Sometimes I feel like a bad Christian. I might be the only one, but then again, I might not.
We’re surrounded by articles and books and blogs telling us what we need to do in order to be better. Spend too much time on Facebook or Twitter and you’ll be convinced that you’re not giving enough money to Africa, your kids are bratty, your diet will kill you, you’re not being nice enough to your spouse, and God generally finds your attitude crummy.
I’ve been leading a Bible study at my church on the subject of grace. After my recent talk, a young man approached me and informed me that he was deeply impacted by a very popular Christian book. He said, “After reading the book I realized that even though I believe in Jesus, I’m not doing enough to really call myself a Christian.” He felt that was a good thing. I don’t think it is.
Let me suggest that we don’t primarily need to be told how to be better Christians. Yes, part of discipleship is explaining God’s standards of righteousness. Yes, the Scripture is clear that God cares for the poor and the weak and the vulnerable, and He calls us to do so as well. It is true that Christians are called to reflect the character of Jesus.
And yet, despite all the calls to action and all the guilt trips and all the hard-hitting books, most people don’t really change. Instead, most people simply feel overwhelmed, guilty, and sad. They throw up their hands in defeat and slowly convince themselves that they will never do enough to earn God’s smile. Most of us are keenly aware that we don’t measure up, and the constant reminders only make us sad.
The message we really need to hear is that God, in His matchless and infinite grace, loves you and me despite our bratty kids, terrible diet, self-centeredness and crummy attitude. I think many leaders are afraid to preach the unqualified grace of God, for fear that it might exacerbate the problem of sin. Interestingly, Paul faced the same concern when He preached the Gospel of grace. After all, isn’t it dangerous to tell people that God loves them unconditionally and has forgiven them through Jesus?
What Paul wrote in Romans 6 is still true today. It’s the realization of God’s grace that provides us with the power and motivation to reflect Jesus! The reason that guilt trips don’t make us any better is because, like the Law, they provide a terribly high standard without any means or reason to accomplish it. On the other hand, when we accept what Jesus has done for us, and when the Spirit of God enters our lives, we suddenly have a foundation on which to build our obedience. We don’t obey so God will like us more. We obey because He’s already told us He loves us beyond imagination.
So every exhortation toward good works needs to be preceded by and immersed in the message of God’s grace. If it isn’t, it’s just the old law in a new costume. When the magnificence of grace finally seizes our hearts, we find that obedience is a privilege and joy rather than one more thing to check off our list.
So if you feel like a bad Christian this morning, the good news is that God loves you. If you feel exhausted by everything you’re doing wrong, remember that Jesus died for all of it. When you serve and obey, then, do so in response to the Spirit who lives in you. Don’t obey because somebody on the internet made you feel bad. We all need discipleship and exhortation, but for Christians the primary “law” we obey is the law of the Spirit (Romans 8:1-4).
The message we need most is that God’s grace is incredibly good news. It frees us from slavery to sin, the finality of death, and the tyranny of the Law. We don’t have to jump on the treadmill and hope God likes us today. Instead, we jump into the arms of our Savior and obey Him, because He’s proven to us in Jesus that He loves us with an infinite love.
Do you ever feel like a bad Christian? How do you remind yourself of the good news? I’d love to hear your practical ideas.
If you haven’t done so, enter your email address to subscribe (or like the Facebook page on the sidebar):