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When life knocks the cruel out of you

Brian Johnson
AC/DC lead vocalist Brian Johnson performs in Rosemont, Illinois October 30, 2008. |

Brian Johnson has been the lead singer of the rock band AC/DC since 1980. Although I’m (shockingly) not a fan of songs like Highway to Hell or Hell’s Bells, I often hear the band’s music, being a classic rock fan.

Johnson recently released his autobiography, The Lives of Brian: A Memoir, and did a sit-down interview with TheWall Street Journal to discuss his upbringing. He talked about being raised in Dunston, England, after World War II and described the surroundings and culture as drab, hard, distant, and unwelcoming.

He then contrasted that with a trip he took to see his mother’s family in Rome where “the climate was warm, families laughed all the time and the food was amazing.” And what was the result that night-and-day difference had on him? 

“Life there knocked the cruel out of you.”

I really like the sound of that. I don’t know about you, but I think we could definitely benefit from having something knock the cruelty out of us today. Sadly, it seems being vicious has become our culture’s top competitive sport.

For example: “If the internet's making you feel meaner, you're not imagining it,” says author and producer Laura Farrar in an article she wrote for NPR. Farrar talks about the phenomenon known as the “online disinhibition effect,” which not only makes people meaner but also encourages them to act that way via support from others like them online – something researchers call “benign disinhibition.”

It goes without saying that nasty breeding more nasty is not what we need in this life. But thankfully, as Johnson points out, there is a cure for that.

The Jesus and Paul effect

For sure, exceptions exist with some people, but in general, good and loving behavior can be very contagious.

This may be why the apostle Paul modeled Jesus to everyone he met and employed his newly sanctified self as part of his apologetic method for winning people to Christianity. The apostle used his life to provide a living exhibition of the gospel message that went beyond the logical propositions and forensic/rhetorical arguments designed to persuade.

In essence, his technique was “apologetics with a touch.”

Paul, the formerly cold aggressor and legalist, had become a person who could write of the key attributes that were witnessed above everything else in 1 Cor. 13 – love for God and love for those around him. The one who was supremely educated in knowledge had come to the point of saying that knowledge devoid of love only makes one arrogant, but love edifies (1 Cor. 8:1).

You see this all throughout his writings.

He tells the Galatian believers they are loved like his “little children” (Gal. 4:19). He reminds the Corinthians that whenever they experience pain, he is wounded as well (2 Cor. 11:29). He speaks of the Philippian believers as “having them in his heart” (Phil 1:7). He tells the Thessalonian church that he “abounds” in love for them (1 Thess. 3:12) and demonstrated that fact by living among them and helping build a Christian community (1 Thess. 1 & 2).

E. H. Lovering Jr. and J. L. Sumney, in their essay The Role of Scripture in Paul’s Ethics, point out three aspects of Paul’s modeling of Jesus that we can use to combat the unkindness we find so ever-present today, both online and in person.

It naturally begins with our union with Christ where we undergo a heart transplant and start walking in newness of life. Next, it leads to an increasing awareness of being unshackled from sin’s power followed by a growing allegiance to the One who liberated us. And it concludes with the fruit of the Spirit being exhibited as a whole in the culture and every community.

The Jewish scholar Philip Holley was transformed by this very thing. Holley made a career investigating Nazi war crimes and became so depressed because of the evil he uncovered he almost committed suicide.

But when he read about a small village that showed courage and the love of God by rescuing 5,000 Jewish children during the holocaust, his life did a complete U-turn. Holley describes what changed his life as “heart-cracking goodness.”

While Brian Johnson experienced the general effect of how better environments and loving lives can transform somebody’s disposition, how much stronger effect can a born-again life have in turning a person around? It’s my hope and prayer that all of us can have that kind of influence and get to a point where we’re so much like Jesus we can say with Paul, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

So what are you waiting for? Do some good and go knock the cruel out of someone today.

Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.

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