A couple days ago I did a post on striving to represent Jesus well in the world. But what do we do when we’ve failed to do that?
Christians are ambassadors for Christ. We’re a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. Peter tells us that unbelievers will even slander us for our good behavior in Christ (1 PE 3.16). Paul encouraged others to follow his example and imitate his life. All believers should so model Christ they could say this to their children or fellow Christians.
One of our friends, Trillia Newbell asked this question after my last post. (Thanks Trillia!) She asked, What should we do when we don’t represent Christ well? And what do we do when we ask forgiveness of unbelievers and they refuse to grant that forgiveness?
What should we do when we fail to represent Christ well? When we lose our temper with an unbelieving co-worker, or grumble or gossip around non-Christians or say something unkind to an unbelieving relative? What if we fail to represent Christ well to our spouse or children?
First of all, none of us will represent Jesus perfectly.
Believers are all works in progress. Though in one sense the moment we are saved, we are sanctified, or set apart for God completely. Yet in another sense our sanctification is ongoing. We are becoming more and more like Christ every day as the Holy Spirit works in our lives. Someday we’ll be completely conformed to the likeness of Christ, but until that time none of us will be perfect. We still battle what remains of our old fallen nature, though it’s no longer the dominant force in our lives and Holy Spirit stirs and empowers us to obey God.
So though we now want and try to represent Christ perfectly, we will fail. Hopefully, as the years go by we will represent Jesus better and better. We’ll be more and more cheerful, rejoice more and more despite our trials. We’ll be more and more patient. Five years from now you will be more like Christ than you are today as you continue to walk with him. So if you’re around the same people for a few years, and you’ve failed to represent Jesus well early on, they should see changes occur in you over time. Jesus can even use our failures to show others his power to change us.
If you have failed to represent Jesus, here are a few suggestions.
First of all, repent.
Peter denied Christ three times– talk about a failure to represent – but he repented. Judas failed to repent. He felt bad about what he’d done, but never repented. John tells us that if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 JN 1:9). So the first thing we should do is ask Jesus’ forgiveness.
Remember there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
We may feel condemned, but there is none, because Jesus was condemned in our place on the cross. None remains for us. Not one shred.
Ask forgiveness of those you have sinned against. Ask forgiveness of your children if you spoke harshly to them even if they did something wrong first. Ask forgiveness of the unbeliever you sinned against, even if he sinned against you first. And don’t expect him to ask your forgiveness. Worry about your own sin, not his.
God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Even the act of humbling yourself is a Christlike act and is shining the light of Jesus into the lives of those you work with, etc. Usually when we humble ourselves, even before unbelievers, they soften toward us. Not always, but usually.
What if you ask forgiveness and they don’t forgive you? Again, I wouldn’t expect an unbeliever to forgive me. I don’t expect unbelievers to do what Christians are called to do.
Paul says that as much as possible be at peace with all men. Continue to try to reach out to them, serve them, bless them, etc.
I love Paul’s advice to Timothy about how to relate to unbelievers:
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth…(2 Timothy 2:24-25)
Be kind to everyone, patiently endure evil, correct gently, and trust God to work in them. Wow, talk about representing. That’s how I want to act.