You may have heard the expression, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.”

As a result, most of us strive to consciously put our best foot forward.  We try to look presentable in public, be cordial when meeting someone new and carry ourselves in the best possible light.

Many believe equally or more important is what we do in private.  It is often said, character is who we are when no one is looking.  How we act and what we do if we knew (or thought) no one could see us nor find out what we were doing determines who we are down deep.

Acclaimed author and pastor, Bill Hybels, even wrote a book a number of years ago entitled who you are when no one’s is looking – choosing consistency, resisting compromise.

However, I recently came across a situation where I had to consider a third alternative - what we do in public (usually out of emotion) when we don’t consider others may be (and probably are) watching.  

While driving down the interstate the other day I heard a long steady horn blasting from behind me.  Somewhat alarmed, I turned and noticed a car speeding by with another in close pursuit.  The trailing car had an arm extended from the driver’s window with an outstretched finger pointing towards….heaven.  At the opposite end was an angry-faced woman scowling intently while muttering something out the window.

As their cars faded from sight, I continued my leisurely drive speculating what could have caused this sort of reaction from this very “animated” driver.  Was she side-swiped, tailgated, following up on some other “unjust” action bestowed upon her, or just angry someone got in front of her?

Whatever the reason, I concluded a “major” infraction probably hadn’t occurred nor had anything that warranted the response she displayed along that mile stretch of road.  Nevertheless, many of those who witnessed her actions probably formulated some sort of (negative) view of her at that moment.

Even though we “shouldn’t” be in the habit of making assumptions or snap judgments about a person, (especially) based solely on a single isolated incident, it’s difficult to witness someone’s reaction to a situation and not consider it as a part of their standard behavioral conduct or character quality (or flaw), if we didn’t know anything else about them.

Several years ago, a campaign started to challenge us to consider “What Would Jesus Do” (WWJD) in each and every situation we encountered.  There were bracelets, hats, and all sorts of paraphernalia to remind us and each other to think about what Jesus’ response would be if He were in our shoes.

I remember being “put to the test” years later when my bags were inadvertently transferred to the wrong flight and I showed up to my destination without any of my luggage.  Fortunately, ahead of me at the airline’s baggage service office was a gentleman who appeared to be in the same position as I.  He clearly wasn’t seeking what Jesus would do in this situation as he belittled, criticized and berated the agent.  This allowed me enough time to get my emotions in check and think through my predicament clearly and objectively.

By the time my “opportunity” came, I could see the agent was obviously rattled, somewhat irritated and a bit angry.  Instead of adding my frustration to this person’s aggravation, I approached it more humorously (and compassionately).  With a smile I said, “Can you believe him?  I’m in the same boat.  I know you had nothing to do with my missing luggage, but here are my baggage tags and I would appreciate anything you can do for me.”

We ended up having a nice conversation and I was able to get the agent to smile a little by the time I was through.  I probably didn’t get my luggage any faster than the man ahead of me, but I didn’t “leave a mark” on the agent nor give a bad impression of myself to anyone who may have been around.

I have heard it said a number of times, “If we profess to ‘be’ a Christian, we should ‘act’ like one.”  After much consideration, I have to wholeheartedly disagree.  

The Free Dictionary defines "acting" as “temporarily assuming the duties or authority of.”

Too many of us do “act” like a Christian when we’re around other Christians, on Sunday mornings or with certain friends or colleagues.  The problem arises when we are only temporarily assuming the duties of a Christian rather than being one.

If we truly believe in what we profess and say, we should be living it not just acting it out when others are around or when people may see us.

We try to live in such a way that no one will be hindered from finding the Lord by the way we act, and so no one can find fault with our ministry.  2 Corinthians 2:3

There have been many times over my Christian life I have been convicted of my actions where I have regretted not only for how I acted at that moment, but also for anyone who may have witnessed my actions knowing I was a Christian.

Professing to be a follower of Christ makes us as vulnerable in many ways as public figures in the limelight.  Many people watch us closely to see if we are really who we say we are or who they expect us to be.  There are some who are actually looking for us to fail so they would have an “excuse” for not following the Lord.

One of the most popular answers from non-believers as to why they don’t want to accept Jesus into their life is because the Christians they know are hypocrites.

What we do and how we act in front of others does matter and it may be the only exposure to a Christian they have in their life, however it shouldn’t be something we are “acting” out, but rather something we are “living” out.  

Make sure the first impression you leave of Christ is a good one.

In everything set them an example by doing what is good.  Titus 2:7

Cliff Young is a contributing writer to Sandlot Stories (arose books), as well as the monthly column, "he said-she said," in Crosswalk.com's Singles Channel.  An architect and former youth worker, he now works with Christian musicians and consults for a number of Christian ministries. Got feedback?  Send your comments and questions to cydmg@yahoo.com.

Publication date: August 30, 2012