“The Gospel is the power of God for the beginning, middle, and end of salvation. It is not merely what we need to proclaim to unbelievers; the Gospel also needs to permeate our entire Christian experience.”
—Jim Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation as If the Church Mattered (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 27.
Why are their so many Christians who are simply terrible people?
Why the hypocrisy, the gossip, slander, selfishness and sin? Why are self-professing “Christian” businessmen often the most shady ones around? (And terrible drivers while supposedly donning His symbol.) Everywhere we look, it seems everyone lives the same way. Believers are no different, it seems, than the world in marital faithfulness, morality, and convictions. Perhaps you’ve heard of the genesis of the new hit TV show on ABC, GCB, the first two words standing for “Good Christian” and the third word will be up to your imagination [a friend’s take on it, with an answer to this same question].
How can someone claim to to know God, yet proceed to use people to their selfish ends? Indeed, the Apostles asked the same question.
This is the primary question I get asked when talking with people who don’t follow Jesus (and with those who claim they do). Across the board, everyone is perplexed by this. Sure, many ask why a good and loving God can allow so much suffering and evil in this world, and that’s a worthy question to wrestle with (and I have). I love wrestling with that question out loud with people, because it means we are thinking and feeling, and realizing we have very little capacity to change the evil in this world.
Back to the question at hand: Why are there so many bad Christians?
In politics and in war we like to separate people into two groups. Can you guess the two labels we give them?
Yep. The good side and the bad side. There are “good” people and there are “bad” people. We teach our kids this from the first day. Want to guess which side we are on?
So, we ask why do bad things happen to good people? It only happened once.
Let’s rearrange that question: Why do good people do so much bad?
Our hearts remain under the sway of sin until death, and even we who hope in Christ still fall prey to our sinful desires. That makes sense, and I get that. But, still, why are some people painfully unaware of their leachery?
Think of the good side and the bad side. We each have both. No one is all-good (except God), and few are all-bad. We’re a mixed bag, overestimating our good and underestimating our bad. When parents compensate for their kids laziness, greed, and waywardness by not confronting their kids or calling them to maturity, the people spirals out of control. . This happens in our homes and our broader society. That’s why when a lazy person gets let go from their job, he doesn’t get the clue that he was the problem. They were only downsizing, not needing that position” he thinks to himself. “My boss had it out for me from day one,” he reassures himself. It’s all their fault. Really? Perhaps there are situations where this happens, but when we encounter problem after problem, we must ask ourselves is “they” are really the problem. All my problems have one thing in common: me.
Consider the Story
A huge part of the problem is the story we’ve grown up believing. We’re told from infancy — at least here in the West — that everyone is amazing, that our independence is the main thing worth fighting for, and we can do anything we want with our lives! That’s Stuart Smalley’s schtick, but it must not be ours. Is everyone really amazing? If so, then why are we so upset when they appear to no longer be amazing? Let’s keep pretending we are good and do good. Let’s keep pretending that our personal freedoms merely empower us but don’t harm others when we live in greed. Let’s keep pretending that our affluence here in the West has not contributed to the poverty abroad. Let’s keep asking Jesus why He allows so much injustice and pain in this world, but not wait long enough for Him to ask us the same.
Let’s keep being proud and greedy, not calling each other on our foolishness.
Oh wait, that’s what got us into this problem in the first place.
Consider the story you find yourself in. Consider the relationships around you. Do these people challenge you to follow through on your promises? Do they care enough to walk you all the way through frustrations and trying circumstances? Do they patiently help you realize you are at least part of the problem? Do you look at them and think, “Dang, I want to follow Jesus the way that person follows Jesus!” Have you been confronted with your own evil?
(Am I making you squirm with all these questions? Where you hoping I was going to take aim only at everyone else “out there”?)
The challenging (and great) book quoted at the top explores the various ways the church seeks after spiritual growth today, and fails. It’s dealing with the crisis we have in theological practice, which is a fancy phrase for obedience and maturity. The author brings us back to the biblical and historical truth of real, sustainable, ambitious growth, which comes through the Gospel. The truth of Jesus must permeate every area of our lives, constantly. Jesus is not only offering us heaven when we die. He comes to rescue us in this life too.
He will not stop until His life has overtaken every square inch of your life.
What Jesus does for us, He then does in us, and will do through us as we trust in and obey Him.
(Re-read those last two sentences. From my vantage point, if Jesus is not doing something in you, rearranging your life, then you do not grasp the grace of God in what He has already done for you.)
For many people, Jesus is their consultant, not their King. So when He says to do something, they can easily think of others who need His advice more than them. All their lives they’ve been reinforced with the mantra “I’m exceptional!” and when challenged the message becomes something that others may find useful.
God grows us by challenging us to change, to become who He redeemed us to be. He doesn’t want to be our soul-mate, that person who loves us just the way we are and won’t make us change. True love demands changes, becomes change is the sign of life and growth. Change takes time; be ambitious by having long-term goals for your change.
Non-Christians do not have the privilege of being changed by Jesus. Indeed, they will not even think of knowing Jesus as a privilege if all the Christians around them living selfish, proud and greedy lives. Many non-Christians I know really like Jesus, and want to know more about Him. Yet when they look around they see terrible representatives of Him. I remind them that they must not use that as an excuse, and we get back to the core issue for each of us: it is not politics or morals that are the issue here. It is our pride and greed, and who can save you from yourself?
Everyone is being told a story; about their significance, and how they can find salvation and fulfillment anywhere but in God alone. Is your life telling that story? Or, will you become a minor character in the big Story, where Jesus is the Hero, and every scene — your whole life — gets to point to Him?
As much as we shall know ourselves, consider how Peter put it, that may we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Consider the confidence Paul had in God when he wrote:
Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.
—Romans 16:25-27 (ESV)
Fleeing pride, greed and foolishness today, choosing instead to enjoy God by submitting myself to Him and His will, relying on His power and provision, learning from His wisdom, which is far superior than my limited wisdom.