Jesus Wasn’t Always Winsome


Clay Jones

Article ID:



Jun 5, 2023


May 24, 2023

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​In the last few years, I’ve heard many Christians say that all Christians need to be winsome at all times (there are even books saying that). For example, in October 2022, Russell Moore, the editor in chief of Christianity Today, wrote an article entitled “What’s Wrong with Winsomeness? The Fruit of the Spirit Still Apply in a Hostile Culture.” He was responding to “a clip of two Christian political commentators arguing that their cultural opponents were so sinful that they had sunk to the level of the subhuman. ‘This is demonic. Our enemies are demonic,’ one said. ‘There’s no turning the other cheek; there’s no being winsome.’”1

Although, shortly, I will explain the issues concerning whether Christians should always be winsome, we must acknowledge that some Christians surely do need to be gentler and more respectful (I’m not going to use the word winsome) and more precise in the way they talk to others. The comments made by the two Christian political commentators are harsh and imprecise at best. When non-Christians act in a sinful manner, they are not being subhuman, they are being precisely human. Non-Christians say and do evil. The argument in my book, Why Does God Allow Evil? (Harvest House, 2017), is that genocide is precisely human. We were all born Auschwitz-enabled. Likewise, saying our enemies are “demonic” is terribly imprecise. Is he saying that all of our enemies are demon possessed? It’s possible that some of them are, but just because someone is an enemy of Christ doesn’t mean they are demon possessed. Regarding “There’s no turning the other cheek; there’s no being winsome,” that too is imprecise. Jesus did tell us that “if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt. 5:39).2 The Christian should generally be forgiving and gentle. After all, the apologetics key verse is 1 Peter 3:15: “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” So yes, the default should be that we are gentle.

But Moore, in his Christianity Today article, in so many words, argues that Christians should always be winsome. He argues that Christians should always turn the other cheek and Christians should always be gentle and full of the fruit of the Holy Spirit when they are responding to non-Christians. Now, of course, Christians should always have the fruit of the Spirit in their lives and that absolutely must govern our conversations. But it is not that simple. I’ve heard apologists be so nice and so accepting when talking with those who have rejected the truths of Christianity that I fear that the non-Christian they were talking to might not realize that their eternal destination is at stake. Also, we need to be careful that winsome doesn’t become a cloak for cowardice.


I think one of the appeals of the word “winsome” is that Christians like the idea that Christians should be out to “win” “some” people to Christ. But, of course, that’s not what the word means. The word winsome is defined by Merriam-Webster as “1: generally pleasing and engaging often because of a childlike charm and innocence….2: CHEERFUL, LIGHTHEARTED” (capitalization in original).3 The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “attractive and pleasing, with simple qualities, sometimes like those a child has.”4 Yuck. Yes, Jesus was “engaging,” but did Jesus come across as having a “childlike charm and innocence” or with “simple qualities…like those a child has”? Princeton Writes defines winsome as “pleasing or attractive in appearance, handsome, comely; of attractive nature or disposition, of winning character or manners.”5 Now Jesus may have evinced a “winning character or manners,” but “attractive in appearance, handsome, comely” perhaps isn’t true because we read in Isaiah, “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (53:2). And did Jesus always come across with an “attractive nature or disposition”?


Jesus tells the Pharisees: “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34, emphasis added). The context in Matthew’s Gospel is that Jesus had just cast a demon out of a man that caused him to be blind and mute. In other words, Jesus had done something truly compassionate and helpful — life-changing for that man and his friends and relatives. But, in response, the Pharisees accused Jesus of doing this by the power of Satan. In other words, the Pharisees had told everyone that Jesus was Satan’s servant. Of course, the average Jew thought the Pharisees to be the most holy people in Israel, which made the Pharisees’ claims that Jesus was in league with Satan an enormous problem. Jesus’ response was to tell them, “Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matt. 12:32). D. A. Carson wrote that this was a “rejection of the…truth in full awareness that that is exactly what one is doing — thoughtfully, willfully, and self-consciously rejecting the work of the Spirit even though there can be no other explanation of Jesus’s exorcisms than that. For such a sin there is no forgiveness, ‘either in this age or the age to come.’” Carson says this is a dramatic way of saying they will “never” (as in Mark 3:29) be saved.6 Therefore, Jesus’s reply to the Pharisees was not an attempt to win the Pharisees over to His side. Jesus had already made it clear that these Pharisees had blasphemed the Holy Spirit and would never be forgiven.

There is a great difference between Jesus’ ministry and much Christian public discourse today. Namely, Jesus wasn’t concerned about scoring political gains, except indirectly as He changed the hearts of those in power. Since Jesus was not trying to win the Pharisees over, He was laying out plain truth for the audience’s sake. Jesus was letting the crowd know that the Pharisees were evil and that their counsel should be rejected. If we’re arguing with someone and we have an audience, our first concern may not be the person we are arguing with. Rather, our first concern might well be the audience.

Jesus declared that the Pharisees were a “brood of vipers” on at least two separate occasions (see Matt. 12:34 and 23:33). John the Baptist also called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” (Matt. 3:7). A “brood” is a family of offspring, and “vipers” relates to the serpent that deceived Eve. In other words, Jesus and John are calling them children of Satan. Jesus did exactly that when He told “the Jews” in John’s Gospel, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (8:44). Telling people that Satan is their dad isn’t winsome, is it? 

Jesus’s use of analogy is unparalleled, and none of His words were ever rash. Jesus even warned that we would be judged for every careless word we speak (Matt. 12:36). Jesus’ words were carefully chosen. For Jesus, then, “brood of vipers” wasn’t a phrase used in anger because He wanted to call them a name. He was portraying them exactly as He wanted the average person to understand: they were venomous sons of Satan.

A brood of vipers is the last thing you would want around your family. What “winsome” language should Jesus have used instead? “You Pharisees are treacherous, and you use your mouths to kill others”? Would a toned-down description be winsome? What Jesus said, then, was an omen of destruction for the Pharisees and the severest of warnings to those who might respect the Pharisees.


Here are some more examples of Jesus being perhaps less than winsome. In Matthew 22:18 we read, “Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?’” Then in Matthew 23:13–33 Jesus said,

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces….Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. Woe to you, blind guides….You blind fools!….You blind men!….You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel….Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness….You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?

In Luke 11:29 we read, “When the crowds were increasing, [Jesus] began to say, “This generation is an evil generation.” Then in Luke 12:51, Jesus said, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” And here’s Luke 14:25–27: “Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.’” 

After Jesus fed the five thousand, He told the crowd, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). I doubt that when Jesus said that He had a smile on His face and a twinkle in His eye. And how did the crowd react? “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (v. 66). I wonder if some today wouldn’t encourage Jesus to attend a church growth seminar! Jesus said that the reason the world “hates me” was because “I testify about it that its works are evil” (John 7:7). Then later in John’s Gospel, we find Jesus arguing with “the Jews” (it doesn’t say “Pharisees,” it says “Jews,” which includes average folks), and in 8:43–44 He said, “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” 


Here’s the odd thing. I’ve had people reply to me that Jesus is God in the flesh, so Jesus can say things that we Christians can’t. Of course, I find that bizarre because we are commanded to be like Jesus. I’ve sometimes replied, Are there any other character qualities that Jesus manifested that we shouldn’t imitate? That’s always met with crickets. “By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:5–6).


Consider also that the apostle Paul said that we should imitate him. Paul wrote, “I urge you, then, be imitators of me” (1 Cor. 4:16). Later in the same epistle, he exhorted, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). And to the church at Philippi, he wrote, “Brothers, join in imitating me” (Phil. 3:17). So how did Paul act?

In Acts, Paul told Elymas the magician, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?” (13:10).

To the Galatians, speaking of the circumcision party, Paul wrote, “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” (Gal. 5:12). Ouch!

And in his epistle to Titus, Paul wrote, “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith….They profess to know God, but by deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:12–13, 16).

Sadly, some authors and pastors, such as Gregory Boyd, see themselves as more spiritual than the apostle Paul. Boyd writes, “I consider it beyond question that some of Paul’s language about opponents reflects a hostile and mean-spirited attitude.” Not only that, Boyd writes, “I certainly cannot deny that Paul’s occasional nasty name-calling is inconsistent with his teaching that followers of Jesus are to ‘do everything in love’ (1 Cor 16:14, italics added) — an instruction that surely includes referencing theological opponents.”7 Apparently, Boyd must think that when Paul wrote, “be imitators of me,” he was in the flesh.

John. “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil” (1 John 3:8). “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting” (2 John 10).

Peter. “But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children!” (2 Peter 2:12–14).

Stephen. In Acts 6:8 we learn that “Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.” But in Acts 7:51–52 Stephen told the unbelieving Jews: “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered.” How did the crowd respond? They stoned Stephen to death (v. 58).


Now we’ve all seen Christians and sometimes apologists who were anything but gentle and respectful, and that’s bad. Our default witness should be gentleness. After all, gentleness is a fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5:23), and we are told to correct our opponents with gentleness and respect (2 Tim. 2:25; 1 Pet. 3:15). So, again, our default witness should be gentle and respectful. But as the senior demon in C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters put it, “The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.”8 It’s easy for Christians to point to someone who is needlessly harsh (and sadly, there are quite a few), but the majority of Christians I know are more likely to be in danger of failing to sufficiently warn those in sin. Of course, we must be gentle, but there’s also a time to rebuke. “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (1 Tim. 5:20).

Clay Jones is a visiting scholar for the MA in Christian Apologetics program at Talbot Seminary and the chairman of the board of Ratio Christi, a university apologetics ministry.


  1. Russell Moore, “What’s Wrong with Winsomeness?: The Fruit of the Spirit Still Apply in a Hostile Culture,” Christianity Today, October 17, 2022,
  2. Scripture quotations are from the ESV.
  3. “Winsome,” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, accessed May 19, 2023,
  4. “Winsome,” Cambridge Dictionary, accessed May 19, 2023,
  5.  “Winsome,” Princeton Writes, accessed May 20, 2023,
  6. D. A. Carson, Matthew — Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 291–92.
  7. Gregory A. Boyd, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Old Testament’s Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017), 590, italics added by Boyd.
  8. C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (1942; New York: HarperOne, 1996), 138. 
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