That’s the conclusion of a new Barna Group study. The nationwide survey sought to determine whether Christians have the actions and attitudes of Jesus as we interact with others, or if we are more akin to the self-righteous beliefs and behaviors of Pharisees.
Barna researchers presented a series of 20 agree-or-disagree statements to self-identified Christians. Five described “actions like Jesus” such as, “I regularly choose to have meals with people with very different faith or morals from me.” Five statements described “attitudes like Jesus” such as, “I see God working in people’s lives, even when they are not following him.” Five described “self-righteous actions” such as, “I try to avoid spending time with people who are openly gay or lesbian.” And five statements described “self-righteous attitudes” such as, “I feel grateful to be a Christian when I see other people’s failures and flaws.”
How did respondents do? Just over half (51 percent) demonstrated the attitudes and actions identified as Pharisaical. Only 14 percent represented “Christ-like” actions and attitudes; the rest were split between actions and attitudes.
About one-quarter (23 percent) of evangelicals were “Christ-like,” somewhat above the average, but they were also the only group more likely to be Pharisaical in attitude but Christ-like in action. (That’s food for thought.) Women were more likely to be “Christ-like” (18 percent) than men (9 percent); “liberal” Christians (22 percent) outranked “conservative” Christians (eight percent).
In earlier research, Barna discovered that 84 percent of young non-Christians say they know a Christian personally, but only 15 percent say the lifestyles of those believers are noticeably different in a positive way. The new study suggests that “many Christians are more concerned with what they call unrighteousness than they are with self-righteousness. It’s a lot easier to point fingers at how the culture is immoral than it is to confront Christians in their comfortable spiritual patterns.”
I agree. It’s much easier to preach against sins that don’t tempt me. For instance, an insightful new essay in Relevant magazine calls gluttony “the socially acceptable sin.” When last did you hear a sermon against excessive consumption? In addition, when I self-righteously condemn sin in others I am less troubled by my own failures. Didn’t Jesus say something about the “speck” in your eye and the “plank” in mine?
I invite you to look over the Barna list and decide where you rank. Jesus declared, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). What Christ-like actions are most needed today? On a personal level, what Christ-like attitude is the Spirit prompting in you?