I have had a number of discussions with people about why they no longer believe in God. I am not talking about life-long atheists. I am talking about people who once identified themselves as Christians but now do not believe in God at all. All of those conversations have had basically one thing in common. While these former Christians mention problems with children dying or starvation or too many people suffering causing them to question God's existence, the biggest hurtle many of these people face is the behavior of Christians.
These people will talk about the fact that Christians pick each other apart, that they are hypocritical, that they don't follow their own standards. They will talk about the fact that many Christians are petty, cruel and hateful. And then they will follow those observations with the conclusion that if Jesus was really God then Christians would live like it. Do you know how I have to respond to these people? I tell them, "You're right. Most people who say they are Christians behave exactly like you said they do."
The problem that I have with people turning away from God because of the behavior of Christians is not because they are wrong about Christian behavior. In most cases, I think our critics are right. The problem is that Jesus warned us that a large number of people who claimed to follow him would not really be his disciples at all!
In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord! ’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name? ’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!’" (HCSB). Just a few verses earlier in verse 13-14, Jesus said, "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (NIV).
Jesus warned us that many, if not the majority, of people who claimed to follow him would not really be his disciples. Jesus warned us that few would follow the narrow path that leads to life because it is hard to find. But somehow, we are surprised when large numbers of people who claim to be Christians behave very badly?
We have no way of knowing whether the people around us who claim to be Christians truly are (although Jesus did tell us that you could know a tree by its fruit). But ultimately, it is not our job to sort out the "real" Christians from the "fake" ones. Our job is to follow Christ. Ultimately, each and every person is accountable to God alone, not to us. We are responsible for taking up our cross daily and following him, not for pointing out when someone else fails to live up to a certain standard.
As you encounter hypocrites in the church (and you will), keep your eyes on Christ. Focusing on other people will only distract you. Take up your own cross and follow Jesus. Let Jesus worry about the fakes.