I don’t typically write about popular culture and famous people, but I recently saw an article that captured my attention. This article was about people criticizing Hailey Baldwin about being a “fake Christian” because she is choosing to dress up for Halloween. At the time of this writing, Justin Beiber and Hailey Baldwin have been married over a year. Justin and Hailey proclaimed their belief in Christ, and both have made decisions that have raised eyebrows for many Christians. Many will ask or conclude, “Are they really Christian? How can they be Christians and remain in the modeling industry? Maybe they are getting on the Christian bandwagon, but living non-Christian lives. If their lives don’t reflect Christ, they are not real Christians, but fake.” This blog article is not to argue whether they are or are not real or fake Christians. That is not for me to decide. But rather to understand some of the thought processes behind such judgments.
Declarations of whether someone is a real or fake Christian does not happen only in the national media, but in the church as well. How do we view others in the church who are making decisions that are, at best, suspect? What do we say or do when Christians are not acting like Christians, or are not doing what good Christians should do? How do we see them – are they real Christians or fake Christians? Are these the only two options? They are if you’re only thinking in black-and-white.
To determine the answer to these questions, I wonder if it would be best to look at behaviors as either sin issues or maturity / conscious issues (I realize that’s not black-and-white, so bear with me a moment). Sin issues include issues that are directly against God and/or others. These include actions that are in direct contradiction to God’s Word and are typically against God and others or are more self-centered. These may include abusive words and actions, lying, stealing, murder, threats, adultery, witchcraft, sexual sins, and the like. Maturity / Conscious issues include 1) areas where the Scriptures encourage, such as spiritual disciplines, 2) areas where study in His Word may help discern what is best or wise, such as drinking alcohol or friendships with unbelievers; and 3) areas where there are no scriptural mandates, but there may be conscientious objection, such as celebrating Halloween or wearing certain types of clothes like jeans, yoga pants or conservative clothing. All of these issues require us to look at the Scriptures as a whole and apply verses in context as well as themes to discern what God’s will is for our lives. While others may come to different conclusions for themselves than our own, and they may have different convictions, these issues are not necessarily sin issues.
Let me give an example. Let’s briefly look at Psalm 1:1-2 (NIV) and how one may judge another believer:
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.
While there are no commands in these verses, these verses point to what a believer ought to look like. They are not to walk in step with sinners or mockers, but read and meditate on God’s Word regularly. However, many black-and-white thinkers read these words as “this is what a believer ‘should’ do.” When the word “should” is used, it becomes a law or a standard to attain. Black-and-white thinking logic interprets this as Christians should not sin or be in the pattern of sin, but they should read and meditate on God’s Word daily. Doing these things, like the Bereans in Acts 17:11, becomes the standard to measure ourselves and others to. Therefore, if believers are not in the Word regularly or they habitually sin, they are “fake” Christians because they are not doing what they should do. It then becomes a black-and-white sin issue.
These verses, however, simply state that the person who does not walk in the way of sinners and who is in the Word and meditates regularly on it is blessed. While continuously engaging in a pattern of sin is not a fruit of a believer and ought to be corrected in love by a mature believer, the spiritual disciplines of reading and meditating are not standards to be met, but goals to accomplish or activities to grow in.
“…the spiritual disciplines of reading and meditating are not standards to be met, but goals to accomplish or activities to grow in.”
Certainly those who engage in them daily will be blessed. Studying the Word and meditating upon it daily is a maturity issue, not a sin issue. Those who do not do these disciplines will lack spiritual maturity, something that Paul discouraged in his letter to the Hebrews (Heb 5:11-13).
When such verses are made into a standard, like the example above, judgments are made based on these standards. The judgment is declared as pass or fail, all or nothing, black or white, real or fake. In most cases, such judgments are demonstrated through written shots fired across the internet or verbally spoken in person, but are oft unnecessary and lack the grace and love necessary for relationships. The should’s often lead to finger pointing, which is typically not appreciated by others. They eventually lead either to conflict with or avoidance of the finger pointer.
If we look at these verses as what they are, true statements which lead us on a path of blessing, then we recognize that they are goals to attain, not standards to be met. Viewing these statements as goals will help us encourage others to grow rather than judge them for falling short.
If you are a black-and-white thinker, you may disagree with others at times regarding whether something is a sin issue or a maturity / conscience decision because the black-and-white part inside of you pulls issues into either the sin category or the “not-sin” category. Maturity is a central category that is more gray than black-or-white. What may be black-and-white to you may be more gray to others. Often these may be issues of conscience, like eating meat sacrificed to idols was to the New Testament believers (1 Cor. 8).
Finally, as a caution, do all you can to recognize a normal tendency to make standards out of statements, and see them as goals instead. Measuring yourself or others to such standards often results in criticisms and condemnations of yourself and others, which lead to self-deprecation or broken relationships. Instead, try to see such standards as goals to obtain by grace, and encourage others through walking with them and kind words. Doing so will often help us to avoid the real or fake Christian debates, and instead help us to love as Christ loves us.
For more on black-and-white thinking, purchase my new resource, The Black-and-White Thinking Christian. Now available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.com!