t excuse their sinful behavior. Yet, we must remember that all of us have acted wrongly at various times in life, and we need to forgive others—both Christians and non-Christians—as our heavenly Father has forgiven us.
3. Some Christians come off as “preachy” in their efforts to be helpful.
Christians do have a responsibility before God to stand up for and uphold what is right. Just because we may not like some aspect of God's truth doesn't mean that we don't need to hear it. Still, sometimes Christians can wind up coming off as judgmental or having a “holier-than-thou” attitude. What non-Christians need to hear most of all is the truth that all of us are sinners in need of a restored relationship with God through Jesus, and what they really need to be shown is the love of Christ.
When Christians recognize that they are sinners just like everyone else and their salvation rests completed on the finished work of Christ done on their behalf, they can better focus on loving others and sharing the good news of the gospel with them, instead of trying to “fix” people’s sinful behavior. When the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the hearts of believers, he has promised to complete the work of conforming God’s children to the image of Christ (Phil. 1:6). Christians do need to hold fellow believers to account regarding their sin in a respectful and loving manner, while at the same time being careful not to add burdens to Christians that God never meant them to bear (Acts 15:10; Gal. 6:1-2).
4. Some Christians think it’s okay for them to sin since they are forgiven in Jesus.
Some Christians are wrongly taught that they can act however they want and that it's okay because God will forgive them because of Jesus’ sacrifice for their sins. The technical name for this kind of thinking is antinomianism. They don't understand that there are duties and responsibilities to being a child of God, and believers must always seek to honor and obey their heavenly Father, even though they will do so imperfectly in this life (1 Cor. 6:20). When the Holy Spirit indwells believers, he convicts them of their sin and leads them to repentance (John 16:8). When people choose to sin on a regular basis without any regard for God’s law, they are following their own way and not Christ.
5. Christians sometimes react sinfully when they experience misery in this world.
When Christians suffer due to various circumstances—including physical or emotional illness, broken relationships, the death of someone dear, abuse, and financial distress—they don’t always respond in a Christ-like manner. Sometimes the hurt is so great that they act out in confusion, despair, anger, and even emotionally or physically harmful behavior to others. Christians also give in to sinful desires, even though they know they shouldn’t. This is why Jesus specifically tells his followers to pray to their heavenly Father, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt. 6:13).
Because Christians continue to fight against sin in this life, it is critically important for them to be in regular fellowship with other believers in a local church where they can be cared for and nurtured by their pastor, elders, and deacons with proper oversight and receive the preached word, sacraments, and loving discipleship.
6. Some Christians are confused about their faith.
It is important to point out one other reason why many Christians don't live out their faith very well at times. Since the high point of Protestant Reformation teaching in the late 1600s, there has been a decreasing focus on foundational doctrine and an increasing focus on experiential-based faith. Without a core understanding of who Jesus is, why he came, and what he did (that no one else could do), believers can be confused about what their faith is and how to share and live it out daily. And that confusion can lead to poor behavior that turns off non-Christians from ever wanting to know more about Jesus.
It's easy to get discouraged by certain Christians at times, but I am willing to bet that you know many kind-hearted, loving Christians as well. They would give the shirt off their backs for you, and it's not because they are getting anything for it. They want to share with you the love they have received from their heavenly Father in Christ. The old saying is true: Christians aren't perfect, but they are forgiven. And God is growing them in holiness—even though it may be hard to tell at times!
Yet, there is One who never hurt anybody. This One loves the world so much that he gave his life so that you could be at peace with God. You can trust this person to save your soul, care for you always, and receive you into his kingdom. This person is no less than the Son of God. Jesus lived the perfect life and offered up his perfect body so that all who trust in him will live forever to the glory of God in perfect happiness as life was meant to be.
When you are tempted to write off Christianity because of Christians, remember that we live in a fallen world for the time being, and Christians live with the effects of the fall along with non-Christians. Yet, God is not willing that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9), and he is patiently gathering all those who will come rest in the arms of Jesus. And these beautiful arms stretched themselves out on a cross to die a horrible death because of God’s unfathomable love for us:
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13).
Recommended reading on this topic:
Core Christianity: Finding Yourself in God's Story by Michael Horton
The Fruit of the Spirit Is... by J. V. Fesko
God So Loved, He Gave: Entering the Movement of Divine Generosity by Kelly M. Kapic