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Held to a Higher Standard

Criticizing, marginalizing, shaming, and otherwise denigrating Christians has become something of a national pastime. And we don’t just hear the negative talk from the unwashed. A lot of the critical words come from Christians themselves.

Are you surprised? We Christians can be hypocritical, judgmental, and holier-than-thou—sometimes all at once. And when we are, we embarrass ourselves, not to mention the God we claim to follow. So we call out the offenders, mostly in blogs or books, hoping they’ll straighten out and fly right.

You know who we’re talking about. We wrote about them in our book, I’m Fine With God…It’s Christians I Can’t Stand. Here are a few categories from our book, plus a bonus category:

  • Christians who impose their morality on others
  • Christians who think science is the enemy
  • Christians who use the Bible as a weapon
  • Christians who don’t practice what they preach
Bonus Category
  • Christians who support Donald Trump

The last category isn’t in our book (who could have anticipated that one), but we just had to include it. Because Christians like that are embarrassing to the rest of us who never impose our morality on others, who are always honest and forthright and gracious and loving, who do everything the Bible says, would never think of criticizing or judging anyone else, and most certainly support only perfect political candidates.

Yeah, right.

We don’t mean to go off on a rant here, but do you see what’s happening here? As much as we believe we’re above all the junk we see in others, the raw reality is that the junk is right in front of us, sitting in a big pile that everyone else can see except for us. And nobody is exempt.

Not atheists or believers, liberals or conservatives, progressives or fundamentalists, men or women, pro-choice or pro-life, LGBT or straight, Buddhist, Mormons, Muslims, or those who believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. All of us—the entire human race—are guilty of looking down at others while thinking the best of ourselves.

It’s called pride.

The Bible has a lot to say about pride, none of it good. There’s that whole “pride comes before destruction” thing in Proverbs. Jesus was much more direct and colorful in his condemnation of pride and hypocrisy:

  • “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
  • Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
  • “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

Jesus directed all of these memorable statements at the Pharisees, who consistently showed off their hypocrisy and judgmental attitudes. We like to look at these first-century religious overachievers and feel good about ourselves. “At least we aren’t like them.”

Of course, the moment we say that or even think it, we are like them. And it stinks.

Christians who face criticism sometimes feel like they are being singled out unfairly. Maybe we are. But that’s the price we pay for following Jesus. He calls us to a higher standard than the rest of the world, something he makes very clear in the Sermon on the Mount.

In a series of statements beginning with “You have heard that it was said,” Jesus gives the standard for everyone else, followed by the standard he has set for us, a standard that is higher—a lot higher.

  • “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.”
  • “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
  • “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
  • “You have heart that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Pride is easy. Being a judgmental hypocrite comes naturally. Living up to the standard that Jesus has set for us is quite unnatural and far from easy. In fact, it’s nearly impossible. Were it not for Jesus himself, we would be just like all the other hypocrites in the world. The apostle Paul, himself a former Pharisee, gives us hope when he writes, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

We can’t turn the other cheek or love our enemies on our own, but Jesus can. And he will do it through our lives, if we let him. As Dallas Willard famously advised, “Live your life the way Jesus would live your life if he had your life to live.”

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About
Christianity 101 is a collection of books and digital resources by Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz that talk about God in a way that encourages people to grow in their faith.