Well, I thought in part 2 of the previous post that I’d wrapped up my thoughts on the issue of self-deception and pride! But last night I was going through an old stack of Christianity Today magazines. I hate clutter, and was able to reduce a large stack of magazines to a single folder of articles that I wanted to keep. One of the articles was related to the issue at hand. I was happy to find that it is available on-line. Here it is: “Impractical Christianity, Faith really begins to make a difference when it stops working” by Peter Nelson.
I’d encourage you to read the article for yourself, but I have excerpted a few thoughts that particularly struck home for me, and related to my previous 2 posts on self-deception and pride.
In the evangelical tradition, we’ve sometimes thought of sin as a problem for the lost. Unbelievers need to come to Christ for forgiveness of sins. But the troubling truth is that sin is our problem, too. The Scriptures clearly show that Christians commit sin. That’s why we need a pattern of daily confession (Matt. 6:9-13); that’s why John taught that to say we do not sin is simply lying (1 John 1:8); that’s why James urged believers to confess their sins to one another (James 5:16). What’s more, the most prominent saints in the Bible—Abraham, Sarah, Moses, David, Peter, et al.—stumbled in sin again and again.
This, of course, is not to encourage sin but to help us face the facts: Authentic followers of Christ are sinners until the day they die, and the more authentic Christians further up the slope are the ones who are beginning to realize the distance between their holiness and the perfection of Christ.
The way forward for Western and other imperfect Christians is the path of humility and brokenness. Of course, humility and brokenness don’t sell very well from the pulpit, not to mention in our society…
Are humility and honest confession characteristic of our churches? Not much of the time. Increasingly common is the self-assured, goal-oriented, achievement-driven, human-centered outlook. What would the evangelistic impact be if the popular profile of today’s Christian emphasized sin and brokenness, if we just went public and admitted it:
“This is who we are, prone to wander, slow to learn, still in process, far from having ‘arrived,’ grateful for mercy … so don’t expect anything else.”
Such honesty could go a long way in reforming the “holier than thou” image Christians have in the minds of many. Those who stay away from the church because they think the saints are so saintly might see the truth and feel more welcome to come into the hospital with the other invalids and seek the Great Physician’s care. The hypocrisy factor that repels many could be reversed…
I also appreciated the emphasis of the article that the farther we ascend in holiness, the more we should realize how far we have yet to go. As I’ve blogged in the past, it is a paradox. The holier we become, the more sinful we should feel. I know this does not make sense to some people, but it does to me. I find the opposite more disconcerting – that some people think as we progress in the Christian life that we should feel more saintly and successful. But…how can we think more highly of our self, as we get closer to our Savior who humbled himself ??
Remember the many paradoxes of the Christian life…To be strong, you must acknowledge your weakness. To gain confidence, you must realize how much you fall short. Looking unto Jesus (Hebrews 12:2)…implies that we are not looking unto ourselves. Our reliance should be on Christ, through whom we have confidence before God and through whom we find mercy and grace and help. (Hebrews 4:14-16)