I’m often asked about the tone of our national discourse. Not since the Civil War, people tell me, has our nation been so divided. Well, I remember the riots of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and I’m not sure how to compare the social temperature of various generations. But I’m as troubled as anyone about today’s angry rhetoric, divisive speech, racial unrest, and cultural division. Everyone is talking, but no one seems to be listening.
I have deep convictions about equality, fairness, charity, love, and issues of personal holiness. These feelings have been molded over a lifetime of Bible study and personal interaction. They are consistent with God’s love for the world and His plans for peace. Yet holding biblical opinions isn’t enough; they have to be communicated to an unbelieving world in a biblical way.
A few years ago I wrote a book called A Life Beyond Amazing. While I was working on that project, I began evaluating my life in terms of nine traits found in Galatians 5:22-23. Since then, I’ve found it a valuable exercise to regularly revisit those traits, which are the outgrowth of a Spirit-filled life. They represent nine decisions that empower us to convey Christlikeness in an increasingly secular society.
Am I demonstrating God’s love?
Even the most aggravating people in our lives represent souls for whom Christ died, and our approach to them should be charitable. They may hold a different set of values than we do, but they need the same grace we’ve received. The Holy Spirit lives within us (if we are Christians), and He will empower us to demonstrate the kind of love that prompted Christ to die for us “while we were still sinners” (1 Corinthians 3:16; Romans 5:8).
Am I spreading joy?
We all experience tough times, and some situations are more difficult than others. But our joy doesn’t depend on our surroundings; joy that is rooted in God’s love does not vanish under trying circumstances. That difference enables us to encourage others, even during dark days.
Am I promoting peace?
In our divided age, promoting unity is our goal, even though it’s not always possible. Jesus warned us to expect hatred from the world (John 17:14). But if people are offended, it should stem from the offense of the cross—not because we are offensive people. When we have the peace of Christ in our hearts, it flows into our relationships and our interactions, making it possible for us to be peacemakers.
Am I acting with compassion?
Compassionate people connect with the emotions of others, exercising sympathy and empathy, understanding before seeking to be understood. When the Good Samaritan saw his neighbor bruised and bleeding in the ditch, something moved within his spirit, and the man’s suffering became his calling—the Samaritan had compassion on the man (Luke 10:33). Nothing changes our perspective more quickly about another human being than a dose of godly compassion.
Am I being generous?
Galatians does not mention the word “generosity,” but it is hidden in the word “goodness.” If goodness is present in our hearts, it will manifest itself in the way we treat others. We often associate being generous with giving gifts, but benevolent people are generous in all things. They train themselves in the generosity of listening, understanding, forgiving, and helping.
Am I exercising integrity?
Integrity honors God with every decision by refusing to cut moral corners. It integrates our private life with our public life and maintains strict accountability in the presence of God. By committing ourselves to truth, we keep our words, feelings, facts, and motives—our Christian testimony—fully integrated.
Am I practicing self-control?
Our sinful nature longs to erupt when it’s provoked. Yet the Bible says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly” (Proverbs 15:1-2). It requires discipline to think, to ask for advice, and to pray before acting or speaking. Inspired, sustained, and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, personal discipline motivates us to produce the Spirit’s fruit, and it permits us to enjoy a life beyond amazing.
Am I humble in spirit?
Truly humble people don’t think of themselves as superior or inferior to others. In fact, they tend not to think of themselves very much at all—they focus on the needs of others. Many of our discussions become face-saving tirades or contests to get in the last word, but a humble person speaks with wisdom from above. Humility employs its power and resources for the good of others.
Am I patient?
Patience is wrapped up in the concept of endurance. Short-term patience enables us to keep our temper when someone cuts us off on the freeway or talks through a performance. Long-term patience, or perseverance, pushes us to endure when a relative needs our long-term care or the national dialog continually marginalizes our faith. According to Jesus, self-control is the first priority of discipleship: “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself…” (Mark 8:34).
God’s people must interact with their culture in a countercultural way—pausing long enough to ask these nine questions, even in the heat of the moment. It’s not easy! In fact, it’s impossible, unless we live in the power of the Holy Spirit. Saying “Yes” to the NINE requires us to relinquish our ambitions and commit to following Him.
Imagine the difference we would make if Christians across America memorized Galatians 5:22-23, or at least internalized this list of nine traits. What if we meditated and prayed over the NINE frequently? What if we chose to live that way? To talk that way?
That’s the best answer I know for addressing the anger bubbling up in our society right now. We cannot accept responsibility for what the world does, but we can demonstrate a better way by conveying Christ’s love, joy, peace, compassion, generosity, integrity, self-control, humility, and patience.
These NINE provide a template for every aspect of life. And they also suggest a standard by which to gauge our participation in outside groups, activities, causes, personalities, and movements.
As Christians, we will exert incredible influence in our culture if we will pause and count to NINE.