Pastor’s Blog


Have you ever thought you knew someone, only to find out that you were completely wrong about them? This happens to all of us from time to time because we tend to make snap judgments about people. When you meet someone for the first time it typically takes your mind about two seconds to come to some sort of conclusion about them, whether good or bad. We make these snap judgments by noticing the way they carry themselves, the way that they look, whether or not they look us in the eye, and dozens of other things that we might not even consciously notice.

A writer named Malcolm Gladwell wrote an entire book about this phenomenon called Blink, in that we make so many judgments and decisions in the blink of an eye. He came up with this idea when he began to notice how people started treating him differently when he changed his hairstyle. He used to wear his hair short and conservative, but one day decided to grow it out long and wild. He then noticed that he started regularly being pulled over, even though he had never gotten a speeding ticket before and had not changed his driving habits. He noticed how he regularly started getting pulled out of the security line in airports for extra attention.

What really sent Gladwell researching this idea was an incident when he was walking down the street in downtown Manhattan and a police van suddenly pulled up beside him. Three police officers jumped out of the van; they were looking for a criminal, and it turned out that they thought the criminal looked a lot like him. They pulled out the sketch and the description of the criminal, and as Gladwell looked at it, he pointed out how the guy they were looking for was much taller, heavier, and about 15 years younger than he was. All they seemed to have in common was a large head of curly hair.

After 20 minutes of back-and-forth, the officers finally let him go, but he began to think about how subtle the stereotyping was that caused the officers to stop him. It wasn’t skin color, age, height, or weight, but something about his hair that caused the police to form a snap judgment that took over 20 minutes to refute. We do the same thing. We make snap judgments and form first impressions that can be hard to shake. Sometimes these are good and right, but sometimes we are really off, and we have to rethink what we thought we knew. Sometimes people just surprise us and don’t fit into our preconceived ideas.

All of us have ideas about who we think Jesus is and therefore who we think Jesus’ followers should be. It’s hard to live in the United States and not have an idea of Jesus, whether you go to church or not. We form these judgments based on all kinds of information: what we’ve read about Jesus in the Bible or other books, how Jesus is depicted on TV or popular culture, what people we trust have told us about Jesus, and how people who claim to be Jesus-followers act and worship. If we go to church, what our church believes and how our church behaves cannot help but inform our impression of Jesus. If we’re believers, our own personal experience of salvation and how we became a Christian is hugely influential.

Once we form these impressions and judgments about Jesus, they cannot help but determine how we relate to him. So one of the ways that Jesus works in our lives is by continually reforming our expectations and understanding of who he really is and what our lives should look like if we follow him. The Holy Spirit continually works through God’s Word, prayer, worship, and other believers to help us see Jesus with fresh eyes, so we know and follow him as he really is, and not just how we assume he is or would like him to be.

This is something for which we should be grateful because too often our ideas about who Jesus is and how we should live for him are incomplete, out-of-balance, or even wrong. In other words, our first impressions and snap judgments never tell the whole story. This is why Jesus warns those who are trying to fit him into their preconceived ideas of God and religion (Mark 2:18–22). We must always be careful not to force Jesus into a stereotype or preconceived idea we have of who he should be; there is always more we can know about him. God wants to remake us in his image, which means we must be careful never to remake him into ours.