Is it fair to say that our society judges Christianity by what we do rather than what we say we believe? That is not to say that they do not notice what we say we believe. They may hear us speak on themes of generosity, unity, humility, and love; but they will judge, label, or categorize us by what they see us doing.
This is tricky. Because we all know that people make wild and sweeping assumptions about Christians that do not represent our hearts as well as our beliefs. And that is because there are people (who often we wonder if they are truly following Christ) speaking and living a lifestyle that we are uncomfortable with and that do not represent our faith and lifestyle. Without a doubt, there are times where we feel we are lumped into a category that misrepresents us.
The thing is, the public has every right to come to a conclusion about who Christians are by how we live. In their mind they are labeling a "brand" of religious practice. And a brand is the overall perception and feeling people have when they think of the brand. So it makes sense that the public will reduce their perception of Christianity to who they have met and who they have seen in their lives who claim to be “Christians”.
But if we cannot control what they think, maybe we should be asking what should Christians be known for? Yes, we will never escape misrepresentations, misunderstanding, and mislabels—Jesus warns his disciples this will happen because the world did not accept him (John 15:18-19). Yet even with the knowledge that the world would hate his disciples, Jesus challenged his disciples to be known by something truly compelling. John 13:34-35 says: 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” [NIV]
Now this conversation was at his last meal with his disciples. He had washed his disciples feet! Something that the favored servants never had to do. He had the first communion with the bread and the cup, indicating not only the death he was going to endure but the resurrection and life he was going to provide. He had just sent Judas out to betray him. Now he institutes a new commandment: love one another. Love each other like I have loved you.
Jesus defines this love to be done to the measure, the ability, and the intensity that he has loved them. The deepest demonstration of that love will be when he goes to the cross and dies for our sins. That is how deep Christians are to love one another! But I would argue this is not the only way Jesus loved the people around him. Throughout his life he beat to the tune of a different drum. Saying things that shocked the religious norms and the religious. Accepting and calling people who had no business being near Jesus. Spending time with crowds and people that society deemed “untouchable”. I imagine the disciples would have thought of plenty of instances when they were being boneheads and foolish and Jesus lovingly corrected them but continued to keep them close to him.
“Love one another like I have loved you.” This is quite a task, but this love could and would turn the world upside-down.
We do not have the ability to control what the world decides the “brand” of Christianity will be labeled. But we can pursue a calling and a lifestyle that points people to the love of Christ by the way we love one another. It requires us to learn how to love like Jesus by learning how he loved.