I’ve often heard people say. “I’m a Christian—I’m a good person!” Whereas, of course, being a ‘good person’ isn’t what makes you a Christian, and being a Christian doesn’t make you a good person.
Being a Christian is about accepting that Jesus died for us, to save us from the consequences of our natural human condition: from sin, the kind of behaviour which sets us apart from God and, inevitably, one another. (Hopefully, though, if we choose to follow Jesus then we will try to follow his teaching and try to be a ‘good person’ in order to honour God.)
I know some wonderful people who live what we’d call ‘good lives’ but who don’t believe in God. And I know Christians (including me) whose behaviour can make me wince. Some people see this as hypocrisy: “Hah! How can that person call themselves a Christian? Look what they just did!”
The fact is, Christians are Christians because they know they do wrong things, not in spite of doing them. Churches aren’t full of people who think they’ve got it all sorted: they’re full of people who know they haven’t got it sorted, who know that they need help, and know that only God can sort it all out for them.
It’s in our human nature to be tempted to behave wrongly. It’s so easy, isn’t it? To put our own interests first, to take what we want, to rationalise away our own bad behaviour. While we might congratulate ourselves for never having robbed a convenience store at gunpoint, do we tweak our taxes to pay a little less? Often we excuse our own bad behaviour (if we even recognise it at all) by claiming:
- “It’s victimless—I’m not hurting anyone!”
- “I’ve never got caught; who will ever know?”
- “It may be wrong, but it’s a not a BIG wrong!”
- “I know I shouldn’t really, but it’s a laugh!”
The thing is, where do we draw the line? Some of the people who got caught up in looting from shops in London during the 2011 riots were shocked afterwards that they’d taken part. They’d got caught up in the moment, and even those who avoided arrest still had to confront their own behaviour. Can we ever be sure we’ll do ‘the right thing’ when it counts?
We can’t be good on our own. Every day we walk a tightrope, and it’s all too easy to fall off, given the right (or wrong) set of circumstances. We need God in our lives to keep us on that straight and narrow, to be our example and to be our conscience in us.
In the book of Romans [NT], Paul says: “I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me… Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
So we can’t help but be sinners—and we can sometimes be surprised by our own capacity for sin. But we can choose to respond to what Jesus Christ has already done for us: paid for our sin on the cross, and made us acceptable before God.