Why do Christians sometimes treat each other so badly?
I’ll be honest, that’s a question I have struggled with for most of my Christian life. It’s been the only issue that has ever caused me to doubt or question my faith.
I am blessed to have a church family full of good-hearted people who are committed to loving others and displaying Jesus’ grace in their words, works and witness. However I also regularly come into contact with professing Christians whose consciences seem to remain untroubled by a critical spirit or even open resentment towards other believers.
I myself battle a critical spirit and resentment towards others. I pray about this constantly and enlist others to pray as well. I want to see other people as God sees them. I don’t feel this way because I’m good but because He is good.
So still the question remains!
Why is this?
How can those adopted into God’s family sometimes treat brothers and sisters like enemies?
How can those who have been reconciled with God fall out with each other?
How can those who pray together end up preying on each other?
These are questions most Christians ask at some point in their lives, usually when they witness – or worse experience – conflict in the church or with other Christians. These times often leave us with memories that trouble us and, if left unchecked, can disillusion us.
Because behind these questions is a much deeper one: does being a Christian actually make any difference? Does Christianity ‘work’?
If God’s Spirit doesn’t transform my attitude towards those I disagree with; if being a new creation doesn’t give me a new approach to conflict; if being a child of God doesn’t affect my relationships with other members of God’s family… doesn’t that call into question the authenticity of the gospel?
Total Depravity explains why some Christians aren’t as good as they should be
Sin has affected every part of our being: our intellect, our emotions, our desires, our goals, our motives, our heart, even our physical bodies. While we are not as bad as we could be, by nature we have a tendency to veer towards sin.
Christians are born again by God’s Spirit. We are made new creatures by an act of regeneration in our hearts. However while this frees us from the power and penalty of sin, it doesn’t free us from sin’s presence. Sin no longer has authority over us, but that doesn’t mean we’re rid of it’s influence in our lives.
In Galatians 5, Paul says Christians therefore need to fight a daily battle against indwelling sin. We should no longer be controlled by our sinful natures, but by God’s Spirit (5:16). However, he also makes it clear that if we so choose, we can indulge our sinful natures (5:13), gratify it’s desires (5:16), and sow to please it (6:8). While Jesus broke sin’s hold over us when he died and rose again, we can choose to let sin rule over us.
Which explains why some Christians are more ungracious, more intolerant and more unloving than many non-Christians.
Am I as good as I should be?
To a certain extent every growing Christian will feel they are not what they should be. Paul wouldn’t have had to tell the Galatians not to use their freedom to indulge their sinful natures if they were perfect.
Which is where this question comes home to roost.
Paul’s instructions in Galatians 5:13-18 get right to the heart of how we should treat other Christians – especially those we fall out with:
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. (Galatians 5:13-18)
Paul says the opposite of indulging our sinful nature is serving one another in love.
The mark of a spirit-filled man or woman is therefore how they serve and love other believers, especially those they disagree with.
A believer who continues to live according to the sinful nature will live in conflict with other Christians. But a believer who lives by the Spirit, will show that by the way he serves and loves those Christians he struggles with. While our natural tendency is to avoid those we don’t get on with, a Spirit-filled man or woman will seek out those they don’t get on with in order to show them love.
Paul then goes on to list the acts of the sinful nature, many of which involve broken or distorted relationships: ‘hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy’ (5:20-21).
Whereas in contrast, the fruit of a Spirit-filled life are all characteristics that heal broken relationships: ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’ (5:22-23).
The right question is therefore not ‘Why do Christians sometimes treat each other so badly?’ – but rather ‘How can I treat my fellow Christians better?’
And the answer of the Apostle Paul is simple:
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Gal 5:24-25)
How can we do that in practice?
Let’s be clear: it is not a natural thing to love those who don’t like us – it’s a supernatural thing. That’s why we need the help of God’s Spirit!
Which is why prayer is a must!
It sounds so simple, but I’ve found the most helpful thing I can do when it comes to loving and serving those I struggle with, is to simply pray that God would bless them.
I pray that God would give them joy and delight in Him. I pray that God would prosper them in their families, workplaces, ministries and personal devotions. I pray that God would answer their prayers and help them to grow in their faith and that they would know His smile on their lives. I pray He would shower His blessings on them so that they are overwhelmed!
I pray that God will continue to help me see other people as He sees them.