On Being an Asian-American Christian

As I continue to follow Jesus, I am realizing more and more how radical that journey is. An old hymn said, “The Cross before me, the world behind.” Today I bring to light the things taught within my culture as an Asian American which hinder me from following Jesus completely. Being Asian is not sinful, but there are some traditions and beliefs which I struggle to lose myself of in order to fully follow Christ. 

1. Choosing Careers and Security over Jesus

Being the son of immigrant parents, I carry the dreams of my grandparents and beyond of having a good life. Since I was just a kid, my dad never failed to emphasize the importance of doing well in school in order to earn a good job. And being in a Chinese Church, I am suprisingly not short of conversations with older men who would advise the same things my parents advise me- get a good living

What is a good living? By most definitions it means having a well-paying job. It means having financial security. It means being able to afford a house, a car, a college education for my kids, gifts to send my wife, money to invest and to gamble in the stock market, etc…

Yet one of the things I’m learning is that in following Jesus, none of those things are guaranteed. Jesus said that “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head.” He also said, “If anyone would follow me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” He said that “I have chosen you out of the world.” 

As followers of Jesus, we no longer live by the world’s standards. We live according to the will of God. It is He who provides, it is He who gives us daily bread and food for our families. And when we go for those things ourselves by our own ways, we are no longer living by faith as we should, but by sight. Jesus is not pleased with that type of following.

We should never make life decisions based on what is most lucrative. We should never make life decisions based on what is most convenient. We need to make life decisions based on listening to the Holy Spirit. We need to work in the places where God has called us so that we can be a witness for the gospel. We need to choose majors that will lead us to work at the place where God has called us. And God has not called us to first be students. He has called us first to be disciples, and being disciples may or may not mean being a good student. His twelve barely had an education, yet they were enhanced in every way by the Spirit of God (1 Cor 1:4). 

This is something we as Asians need to leave behind in order to completely surrender our lives to Jesus. 

2. Carrying False Humility

A big thing in Asian culture is the idea of respect. Especially Asian men. Asian men operate on respect. What’s distinct about the way we cultivate respect is that it’s unlike the way Americans do it. Americans garner respect by being in the spotlight, by wearing nice clothes, and being recognized. Asians like to garner respect quietly by getting an education or quitely showing people we have money. In our culture, public recognition is automatically equal to being prideful.

Yet what I’ve learned is that modesty does not equal humility. Modesty in our culture can actually be false humility. Not being in the spotlight does not mean we are humble. It just means that we are not in the spotlight. Jesus wants truly humility; and I learned this the hard way.

As an Asian American, I found myself trying to earn people’s respect by the things I said and the things I did. I thought I was humble because I hated being publicly recognized. But the Holy Spirit made known to me that I was still prideful because I was living for the praises of men even though I was doing it quietly. He wanted full obedience and He wanted me to operate on earning God’s favor, not men’s. It doesn’t matter how I feel when I am speaking with someone who has a lower education than me, or doesn’t wear as nice clothes as me; God wants to do away with all of that. 

God sees all of that going on in our culture because He sees all that is going on in our hearts. He wants us to be truly humble, not falsely modest. 

3. Forgiving Racism

This is prevalent in almost all non-American cultures living in America. I grew up being called names about being Asian. I think there is a really tender and sensitive place in my heart where I have placed my self-worth (or lack of self-worth) on the fact that I am Asian. I can’t stand being made fun of for being Asian.

Yet I cannot let my experience dictate the way I choose to love others. I need to love others because I am Christian, not because I am Asian. It doesn’t matter if they’re white, black, hispanic; Jesus wants us to love others.

This means both forgiving and praying for people when they make racist comments as well as loving people of different nationalities. We cannot let what others have said and think about us to dictate how we witness the gospel. We cannot try to one-up people of different races in our workplace or in the gym to somehow show that we’re better. We cannot think of other races as superior or inferior to us. Asians have a tendancy to not like black people. We can’t let that into our hearts. What we learn about the cross is that it puts all races on the same level in the sight of God. If we have racism in our hearts, we will not witness to other people. 

If we want to follow and be like Jesus, we must forgive racism and abolish it within our own hearts.

4. Nonverbalized Affections 

This is not a sin, but this is something we need to work on. Asians are not big on public display of affections or verbalized affections; we like to think that we show love purely by action.

While it is better to show love by action, it is also important to affirm love by verbalizing our affections. Jesus did both, we need to do both and to cultivate ways of showing that we actually love each other.  

I hope that fellow Asian brethren will see, understand, and add to how we can follow Jesus better. 

Posted by Phillip Chan

Phil has been writing in the Black Box for 10 years. His passion is to grow in his love for Jesus to obey his purposes in our generation.

4 comments

  1. mr raymond auyeung

    amen amen amen amen

  2. abc

    i still think that getting recognized publicly in some ways is just a show. you can still quietly do a good job without being in the spotlight and at the same time not be concerned about earning man's praise. someone who always seeks the spotlight and recognition is more suspicious to me honestly. btw, i'm chinese.

    1. phillipchan1

      good point, but i don't think being in front is in itself an expression of pride.

      like you said, it's a matter of whether others honor that person to that position or whether they exalted themselves to that position.

      i think there's value in honoring others by putting them in the spotlight, and it doesn't have to be a statement of pride or an encouragement of men's praise.

  3. @AaronRedeemed

    "Yet I cannot let my experience dictate the way I choose to love others…" AMEN! That is a great statement. Yet, it is our experience in union with Christ and with understanding the historical reality of redemption is causal in our love towards others!

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