Scratch a Christian and You’ll Find Out What They’re Made Of

While most of my blog posts are for Christians in ministry, this one is especially so . . . and I believe God has put it on my heart to share it. Thus I’m not going to ignore the still small voice, even though it would be more convenient to do so.

I’ve been following the Lord for over 30 years, and I’ve made an observation that I hear few people talk about today.

It can be summed up by this sentence: Scratch a Christian and you’ll find out what’s underneath.

Gifted communicators are a dime a dozen.

But when a Christian “leader” is scratched and they react in the flesh, then their “leadership” isn’t worth a toot on a tin whistle.

By contrast, Christian leaders who have been sufficiently broken before God wherein they are unoffendable  . . .  Christian leaders who respond gently when criticized . . . Christian leaders who react with grace if someone corrects them . . .  Christians who don’t return evil for evil, even when persecuted or mistreated . . . are rarer than chicken molars.

By contrast, Christian “leaders” who will defend themselves at the drop of a hat and attack those who cross them (intentionally or unwittingly) are countless.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. 

I was speaking at a conference once with a group of other speakers. When the conference was over, some of us who ministered had lunch together.

One of the speakers, a well-known pastor, was upset. So he began to share with us a letter he received from one of his congregants.

He rehearsed the letter to us. It was written by a woman who had brought a gentle word of correction to him. She had been trying to reach this pastor about something important to her and she was puzzled why he didn’t respond to her for a long period of time, despite her many attempts to get him to respond.

Instead of owning the problem, the pastor threw his chest out and told us how wrong this woman was for expecting him to respond to her when she wanted.

He essentially went ballistic on this woman. He wrote a letter to her where he defended himself.  His letter was laced with snide comments as part of his defense. He was, in effect, “putting her in her place.”

This only proved one thing. Although this man could speak well in front of an audience, he knew nothing of the cross of Jesus Christ.

He knew nothing of brokenness.

He knew nothing about losing.

His reaction was pure flesh.

What was equally sad is that none of his buddies saw this for what it was and none of them called him on it. Instead, they just affirmed his fleshly reaction.

Let me tell you something. With all the talk about “discipleship” and “mission” today, if the cross isn’t front and center in the lives of those who teach on these things . . . I don’t mean the salvific part of the cross, but the “bearing” and “dying” part of it . . . then such people don’t know the first thing about discipleship.

The reality of your discipleship gets exposed when you are scratched. 

Someone who is truly walking in the Lord, not in pious rhetoric but in reality, can be scratched and they won’t get defensive and fire back.

They know how to absorb hits, punches, and exhibit the Spirit of the Lamb in the face of criticism and even persecution.

If this well-known pastor got in the flesh because a sister in Christ expressed her dismay that he didn’t respond to her, what would he do if he was truly being attacked unjustly and slandered by someone who had malicious motives?

“If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?” 

~ Jeremiah 12:5

I don’t think I have to answer that question for you.

I’m not able to say that this was the only time I’ve seen this sort of thing.

I’ve watched famous Christians respond similarly (defensively and in the flesh), and I think to myself, “How can this person lead God’s people while showing no signs of the cross in their lives?”

So you, dear Christian leader — actual or aspiring — how do you react when someone scratches you?

Don’t make the mistake of silencing your conscience on this point and justify yourself. We all make mistakes and we all blow it from time to time.

But if reacting in the flesh is the impulse you go with and there’s no instinct in you that tells you this reaction is fleshly, then something is desperately wrong with your heart.

I don’t care how many followers you have, how large your influence is, and what big names you can drop. This question gets down to the profoundly naked reality of what you’re made of.

Your reaction to such things will reveal more about your spiritual stature than all the stemwinding sermons you’ve delivered or the books you’ve signed or the “great” people you’ve shaken hands with.

Consider it. It’s a wrinkle.

See also The Unbroken Christian and How (Not) to Correct Another Christian 

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Comments

  1. Nino Marolla says

    Thank you Frank for this rebuke:( I don’t know about anybody else, but it certainly applies to me. I have a lot of dying to do yet. Thanks for being obedient to the still small voice:)
    Happy New Year, Nino

  2. Wes Schoel says

    This is a great article. Well said!
    One of my mentors warned me to always follow Jesus and never a man. He said that if I found the character and life of Jesus in a man, the man would be a man broken by the Lord. He said, “A man like that can be safely imitated.”

  3. Teague says

    AMEN. (Wish I had a bigger font!) Following the Lamb wherever He goes is greater than having a following (Rev. 14). I feel a definite cameraderie in these sentiments :)

  4. The Undercover Christian says

    Frank, this is a great article.

    We forget that the authority is conferred by consent. Once we’ve lost it through alienating or hurting those we lead, it’s extremely difficult to get back. Leading people in transformational change becomes impossible if you have lost authority.

    Maybe in the church we need to work harder at developing leadership and management skills. They’re a very different set of skills to teaching, worship and administration, and they take a long time to perfect.

  5. Greg Amey says

    I cant stop watching the shuttup juice video, it’s so funny, I cant wait to show my 10 yr old son, he loves wrestling (it’s real Dad, it really is!!) And, I’ve been listening to “I will pursue you” Jesus Culture for a while. “Strip everything away, until all I have is you” If I have any more stripped away, I’II be a walking skeleton! (joke) Plenty, plenty of ways to get you dying to flesh. (ouch) Thank you Frank.

  6. Lily says

    Excellent points. And it’s true for all Christians. But you’d think leaders would be at the level spiritually to have learned this…. so, it is sad if those spiritually mature leaders are few and far between.

    Anyway, this really speaks to me and challenges me. Thank you! :)

  7. mark says

    I’ve been thinking along these lines, and that to bear the cross in daily life necessitates a willingness to let Christ lead us, or in other words, to live by His life. Through this we begin to see His heart and His ways, which always move in divine love. His love is different than what the world views as love, and without a glimpse of that, bearing the cross is not very likely. Trying to bear the cross by our own flesh tends to make people even worse off. I think many Christians know about Christ through the Scriptures, but don’t know the Person. When one gets to know Him intimately in relationship His life flows out in love and one bears the cross naturally because that is what His life does. Christ has unending love for the righteous and the unrighteous, the friend and the enemy, and those who love Him and those who persecute Him. A worldly understanding of love can’t be reconciled with bearing the cross.

  8. Pal Madden says

    Just saw this again from Felicity Dale sharing it on FB. Got me to thinking on it more. You know, regardless of who we are, or how strong we might think our character is – you scratch the right/wrong person at the right/wrong time in the right/wrong place, and their flesh will be exposed. As long as we’re living in the flesh we’re susceptible to it raising its ugly head from time to time. Sometime it can be the littlest scratch – like someone on the freeway cutting us off, the bank just closed its doors as we’re running to get a check cashed, or an official getting it wrong against your team at a crucial time in an important ballgame. It can be the most inconsequential, insignificant thing, and our flesh can go bonkers. And, then something much more significant goes wrong, and we take it stride trusting the Lord completely. Go figure. That’s humanity, that’s you and me, and that’s what it will be like for as long as we’re living here on earth. Got to take it as it comes, forgive ourselves and others when it happens, and keep moving forward the best we can. Selah…

  9. Karen Schriner says

    Thank you for sharing this. So true…I like how you just put it out there and don’t mess around. We need to hear more truth…straight to the point…straight from the Word of God. Thank you for stepping on my toes. Now to put it to practice.

  10. Pal Madden says

    Frank, after my first post I read ‘how to confront another believer.’ It’s a very good word, and I appreciate it greatly, Unfortunately, due to first hand experiences with a great deal of abuse by titled “professionals” in the church my antenna really goes up when I see this kind of thing going on. It can easily hit a raw nerve in me, and sickens me to no end. I guess it’s a good thing I wasn’t there. No telling what I may have said — perhaps a Matthew 23 tirade would’ve unfolded, I don’t know.

  11. angela says

    If I had been in your situation, Frank, might have been terrified to confront it, however graciously. I’m glad you were able to. I’d love to know if it made anyone there think, not just the guy who was venting. The few times I have been able to really be ‘ in the Spirit’ while gently disagreeing with someone about something important, it went better than expected. It’s pretty disturbing that most were validating the arrogance.

    I find it best when attacked, to go to the Lord, maybe even through an honest, trustworthy friend and ask, ” Is there any truth in this?” We all have blind spots. And sometimes even virulent attacks can uncover something. But if someone comes with grace and kindness, we should REALLY take their correction seriously.

  12. Voicu says

    Thank you for calling attention to the need to be “teachable” no matter what capacity we serve in.
    I was about to ask of your response and I was glad to see Nancy just did!
    I think that, even without many details, your reaction is an essential part of your post; it’s not enough to point out wrongs unless there’re steps to correct them. Obviously correcting in love, with humility, is what our Lord desires from us, his younger brothers and sisters ;)
    In other words I think there was more “but one purpose” in your story: what you noticed AND what you did about it (and how!!!)

    Be blessed and be a blessing

    • Frank Viola says

      Voicu: What I did in that situation isn’t part of the post, my point, or the example I gave. If you’d like to know how I deal with situations like this, just read the link below the post called “How (Not) to Correct Another Christian.” That post addresses your what you’re asking out of curiosity. The point of the post is simple: When a Christian gets scratched in a personal way, what’s inside of them comes out. It’s like the old saying: throw a stick in a pack of dogs and the one who barks is the one who got hit. If the flesh is truly dead, it won’t make a sound.

      • BludBaut says

        That reminds me of what I heard Charles Simpson say over 30 years ago. “We thought our flesh was dead but found out he was only napping.”

  13. PastorMark says

    Wow…Thanks Brother. Leading one of my favorite songs, “Change Me on the Inside” I said that these lyrics should come with a warning label: “Are you sure?” My wife and I did not like what we saw at first “when scratched.” I believe Jesus has used your words today to help us step back and remember that in the pain and pressure He is at work to uncover his beauty in us. It is cool to stop and discover what the Lord has done (is doing) and “It is marvelous in our eyes.” Thank you Jesus.

  14. Derek says

    Hi Frank

    Thank you for your obedience in bringing the Lord’s word through your blog today, it is received as such.

    I hear what is said and value the correction it brings, also the rebuke and exposure of the “Hugeness” of such a self life that lives and so strongly remains in me. I have not really been tested yet but with the “Little” tests I have experienced I am what I fear, a spiritual midget. To my shame. I am encouraged to take up my cross brother and pray that this life of my own can be cast off as the Lord works in His way and in His time.

  15. Joanne says

    It always puzzles me that “being in ministry” is (by those who are “in ministry” – have titles of some sort) apparently not meant to refer to one who is (simply) a Christian. To me, every Christian is “in ministry” – how can we be otherwise when it is Christ who is IN us, living out His life through us. We minister whenever/wherever we are, led by His Spirit.. (I am still waiting for the time when some such “important” personage is introduced as Paul introduced himself (1 Cor. 2:1-5). Alas, I am still waiting.)
    It is also interesting, when referring to anyone as a “Pator” or “Minister” or “Bishop”, etc., that Jesus’ words concerning “titles” is overlooked or ignored.
    Interesting that Paul and the other apostles never referred to themselves by their titles – such was, simply, mentioned in passing.
    Interesting. Notmeant as a judgment, simply an observation.
    Thank you…

    • Rick Richters says

      Good point Joanne. Picture this org chart. Draw a box. Enter the names Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Now draw a vertical line connecting another box. Write in it “everybody else.” That is the org chart of the Kingdom. Jesus was very clear about this. He wants us to help each other along the way, but wants no one to take His place as their shepherd.

  16. Sandy says

    I feel the need to share these words (they are not mine, but of a christian woman that I have learned tremendous things from, her name is Martha Kilpatrick).
    “The Holy Spirit is committed to bringing the believer into the true realization of his/her actual union with Christ. All His movements are toward that end.The means of that progress is the cross. To experience Life, it isn’t how much you possess of Christ but how much you have lost of Adam. And Adam is discarded in the nitty gritty cross of everyday life. “Take up your cross daily…” Now those who won’t ‘take up’ the cross (that crosses out our own agenda), will not see or experience union. The way to union is a small step of death-to-self every day, and (as you will) a big leap of surrender to God’s WILL.”
    …how serious is that?!!

    As you die daily, you are growing toward the union in Christ that is yours.

  17. tomcottar says

    Frank,
    I always enjoy reading your posts..this seems especially poignant. Not long ago I had dinner with a ‘big name’ pastor whom I’ve known since college…We hadn” seen each other in several years. His ministry had exploded and we’d moved to separate cities.At dinner, we talked a lot about ministries we followed, struggles we’d had, etc. The pastor mentioned several other ‘big name’ guys he’d been hanging out with and talked about his ‘successful’ ventures with them… Later that night, I got a tearful call from him. His wife scolded him after dinner–she said he sounded like an arrogant, name-dropping celebrity at dinner.

    So he called me, profusely apologizing for sounding pompous, and explaining that he never intended to sound that way. Although I didn’t take it the same way his wife perceived it, he had been scratched and what came out was humility. Love. Grace. Repentance.

    As someone who’s been in ministry 25+ years, I’ve unfortunately only had a handful of those experiences. Dying to self, killing our flesh daily is a monumental (and spiritual) feat that only Christ can do in us.

    Did I mention that my love and admiration for that pastor friend shot thru the roof?

    Thanks for posting!

  18. AnnJ says

    I’ve been a Christian for over 25 years and have to say how so true this was in my life to react in the flesh. It has been a long hard road to learn how to die to my flesh and not demand my right to defend myself. I’ve messed up many relationships and have set a terrible example over the years. I am truly broken and undone. I do everything I can with the Lords leading to mend them. Very few Leaders were good examples of this crucial truth. Although I saw contradictions, I was a follower of men. It was more of a pick and choose when to carry the cross with much jargon about my rights for this or that reason.
    Since leaving the institutional church, your teachings are equipping my husband and myself tremendously. We sit with wide eyed expressions of “Shut my mouth… lol… and why have we not seen this before?” There are few who teach by example just what dying to the flesh looks like yet they are good at examples of how to do good works. I’m so shocked by what I’ve missed. Now I’m much more conscious to what the Spirit is saying and excited to let God truly fight my battles and gently teach me how to lay my flesh down.
    I have not arrived but I am intstictivly learning to pick up that Cross more and more.

  19. Margie Morey says

    Good one. Been there and been broken by God in this area. I’m grateful because my mentoring would be for nothing if I couldn’t turn away and bless instead. This action has been the one main attribute that people speak of that they see in me and are in awe of God because of it. This area has in fact been the area I feel called most to help people understand, not necessarily those in ministry. It is always a work in progress!!

  20. Judy Harper says

    Thank you for reminding me that “easily offended” is synonymous with “massively self-centered” and antithetical to “Christ-centered.” Thank God for your instructive and practical posts.

  21. bill (cycleguy) says

    Lot of pride in the pastor in your example, Frank. I think a lot of the way I/we react to being confronted is the spirit of the person writing or saying something. Do they have my best interest at heart or are they complainers and gripers by nature? Even then, we can still listen graciously and consider what they have said. If it is whacked, then dismiss it. If it has a grain of truth then listen and learn. I think having a group of men/elders as I do is also a good sounding board for me to get other thoughts and opinions.

  22. Linda Nadal says

    Thank you, Frank for your thoughtfulness on this subject and addressing it. If all of who name the Name would respond with the cross in mind, I think Jesus would be smiling.

  23. John William Keirsey says

    Here, I don’t trust myself. “Humble yourself…, resist the devil,… draw near to God….” These are the words the Holy Spirit brings most often to my mind at this time in my life. How I respond to circumstances reveal to me best whether I’m walking in the Spirit or not. “He who thinks he stands, let him take heed lest he fall.”

  24. Marsha says

    It is my observation of the wonderfully mature Christians I have been privileged to know through the years that they have 3 major things in common. 1. Profound humility (don’t boast in accomplishments) 2. An ongoing teachable spirit (accept correction and admit to mistakes)and 3. An unshakable faith (not dependent on circumstances). These examples have been few and far between, but a wonderful treasure and example for me. I am still confident that the spirit is working out such qualities in my own walk…

  25. Nancy says

    From the information provided, it seemed that you didn’t respond to this leader’s inappropriate reaction to the letter. Am I correct or did I misread?

      • Henok Minas says

        Frank, what you did takes to be sensitive to the Spirit of Christ and to be completely self-denying! As I read the story, I was tempted to search for what and how you responded to the Pastor but I suddenly thought ‘he should not include whatever he said to him because that would draw attention to himself and would nullify his point in the whole message’. When I read now why you did not do it, I applauded for you… what a great lesson! God bless you more, brother!! Keep it up!!

  26. Vinny says

    I like this Frank. How I react to certain people and situations shows me a glimpse into where my heart is.
    This is one of the reasons I came to meet you years ago….not that it would change the truth of what you have written but it sure helps me to lean into your writings knowing that you have been tested and approved by God.
    Also having many of the same friends and hearing stories of the lengths you go to spiritually, physically, emotionally and financially to bring peace in the body to people who by their action most would ignore I thank you for writing from your tested experience.

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