As Christians, we are exhorted to be examples to others. Christian parents teach their children to be examples to others -to younger siblings, to peers in school, etc. But it raises the question... an example of what?
"Well, we are to be a light."
Okay, I agree. But a light to what? To whom? This needs to be fleshed out a bit more, I think. Otherwise, we can easily run the risk of being an example of something other than we intend.
I've talked to young teens who are raised in wonderful Christian families who feel the pressure to be an example to people, and they have struggled because they have thought this means that they never laugh at inappropriate things, they never complain, never show any negative emotions, etc. They almost feel as though they have to be perfect, and while they are very sweet and well-meaning, it can sometimes end in a result they don't want. It can just make peers feel bad. They aren't pointed to Christ. They aren't encouraged. They flip-flop back and forth between feeling like they aren't good kids, and aren't good Christians, because they aren't "perfect" like this peer of theirs. Or they wind up just feeling awkward around this friend, not being able to put their finger on why, because it seems like their friend cannot relate to real life... at least not to theirs.
"Ah. But that's just because they are young in their faith. And plus, teens... they tend to be a tad insecure and compare themselves to each other too much, anyway."
Yes, I agree. But it doesn't stop with our youth. It is found in our adults, as well. That same feeling of alienation is felt by people who join a Bible study or women's group and are met with people who, honestly, try a bit too hard to keep up appearances. Rather than being able to reach and encourage people who may need genuine help and discipleship, these folks who seek to be a godly example just wind up making them feel bad or pushing them away with what appears to be fake religious pretense.
"But maybe they should feel bad."
This is what I sincerely question. A person should experience repentance over sin, but that is not necessarily the same as feeling "bad" or ashamed simply because you don't fit in with people who act like their life is perfect and they have it all figured out. Feeling excluded because you don't fit the mold of this nebulous, quasi-artificial, culturally informed idea of "Christian righteousness" is not the same thing as repentance at all.
So it brings us back to the original question. What are we to be examples of?
We are to be examples of people who love Jesus, who live by the Gospel, who blow it but have the humility to admit it and trust in Christ and the power of His Holy Spirit to cleanse us and bring us to glory. We are to be examples of daily repentance, of humility, of love. We are to be examples of people who have a living hope.
This doesn't mean we make all of our private business public knowledge. We don't need to go around talking about all of our deepest sins and personal problems to everyone who crosses our path. But being an example of the grace of God in our lives fundamentally means that we don't shut people out and hide behind a mask of artificial perfection, either. Holiness, at the end of the day, is primarily about faith and dependence on the grace of God. That is where the fruit comes from.
It isn't easy. As honest and humble as we seek to be, we will still be labeled, "no fun" and "fake" by some and "not Christian enough" by others. I guess it's a good thing that we stand before the Lord for ourselves, only. :)