"I just want them to see Jesus in me."
"I just hope they notice, and start to want what I have."
"I just want to create an opportunity for a conversation."
I hear remarks like this on a pretty regular basis among fellow Christians. And praise God that so many of us are trying to examine our lives in light of the Gospel, searching for ways to share that light with others! We are a people in a foreign land, and navigating normal life as a reborn soul in a dying world is a challenging quest.
But what follows is usually a discussion of how we can be better people, and be noticed for our Christlike-goodness by our coworkers, our family members, or our friends. We hope that our righteousness shows in a way that appeals to others and points them to Jesus. But if we're truly going to make an evangelistic impact with our lifestyle, there is an important question begging to be asked:
What did the world see in Jesus?
When we say "I just want them to see Jesus in me," and then rattle off a list of good qualities we need to work on - integrity, excellence, kindness, whatever it may be - I think we miss the point a little bit.
If I'm being honest, I've known some people of incredible integrity who aren't believers.
I've known some people with excellent work ethics and characters who aren't believers.
I've known some immensely kind and self-giving people who aren't believers.
More than that - have you ever read through the four gospels and noticed how little is said in them about Jesus' goodness?
Jesus, who singlehandedly spearheaded the most effective evangelistic period in the history of the Judeo-Christian religion, was a perfect person - the only perfect human to ever live - and yet people hardly noticed! It's not until the apostles' later writings to the Church that the impeccable nature of Christ as both man and God receives much attention. This is almost unbelievable to me - you'd think Jesus' family and friends would have been talking about it all the time (resentfully if nothing else!).
But it actually makes sense: Humanity has not experienced a state of perfection in many, many millennia. Only the first two creatures of our race ever knew what it was like to walk by God's side in the cool of the day, untainted by sin. So if a perfect person walked among us - could we even expect to recognize Him?
Here's a thought that should give us pause: According to the historic evidence, the worldview of sinful humanity is so flawed that we are more likely to see perfection and righteousness as crimes worthy of crucifixion than as attractions we desire to emulate or obtain.
So if we want to show people Jesus and the only tool we have is our own good behavior - which, I need hardly add, is utterly inferior to Christ's - it seems like we'll have our work cut out for us. What did Jesus have that got Him noticed, if it wasn't His perfection?
Well, He was different.
Perfect, yes - and His perfection is an important part of what made Him different - but the world could only recognize that He was different. (Remember, Jesus was actually accused by some of the religious leaders of working for Satan! They picked up on His difference, but definitely didn't recognize it as a good thing.)
- He had a different authority: He acted by command of God the Father, not by decree of the Pharisees or the power of Rome.
- He had a different set of values: He ate with tax collectors and sinners, not with clean and respectable rabbis.
- He had a different sense of justice: He sought to raise up the oppressed rather than beat down the oppressor.
- He had a different standard of righteousness: He spoke His harshest words of judgment to the ones who followed the letter of the law, but poured His gentleness and grace on the ones who were lost in paganism.
- He had a different goal: He lived for the purpose of dying so that all humanity could be saved, not for the purpose of ruling so that life could be easier for the Jews.
And His difference inspired a divided response. On the one hand, the religious, the wealthy, the powerful, and the privileged found Him threatening to all that they stood for and eventually plotted His execution. On the other, the pagan, the poor, the powerless, and the oppressed found Him welcoming and loving in a way that no one had ever been toward them, and they followed - they united together in victorious faith, a motley group of unsavories and sinners, mutually bonded by a selfless love such as the world had never seen.
What I mean to say is - if people didn't notice Jesus for His goodness, we probably shouldn't expect them to notice us for ours (much less universally like us or want to be like us).
Instead, when we say "I want them to see Jesus in me," we should mean that we want to be utterly and completely unlike the world - and that we're okay with becoming outcasts and making enemies as a result. It should mean that we quantify our success by our obedience, not by how many friends or converts we make. That we seek to serve rather than be served.
We act by the authority of Christ our Head, even when it means defying the powers that be.
We value people because they are humans made in God's image, even when they can't do anything for us.
We live not to crusade against the unjust and the oppressors, but to go to the oppressed and lift them up.
We hold our brothers and sisters who know the Word to the exacting standard of God's righteousness and the Church's discipline, but offer grace to the Biblically illiterate.
We live for the purpose of giving our lives away.
And the climate of our nation right now is such that the conversations we hope to have may end friendships instead of deepen them. The love we show to the oppressed may create enemies even within our own churches. The words we have for the religious may spark hatred and defiance. The stance we take on the truth may cost us dearly.
"I want them to see Jesus in me" isn't just a nice sentiment - it's an allegiance. An identity. A choice.
And when it happens - when they do see Him in us - they'll have to make their own choice of allegiances. Maybe not always the one we expect. So we can't be in this for anything except Him.
"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life."
2 Corinthians 2:14-16