What do you want to be when you grow up? This probably isn’t a question you’re used to being asked. After all, if you’re reading this, you are grown up (at least I assume so). This is the sort of question you ask a child, expecting the answer to be a firefighter, doctor, rock star, or YouTuber. (I wanted to make comic books.)
But here’s the thing: when you become a Christian as an adult, you might be a grown-up physically, but when it comes to your faith, you’re still learning to walk.
So back to the question: What do you want to be when you grow up? Maybe there’s a better way to put it: What sort of Christian do you hope to be as you grow in your faith?
I’ve wrestled with this question for a long time. In fact, it wasn’t until fairly recently that I even came to what I think is actually a reasonable and biblical answer. What has been much easier is trying to figure out the sort of Christian I don’t want to be. Let me tell you about two of them.
The kinds of Christians we don’t want to be
The first is the culture-warring Christian, a mindset that exists across the theological and political spectrum. What this sort of Christian gets right is that he or she recognizes that there are very real challenges to living faithfully all around us, threats we do legitimately need to confront as Christians. But the culture-warring mindset does little to counter the challenges we face in a way that reflects the gospel. They tend to see every disagreement as a call to arms. They often opt for fragile relationships that depend on agreement upon particular issues. And they seem to put their hope in political power rather than the power of God to change hearts and minds.
Capitulating Christians are equally as dangerous as culture warriors. These recognizes the importance of what some might call a “winsome witness”—of showing genuine love to their neighbors in the world, regardless of their background, beliefs, or behaviors. But they too often downplay or even deny what makes Christianity genuinely unique in order to promote a superficial unity with the rest of the world. They fail to genuinely love people who don’t know Jesus because they don’t actually present a Jesus that is real.
While culture-warring and capitulating both fall short
Both approaches violate the commandments Jesus calls the greatest—“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and likewise “Love your neighbor as yourself ” (Matthew 22:37, 39). Culture warring violates the first commandment in its failure to trust God in all things. It violates the second in its demonizing of people made in God’s image. Capitulation violates the first by failing to treat God with the respect and honor he is due. It violates the second by being both unloving and dishonest about God to people who don’t know Jesus.
So whatever else we aspire to be, it can’t be either of these. So what is?
The kind of Christian we want to be
As Canadians living in the American South, my wife and I have a front-row seat to the tug-of-war between culture warring and capitulation. It is pure madness; the outrage and posturing that go along with both are spiritually exhausting. And there has been more than one occasion where one of us has asked, “Can’t I just love Jesus and be a good neighbor?” And here’s the good news: yes you can. In fact, this is exactly the kind of Christian we’re supposed to be, at least, if an apostle named Peter is to be believed.
In his first epistle, Peter speaks directly to this issue as he encouraged and challenged a group of persecuted Christians—Christians who did not have any kind of cultural acceptance—to remain faithful. These Christians had no voice. They had no influence. They had no hope things would get better. So what were they to do? Given Peter’s history as both a bit of a firecracker, and as one who caved to pressure in times of trouble, it’s easy to imagine him telling them to fight. Or to just go along to get along. But he does neither. Instead he tells them:
“Be like-minded and sympathetic, love one another, and be compassionate and humble, not paying back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this, so that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8–9).
This passage is a direct challenge to both the culture-warring mindset and its capitulating counterpart. It confronts both errors as Peter challenges his readers to focus on living harmoniously in humility—to live in unity, sympathy, love, and compassion.
What is a convictionally kind Christian?
What Peter describes is convictional kindness in practice. Convictional kindness means having a firm belief or opinion while also being willing to genuinely listen to the views and perspectives of others. It calls us to live in harmony within the church and to reject the temptation to repay evil for evil. Convictional kindness keeps us focused on Jesus and allows us to be a blessing to the world through our conduct in it—even if that blessing is seen as a curse by those around us.
It also means that we can expect to experience conflict, especially if so much of what the world says is good is opposed to God (which it is). But when we do, we don’t need to run away, and we don’t need to put our hope in people who will let us down. We don’t need to engage in a culture war or capitulate. We put our hope in Jesus. We remember him, we focus on him, and when we eventually are disparaged for our faith, when we are given the side-eye, or called ignorant or bigots because of what we believe, we point to Jesus as the answer.
We believe, and we don’t stop believing, and we keep acting out of our belief because Jesus is real. He is the literal king of the universe.
So, culture warring isn’t the answer, and neither is capitulation. Convictional kindness is the answer. Because that’s the answer, we can pursue the kind of life that Paul commends:
…to seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, so that you may behave properly in the presence of outsiders and not be dependent on anyone.(1 Thessalonians 4:11–12)
How to become the kind of Christian we want to be
That’s the kind of Christian I aspire to be—one who is both convictional and kind. One who lives a quiet life, who isn’t concerned about this-or-that controversy, but loves Jesus and loves the people in his church and community. I hope it’s the kind you will aspire to be too. But how do you become this kind of Christian?
It’s something that will take you a lifetime, but explaining it is pretty simple. To become a Christian who is both convictional and kind, you need to build the core habits, the spiritual disciplines, of the Christian life:
- Regularly read the Bible, with Jesus as the hero of its story.
- Pray consistently, talking to the God who loves you and is intimately involved and interested in all the details of your life.
- Be a part of a community of Christians where you know them deeply, and they deeply know you.
These three provide the foundation and framework for your growth in your faith. Everything else we do in our lives is built on these three. The Bible is the source of our convictions about our faith, and the standard to which we hold ourselves. Prayer is how we develop our relationship with God. Christian community is where we all find help in worshiping Jesus together as we seek the good of one another, our communities, and the world.
So for whatever it’s worth, let me encourage you with this: Seek to live a quiet life. Focus on where God has placed you and the work he has called you to in this moment. Pursue a heart of convictional kindness. Put all your hope in Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith (Hebrews 12:2). He will never disappoint.
This article was adapted from my book I’m a Christian—Now What?: A Guide to Your New Life With Christ (Lexham Press, 2023). It was first published by Gospel-Centered Discipleship in March 2023.