5 Things to Keep in Mind When Christians Blow It

What are we supposed to think when Christians fail to live out their faith? Occasionally, those failures grab headlines—like nationally known pastors who have to step down from their leadership positions for various reasons, or politicians disgraced by morally compromising situations. More often, it’s the everyday sins of average Christians that never seem to be in short supply: being insensitive or selfish in a relationship, failing to carry out responsibilities at work, being harsh and impatient with kids, speaking poorly of others behind their backs, and so on.

Understandably, the gap between what we say we believe and what we actually do can make Christianity less credible to those on the outside looking in, and it can genuinely discourage the faith of others who are trying to follow Christ. Either way, we need to keep a few important truths in mind:

Christians are sinners. This is a truth we find over and over again in the pages of the Bible. And that means no one should be afraid to admit this, whether we’re speaking with people inside or outside of the church. Nor should we minimize the seriousness of sin and its destructive effects. But simply put, there’s only been one human being who’s walked the face of the earth in moral perfection. Even his closest followers regularly blew it, sometimes in dramatic fashion.

It proves the need for the gospel we talk so much about. This obviously flows from the preceding point. No one graduates to self-sufficiency when it comes to dealing with sin. None of us can control or conquer it on our own. There is no plan B: we’re all in desperate need of the grace that comes to us only through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

The failure is revealing, but so is the person’s response to that failure. Again, none of us should be shocked when Christians blow it. Those sins, whether big or small, regularly and vividly reveal the truth of what we’ve been saying so far. But if we’re to find encouragement in these situations, it may come in how people respond to their sin. It’s one thing to fail, even badly. It’s another to persist in that failure, or to deny or downplay it. On the other hand, God often confronts us with our sin and its consequences so that we can see it for what it is, humble ourselves, and seek his grace. And while that kind of humility doesn’t automatically make all the problems go away, it is a positive sign that God is at work.

Yes, people who aren’t Christians may demonstrate better character than people who are. But that’s not the whole story. Another thing the Bible is clear on is that God doesn’t give his good gifts only to Christians. Far from it. And character is no exception. Which means that people who hold other religious beliefs and worldviews may regularly demonstrate better, more exemplary character than their Christian friends and neighbors. Given that, however, we need to remember a further point. In the words of C. S. Lewis: “Christian Miss Bates may have an unkinder tongue than unbelieving Dick Firkin. That, by itself, does not tell us whether Christianity works. The question is what Miss Bates’s tongue would be like if she were not a Christian and what Dick’s would be like if he became one” (Mere Christianity).

Growth doesn’t happen all at once. God promises us that he will make us more like him. But for various reasons, he hasn’t promised to do it all at once.* In fact, the Bible regularly points us to the reality that being shaped into who we’re meant to be is process, one that won’t be completed in our present life. When someone’s moral failure (including your own) frustrates or discourages you, remember to take the long view. What will that person’s life be like in another year? What about ten years from now? It’s no empty cliché to say that God isn’t done yet.

 

*For a really helpful book on this subject, check out Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid.

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