One of the most tragic inhibitors of belief is a bad example. It is unfortunately common that what turns off a great number of potential believers is experiences with hypocritical Christians. The thought becomes, “Well, if he claims to be a Christian and he is doing that, and I am better than him, I have to be fine!” A bad attitude, a life in disarray, a tongue that is harsh or filthy – just one of these things can give an unbeliever all the kindling that he or she needs to go on in life without a single doubt about his or her current status.
However, the bad example argument leaves the unbeliever in the same place as before – that is, still in sin. No matter what a person sees or says, he is only kidding himself by looking at the hypocrites of the world or the shortcomings of his neighbors and justifying his own sinfulness. We are all responsible for our own spiritual welfare, and no other person is to blame for our condemnation (Ezekiel 18). If we lose our souls to perdition, it will be because of the wicked deeds we have done, being judged by God without partiality (Colossians 3:25). Hiding behind a hypocrite or complaining about the wrongs done to me by some congregation will never exempt me from God’s righteous judgment, and I will find myself sharing a fate with those who stood as examples of unrighteousness (Revelation 21:8).
Part of the problem is that many of us, to some degree, want others to fail. We feel like it validates our own shortcomings. We watch and wait patiently for others to slip up, believing that we have the right to go sin-for-sin with everybody around us. We look at our brethren, or anybody who claims to believe in Christ, and keep a tally of their mistakes, eager to jump on any faults or failures. And to an unbeliever, this makes him feel secure in his disobedience.
In conclusion, both sides of this problem need to stop hiding and face their responsibility. An unbeliever or one who has become discouraged by hypocrites in the church needs to see past the bad examples and see what Christ actually taught. He or she also needs to recognize the good examples (who often get ignored in favor of an overemphasis on the hypocrites). But believers also need to own up to the way their examples impact those around them. You and I will either be a conduit that directs others to Jesus or we will be a stumbling block! “Woe to the stumbling blocks” (Matthew 18:7).