Recently, I heard an accusation about Christians that, frankly, I’m getting a little tired of hearing. They say something to the affect: “Christians are hypocrites and they are why I don’t attend church.” I was once confronted by a parent who before our meeting did some “research.” This pre-meeting study included a look through my schools website and my own classroom policies and desires. I express my desire to glorify Christ in all I do, including in my classroom. This parent, who was understandably upset, said something to the affect, “That doesn’t seem to have glorified God.” In other words, teacher, “you failed to glorify God.”
Yup…. You hit the nail on the head. (But, I could have said that on the phone and saved the trip for another time)
What in the world is up with people using the “this is a Christian school” or “you’re a Christian” line, as if to say, “aren’t you supposed to always do it right?” Last time I checked there was one who did everything right, and he was crucified, buried and exalted to the Father (for me a sinner). Have we really got to the point in Christendom where the larger Christian world and the outside world all assume we Christians are the “got it together” type?
I get it, though. Yes, Christians sin, which might lead some to call them hypocrites. But, hypocrisy is when you put an image of yourself far higher than reality seems to support. Do people do this? Sure. Do Christians do this, and have I done this? Absolutely. Non-Christians? Sure. Yet, the church gets blamed a lot. I believe this is so because we/I may have forgotten an important reality about Christians. This reality is best described by Steve Brown in his book Three Free Sins. In it he writes (no page number because it is on a Kindle):
“When you joined the church (if you’re a Christian), you announced to the world that you were sinful and seriously screwed up. The church, someone has said, is the only club in the world where the only qualification for joining it and staying in it is that one be unqualified. The Bible and systematic theology tell us that we are sinners who sin. The church’s confessions of faith add that same assessment. The liturgies have prayers of confession. All point to the fact that we’re screwed up… and not just a little.”
Did you catch that? The church is not an announcement that you have it all together, and now you’re making that last, great decision by joining the church. No. You join the church to confess you don’t have it all together. You (as do I) confess that in the depths of your very heart you are an idolatrous, selfish, murderous, lustful, coveting, dishonoring, lying cheat who needs desperate help to be what he’s called to be, a man or woman who glorifies God (Isa 43:7). The church is a place for wounded and sick people to get well, not a country club where perfection is the minimum entrance requirement.
Now if you understand this, it is quite freeing. You live in this freeing reality and you live knowing I’m not in Christ because I am good (Eph. 2:1-10). I’m in Christ because He is going to make me good (2 Cor. 5:17-21). Then, when we walk among the world-dwellers, we don’t walk with an heir of superiority (because we are inferior; see 1 Cor. 1), but of humility (Phil. 2:1-11). After all, if our church attendance is an open confession that I am “screwed up”, what right do I have to look down upon other “screwed up” individuals? None. Furthermore, if I’m “screwed up” (and I am), I won’t be so incredibly bothered by people calling me out as being “screwed up.” Why? Again, because it was the truth, and the truth told me again of my desperate need of Jesus.
Sure, my particular sins may be different; yet, we both suffer from the same pride-sick soul. Church is a place where fellow travelers find companions for the rest of the journey. Church is a place not where we should hide our failures and sins, but confess them and bear them openly before others. Confession brings healing (1 John 1:9; James 5:16). Church is also a place where much grace and love is given. We love much because we’ve been forgiven much (Luke 7:47).
I’m screwed up (and so are you). There is no hiding it (though for years I tried to). I try to share how I need Jesus because of my own record of failures with my students (though, minus all the unnecessary details…it is a classroom, you know). They know I’m not squeaky clean. Rather, I’m quite the opposite. My sins are more like scarlet (Isa. 1:18). So, when students come to me to talk about issues (and, they do!), they don’t worry about judgment. Why? I often tell them, if they knew the history of the man teaching Bible, they might want a new Bible teacher. I know I cannot condemn anyone because I know a little about my own heart, and it isn’t good.
Humility and a willingness to accurately represent ourselves would go a long way in correcting some of the world’s perception of the church. That doesn’t mean we’ll become best friends with the world. It does mean, however, that as we live lives honestly in our broken condition demonstrating not superiority and power, but meekness and humility, when we sin we will only be showing the world who we’ve always claimed to be. In the midst of us showing the world who we really are, we will also be able to show the world who Jesus really is.
Hear Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians. Notice how he emphasizes not the power and strength of Christians, but the power, strength, love and majesty of Christ who dwells in the Christians. He prays, “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Phil 3:14-21)
It’s about what Christ does in us, not what we do. Like Paul, I confess (Rom 7:18) “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” Why can’t I carry it out? Steve Brown said it. I am “screwed up.” Yes, world, Christians are sinners who sin. We will fail you, but we are never failed. And, the one who never fails us, Jesus, would never fail you, either.