There’s a bumper sticker that you can sometimes see while driving on the roads in the States. It reads, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” When I first saw this pasted on the back of some Christian’s car, I liked it. I agreed with the message. Something resonated well with me. There was truth in the words.
That was because I was so tired of interacting with so many Christians around me who were preaching a holier-than-thou message and having a holier-than-thou attitude. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all Christians striving to live a life above reproach and become more like Jesus. But it’s the looking-down attitude I don’t like, and I don’t think many non-believers like it either.
This is the tension we live in as Christians. On the one hand, we are to try our very best “to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Jesus.” (Luke 9:23) Who we are, what we say, and what we do should reflect the love, grace, and holiness of God. And on the other hand, we know that “the good we want to do, we fail to do; and the bad we don’t want to do, we keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19) As long as we live on this earth in this body of flesh, we will continue to sin.
How then do we, as Christians, live in balance of this tension?
First, let us humbly keep our focus on the fact that we, as people and as Christians, aren’t perfect. The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) This is why we need a Savior in Jesus Christ. And this fact doesn’t change even after we become Christians. The previously mentioned words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 7 attest to this.
This is where our faith should begin: to humbly accept the fact that we are sinners, that we are not perfect, that we make mistakes all the time, that we do bad things all the time. But because of Jesus, we are forgiven, which means that without Jesus, we’re in big trouble. That reality should humble us. Humility is key here, because if we truly understand this, there is no way we can have a holier-than-thou attitude toward others.
The Apostle Paul understood this idea of humility very well. He, as a Christian, referred to himself as “the chief of sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15) He cried out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24) This is Paul who said this. This is Paul, who is credited with writing one-third of the New Testament. This is Paul, who gave his life for the cause of Christ. If the Apostle Paul is this humble about his shortcomings, what right do we have to be proud of our perceived righteousness?
Second, let us boldly proclaim the fact that our sins are forgiven and our relationship with God has been restored only because of what God has done. The Bible says, “My salvation and my honor depend on God. He is my mighty rock, my refuge.” (Psalm 62:7) Isn’t that a beautiful picture of our relationship with God?
A mighty rock: solid, sturdy, magnificent. And what do we do with this rock? We stand on it! The Bible says, “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” (Psalm 40:2) God lifts us up. He puts us on solid ground. Our relationship with him is secure. His promises are unwavering. His help is strong.
A refuge: safe, comforting (not comfortable…big difference here), inviting. And what do we do with this refuge? We go inside it! The Bible says, “I will say of the LORD: He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:2) God protects us. He comforts us. Our relationship with him is trustworthy. His mercy is tender. His faithfulness is unending.
We can’t be bold about our own righteousness, but we can be bold about the way of forgiveness and salvation that God made for us: Jesus Christ. “The incomparable riches of God’s grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:7-9)
And third, let us shine forth this message in word and in deed. The Bible says, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
This is the proper order of where our actions come into play concerning our faith. Our actions can’t save us. They count for nothing in terms of helping to earn our salvation. But our actions can help in leading others to salvation. When non-believers hear our words and see our actions, they can either be drawn to God or turned off to God. This is where our actions are so important: they bear witness to God.
As a Christian, who bears the name and reputation of Jesus Christ, what do your actions look like? Do they draw people to God? Or they draw people away from God? I say this as a personal challenge, as one who feels cheated and kept away from the Christian faith for 5-6 years of my life because of the horrible witness of my Christian friends around me during my years in junior high and high school.
Here’s a hard reality check:
To the kids: How’s your language? If you use bad language of any kind, you’re a hypocrite! How can you sing praise songs to Jesus at church, and with the same mouth spout out such filthy, smutty talk? What kind of music do you listen to? If you listen to songs about sex, drugs, and hurting people, you’re a hypocrite! What kind of stuff do you post on your personal social media pages? If you write bad things or post pictures of yourself in compromising poses, you’re a hypocrite!
To the adults: How’s your attitude at work? Are you always tired, complaining, and giving half-assed effort? You’re a hypocrite! Do you gossip, talk bad about others, and speak rudely to those serving you? You’re a hypocrite! Do you flirt with co-workers? You’re a hypocrite! Do you take stationery from the office for personal use because it’s “free?” Do you lie or cheat on your income tax filing? You’re a hypocrite! Are you immature, selfish, stubborn, arrogant? You’re a hypocrite!
So, I’ll ask you again, as a Christian, what kind of witness are you being for Jesus? Do your speech and actions accurately represent God? Or do they drag God through the proverbial mud, and keep your non-Christians friends and co-workers away from God and in that same mud?
Now, let’s clear up some misconceptions about why we, as Christians, should do good deeds:
1) Giving money to the poor because it makes us feel good about ourselves
2) Helping an old person carry groceries because it’s the right thing to do
3) Volunteering at an orphanage because we feel sorry for abused children
4) Re-gifting chocolate to Pastor Andrew in the hospital because you’re trying to get rid of your chocolate stash at home in order to lose weight
5) Feeling like we belong at church because we do all of these good things
These reasons aren’t bad reasons in and of themselves. Actually, they are quite good and admirable. The only problem is, they stop there. They stop with just us, just our feelings, just our satisfaction, just our crusade.
The reason we, as Christians, should want to do good deeds is so that people may see our good deeds and praise God. It’s not for our benefit. The goal of being a Christian is not to try and become a good person. Becoming a good person should be a natural byproduct of our humility and God’s power in our life. The goal of being a Christian is to glorify God with our life. Our good deeds help in glorifying God when people see our actions and ultimately attribute them to God.