“How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own effort?” – Galatians 3:3
There is a popular notion about Christianity that once you give your life to Jesus, you are required to stop all your so-called bad behaviour and start living the holy life. If this were actually true, that would make the vast majority of new Christians (and probably even veteran Christians) a big bunch of hypocrites.
And of course, the non-Christian segment of the population frequently refer to Christians as such. “How can you tell me, “Don’t drink and cuss,” when you drink and cuss like a sailor Monday through Saturday?” Here’s another favourite of mine: “How can you talk about Jesus and love and all that when you’re always busy judging the rest of the world with your own ridiculous morality?”
I guess we give them that impression, though. Our words don’t often match our deeds. Our attitudes don’t always look like the attitudes of Jesus.
But back to this business about behaving better once you become a Christian. Lots of people approach Christianity apprehensively in regard to what they have to give up. “I drink. I smoke. I cuss. I fool around with women. I fight. If I become a Christian, I gotta give all that up, right?” How would you answer such a question?
But we do not do near enough talk about the inner work of the Holy Spirit. We don’t tell the truth near enough that the work of becoming holy is not the work of a human being but the work of a God. Being internally changed is divine.
So, what does that mean? Does it mean that the smoker, the drinker, and the philanderer can keep on doing what they’re doing? Not by a long shot. But for many, giving up smoking, drinking, or other bad behaviour doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not that they think they have a license to keep doing it, they’re just finding it hard to stop.
What it does mean is that we do no one any favours condemning or shaming new (and not so new) Christians for doing those things. I can’t say this loudly enough: a Christian’s job is not to shame people! We are to love and encourage. Yes, provide others with the help they seek. Yes, tell the truth about sin when asked. But Christians are notorious for taking truth telling to destructive and hurtful levels. That needs to stop.
Do some Christians continue in sinful behaviour for most if not all their lives. Yeah. What do we do with that? The answer to such a question requires some knowledge of that Christian’s heart. In other words, if you are dealing with an unrepentant Christian who feels they are entitled to their sinful behaviour and demonstrates that they have no interest in changing, that person needs to be dealt with differently than the one who recognizes their sin but finds it difficult to break the habit. The unrepentant Christian (yes, there’s such a thing) is not just one who continues to sin, but also shows no interest in changing their way. That person needs rebuke, the toughest form of love to administer.
The repentant Christian is not one who immediately stops sinning, either. Proverbs tells us that seven times a righteous person falls and still rises again. That means a righteous person falls many times. The rising again part refers in part to repenting of one’s sinful ways and making every effort to modify behaviour.
But to reemphasize the main point here, true change happens as a result of someone else’s work, not your own. Condemnation has been done away with. Let’s start treating each other with that in mind.
If you are a practicing Christian, here is something you need to hear. If your heart and mind is that the addicted, impoverished, and broken people dug their own grave and the rest of society is not responsible for their bad mistakes, then I ask you to wake up.