While getting ready for church one morning, I found myself thinking about others would think about my appearance. It was my week to greet visitors (and members) at the main entrance to our church building, and to help answer any questions.
Eventually, I decided that looking good enough was going to be good enough, and – in the end – no one seemed to shy away from me in horror at my appearance, nor did any kids run off screaming (at least, no more than usual!).
However, it occurred to me that morning that our external appearance isn’t the only thing we try to portray. Some spend a lot of effort trying to show that the Christian walk is easy, blessed, and profitable. They explain that Christians can still have fun (as if the well-known consequences of sin aren’t sufficiently “un-fun” enough), and – in the extreme – may even seem to suggest that Christians become healthy, wealthy, and sin-free immediately upon signing up.
So, I ask myself: Where is it written that Christians should artificially look or act a certain way to persuade others that being a Christian is always great? Somehow, we’ve gotten the idea that we need to portray some slick, marketing image of Jesus so that people will follow Him.
Yes, we would love for everyone to choose the gift of God for their salvation. However, Jesus didn’t try to sugar-coat the cost of following Him. He didn’t suggest that we’d automatically get rich or be popular. In fact, He said some pretty challenging things:
Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
Luke 14:25-27 NASB
Instead of trying to convince the crowds that His message would make them popular, Jesus presented Himself. The result was that He was revered and followed by many, but He was also attacked, hated, and abandoned by others.
Here’s my challenge: As Christians, I believe that we are called to follow Jesus first, and to make it clear to others what He is like. The Person of Jesus and the message of Jesus are inextricably interrelated.
The more we personally follow Jesus, the more we will become like Him (in our will and in our actions – we never get to become God, of course), and the more attractive we will become to a lost world who is looking for something bigger and better. When the true solution appears, the contrast (versus to the short-term escapes that our fellow human beings are offered from other sources) becomes apparent.
When we emphasize His teachings over trying to make a good impression, and when we point people to Him rather than to ourselves, there is no fakery – no façade. Some will reject Jesus, but we cannot carry that burden ourselves, as long as we have presented Him fairly. We pray for those in this situation, that they will change their mind, but we can’t take it personally.
yet the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, since they are not willing to listen to Me. Surely the whole house of Israel is stubborn and obstinate.
Ezekiel 3:7 NASB
To be clear, this doesn’t mean dwelling on the negative all the time. For instance, I believe that we are called to not complain about fellow members of the Body of Christ. In addition, Paul made a pretty clear case of being accommodating to people around us, for the hope of their salvation:
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NASB
So, don’t get me wrong: I still think that it’s OK to put some thought into the clothes that we wear to church (although I will let you and God work out privately what that looks like for you, specifically – that’s not my call). If nothing else, making this decision is a good chance to remember that, if you have a choice of what to wear to church, you’re financially better off than many people in the world.
However, I don’t think that “all things to all people” includes putting on a false front. If you’re having a rough day, you can acknowledge both your challenges and your Source of strength to others. If you’re short on money or need to borrow something, ask your neighbor for help, admitting your limitations and how you look forward to the day when life will be better for all eternity.
And, if you have to decide between not going to church when you don’t look your best, or actually getting out of the house to bless others however you can, I think that you’ll make the right choice!