How do people recognize a Christian? What is it about your character or words or behavior that shows someone this is who you are?
I lived with those questions constantly during our difficult presidential election season last year. As a pastor, I interact with those on each side of the political spectrum. Each group declares that they—and the policies they support—are more Christ-like than the other. Since both sides claim to have cornered the market on Christianity, I can’t help but wonder what it takes to make authentic inner faith obvious on the outside.
When we look to Scripture for a response, there’s no better place to land than these verses in Galatians. People know we are Christian when they see the fruits of our spiritual lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (vv. 22-23).
At first glance, each word on this list made complete sense to me, except for one.
Is gentleness really on the same spiritual level as peace, love, and joy? I questioned that until I studied its deeper meaning. The word doesn’t mean soft; it’s easily translated forbearance. Gentleness allows us to hold our differences with others in a spirit of love.
Being gentle with those with whom we have friction is a truly Christian response. When we engage one another in a spirit of forbearance, we demonstrate the visible spirit of Christ. This characteristic I questioned may be the most important fruit on the whole spiritual tree.
Who do you struggle to treat gently? How do they know you are a Christian?
Gentle God, give us the ability to hold one another in love, even those we struggle with, don’t understand, or simply dislike. Amen.