Christians are works in progress (WIP). I think all of us would admit that, yet even as we do, after 10 years of being part of over 20 different small groups, I’ve noticed that we don’t like to talk about it very much.
That’s not to say we never admit it. When the time is right and mood is set, we’re happy to talk about our lapses in quiet time or our failures to “put God first,” but when it comes to our struggles, feelings of inadequacy, lack of faith or just straight up sin, those things don’t come out all that much.
Why is that?
Being a Good Christian
Several years ago, a youth in my church asked me if God would still let her into heaven if she had sinned the day before. I explained, with many age-specific illustrations, that we were saved by grace, not by works, and that Jesus’ death canceled out the eternal consequences for our sins. I believe that her response, simple though it was, resonates with many Christians today: “But that was before I was saved. What about being a good Christian now?”
This is the reason I believe many of us struggle to openly admit our failings of faith and character. Because we might battle with lust or depression, question the origins of Scripture, or struggle in our relationship with family, we are unable to live up to our own expectations of what it means to be a “good” Christian and so feel like a sinful failure. Somewhere along the way, we’ve picked up the belief that we should be doing “better” after we become a Christian.
Well, you want to know the truth? You (and I) still fail and far worse than we might realize.
Most people, Christian or not, consider themselves to be morally good. They try to follow their internal moral compass, helping those around them, perhaps even knowing that they have failings, but trying to balance them out with good. The truth is that the Bible says we’re all sinners (see Romans 3 or Isaiah 64:4), that we never would have sought God without His help, and that even the good things we do are motivated by selfish or sinful desires.
For example, I don’t think I’m the only one who has a “friend” who goes to church every week but mostly because he wants God to bless his family/job/studies/love-life or who is nice to people only because he wants others to like him back.
See, it’s only when we can own up to the true depths of our egocentric depravity that we can begin to have freedom and true joy through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:8-10 tells us that to be a Christian is to be saved by the grace of Jesus who died for us while we were His enemies and who knew all the messed up crud in our lives — past, present and future. It wasn’t by our works, our attempts at purity, our aims to be holy, or by anything that we do that makes us acceptable or draws us closer to God. It is solely by the finished work of Jesus on the cross, the one thing that makes everything else look like trash.
You Can’t Earn His Love
The message of the cross is one of hope, joy and complete laziness. You heard me right. You did nothing to earn it then, and you’re not doing anything to earn it now.
It is this realization that frees us to share about our failures and to be thankful to be a Christian. It’s what allows us to accept rebukes, criticism and advice with humility. It is also what allows the church to welcome and accept all who would seek to know God, as we who were once far off have been brought near ourselves.
At the core of our faith is the life-altering truth that we are far worse sinners than we could ever know, yet Jesus still loves us. Yes, we are being sanctified (and I’ll be writing about that next week) but when we fail, and inevitably we will, we know that our identity, or our standing before God, is not wrapped up in our “success” as a Christian, but drenched in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
So in what areas are you or “your friend” still a work in progress? Sharing them on the internet is usually less scary than admitting it in small group, so feel free to practice it here.
Credits to Casting Crowns for writing “Stained Glass Masquerade” all those years ago and making me think about being a work in progress every single time I heard it. And check out Jon Acuff’s “Confessing ‘Safe Sins’” blog.