I remember being the new kid in school: feeling an unmentioned, but mutually understood, pressure to meet some undisclosed expectation long before I even figured out the culture of my new surroundings.
That must be how celebrities who become Christians feel. Often, we expect famous new converts to transform themselves overnight into the Billy Grahams of the next generation. Inspired by a recent column written by Michael Brown, I’ve compiled a few suggestions to help all of us fight that tendency within ourselves.
Don’t expect instantaneous maturity. That’s something Christians of all walks of life spend their entire lives striving for and never reach. We need to allow Christians, famous or not, the freedom to be new believers. The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person,” but as the saying goes, old habits die hard. Paul even acknowledged that about himself in Romans 7:15, when he wrote, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.”
Don’t anticipate perfection. There is nothing any of us can do to reach perfection this side of heaven, so why would we expect it from someone just because he or she is famous? Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8 we “can’t take credit” for our salvation. And in Romans 3:23, he acknowledged our depravity, writing, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” But when we elevate famous people to a new level — setting for them a separate standard — we disregard their humanity, our imperfection, and the magnificence of God’s standard, unattainable to all of us outside of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Stop idolizing fame. I remember watching a movie a handful of years ago in which the owner of an illustrious New York City dance club said America doesn’t have royalty; we have celebrities. There’s no doubt we’ve turned them — or their fame, at least — into idols. Our expectations of overnight perfection and our gushing disappointment when they fail us is much more revealing about the state of our hearts than the spiritual authenticity of the celebrities who have become Christians. Paul told believers in Colossians 3:5 to “put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you.” To God, Justin Bieber or Kanye West aren’t new famous believers; to him, they’re just believers worthy of the same celebration as anyone else who realizes their imperfection and turns to Christ for salvation.
Allow for missteps. We need to make space and extend grace to new believers, allowing them to make mistakes; to stumble and struggle as they journey, just like us, into increasing sanctification, turning away from a self-indulgent culture they’ve marinated in for years. The process of becoming new, of turning against our old tendencies and abandoning our natural inclinations, is not easy. Those who aren’t famous have the benefit of working out our salvation “with fear and trembling,” as Paul wrote in Philippians 2:12, in anonymity; we aren’t under a microscope with our every move being intensely scrutinized by a society increasingly at odds with God’s moral standards. Jesus calls us to speak truth in love and extend grace to those whose faith is new.
Be understanding and trust God. We need to manage our expectations. That doesn’t mean we should be pessimistic or assume the worst of others. But it does mean we should be skeptical of the human heart. After all, it’s written in Jeremiah 17:9 that the “human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked.” It’s on us to share our faith — to make the brilliance of the Gospel known — but it is the work of the Holy Spirit that brings people, famous or not, to the point of salvation. We need to be open and available, but Acts 1:8 says it is the power of the Holy Spirit that guides us and those with whom we are sharing our faith. And in 1 Corinthians 3:6, Paul wrote that it is God alone who waters the seeds of faith we plant in the minds of those around us. So give new believers, regardless of their place in our society, the time and space to wrestle with God and trust in the work of the Holy Spirit to carry them through.
New believers — whether they’re living in Hollywood or right down the hall from you in your apartment complex — are just like the new kids at school. Be there to help them figure things out, and rely on God for the rest.