FINISHING a sermon at church recently, stepping down toward the communion table, and I sensed God say something astoundingly fundamental.
God reminded me that, as sinners saved by grace, we often snub that same grace in attempting to be perfect Christians. And the message I had just finished preaching had been about that; how to live wisely, making the most of time, and letting your speech always be gracious (Colossians 4:2-6).
I had an opportunity to set the record straight.
The fact is, and Christians know this better than anyone, the Christian is a sinner. A condition of them receiving salvation was to accept they were a sinner. And even as they live as a ‘new creation’ in Christ, they are still a sinner, and will never cease being sinful this side of eternity. It’s why they agreed to trust Jesus from then on.
Yet, how tragic it is, to fall for the lie that, because we’re Christian now, our lives must be perfect.
It’s like the person who does not want to become Christian because they’re not good enough yet. We become Christian because we’re not good enough, and agree with God we can never be good enough, and that that’s okay! That’s what a Christian is; we know we’re not good enough, but that Christ is, and that is good enough for us and God.
What Christians of the world wished the world knew about Christians is that we are sinners. We haven’t got our lives together at all, but we are committed to trusting God to help us. We acknowledge God accepts us as we are, knowing that we never get our lives together.
Where we as Christians get it wrong is we start to push our agendas onto the world. Little wonder we feel we’re persecuted; but, the world pushing back is not persecution, but a simple reminder that we’re to live out our faith humbly, accepting others, loving the unlovely in others because there is unloveliness in us, including the outlier, giving the needy our compassion, and forgiving our enemies. It’s doing our kindnesses when we won’t be found out. It’s not about how clever we are, or how big or fancy our church is, or how famous our pastor is, or what we know. These are all shadows of the image of perfection we hunger to project.
Christians don’t attend church because that’s where all the perfect people gather. They attend because they crave Jesus who is gradually bringing them to wholeness in and through His church.
The message of the cross and the resurrection is good news precisely because it frees us from the pressure of portraying our lives as perfect.
As Christians we must accept criticism that we’re judgmental and hypocritical, because, like everyone else, in the flesh we’re weak. Nearly everyone tends to be judgmental and hypocritical. Just because we’ve entrusted our lives to God doesn’t mean we’re saved from ugly, wrong, and sinful thoughts, words or behaviours.
We just hope we can contain our wrongdoing, because we wish for God to be glorified in us. But we will still get it wrong, and the world needs to see Christians leading the way in owning up, repenting, and reconciling. The world needs to see us as honest, showing them how important truth is to us, with a willingness to lead responsible lives that honour and lift up others’ lives in the process.
The irony is we are most Christian when we do stuff up and admit it and make amends.
As Christians we need to stop pretending we have life sorted. The realer we are regarding the complex challenges of our lives, and the more we hold ourselves to account for missing the mark, the more people see an authentic faith operating in us — a faith that works.