Abbess Brigid of Ireland
Abbess Brigid of Ireland
No, really. Bear with me.
There is an attitude in popular evangelicalism that insists faithful Christians should consider themselves very bad and unfaithful disciples. I think this is a real problem. I have some good friends who believe they aren’t faithful Christians, though I believe – and this with a certain ferocity – that they are indeed good and faithful followers of Jesus. So what’s up?
I’m not entirely sure what this springs from, but it seems to be built on the notion that being a Christian is about being morally perfect, and perfect in general. If that’s what being a good Christian is, I think most of us aren’t.
Now, from the standpoint of the health and healing of souls, I must say that it’s a bad idea for people to go about thinking they’re terrible, and that Jesus somehow ratifies this judgment. So let me tell you a little about what I think it means to be a “good Christian,” or better yet, a faithful apprentice to Jesus.
For a start, it doesn’t have much to do with moral perfection. Indeed, if being a faithful Christian means being morally perfect, nobody can be a good Christian, ever, this side of the eschatological consummation (or you can call it “heaven,” if you like. Yes, that will do for the moment).
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.I think I read that in a really funky book once (go check out Josh Hearne's translation work).
When we’re baptized into the Christlife, we’re given the responsibility to live in the fellowship of God’s church, and to welcome the ongoing transformation of our life into the image of Jesus. Paul’s letter to the Romans (chapter 6) characterizes Jesus as the “second Adam”: as we have been morally malformed and spiritually deadened through rebellion of our first parents, we are being transformed and made alive through the obedience of Jesus, God’s Christ. The great redemption project is about the restoration of us, and the restoration of all creation - the “catching up” of all life, and particularly all of human life and experience into the life of the Trinitarian God.
We cooperate in this by being together. We repent continually as we are brought to awareness of the rebellions in our lives, both large and small. We receive his healing as we become aware of, confess, and invite Jesus and his Church into the broken, lonely places of our lives. The natural and sacramental life of the community finds us caught up in the life of the Holy Trinity. Do we become moral? I don’t really care. I don’t know what that word means to you, but I do know that this makes us like Jesus. I think I can settle for that, too.
Jesus does call us to be “perfect.” Well, in the gospel of Matthew, the reading is “perfect;” when Luke tells the same story, Jesus tells us to “be compassionate.” In both stories, perfect/compassionate like “your Father in Heaven.” Do you know what that says to me? Be open. Be loving. Be continually transformed by the Gospel.
What can this look like? I was worshipping with friends at the beginning of Michaelmas, and we were discussing the praise of God. Someone asked (I’m not good at determining which questions are rhetorical), “Are we good at praising God?” Now, I know what the good, pious answer to such a question. I’m not new to evangelical Christianity. The good proper answer that one expects to hear in churches across the land is, “oh, we’re rubbish. We don’t praise God like we should.” So of course, without hesitation, I announced, “Yeah, I think I do alright.”
No, really. I have a little spiritual discipline. I tend to grumble and complain a bit to myself. Sometimes, I’ll even complain to the people around me (Ahem). But I have this little spiritual discipline. When I hear myself complaining in my internal monologue (and I do have one, I swear), I choose to give thanks for some blessing that I’ve overlooked in the midst of whatever has displeased me.
I’ve started to praise and thank God a lot.
I think I’m a “good Christian.” Not morally perfect. Not super-spiritual. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t big areas of my life in which I struggle to be obedient and to understand in the context of prayer. I’m not worried about being perfect. The Gospel’s not about that. I’m concerned with being a learner. I’m concerned with following Jesus more closely, and obeying his command to love, and learning to be holy. And I think that makes me a good Christian.
What do you think? Is the problem as big as I think? Is it a problem? Why do so many of us think this way? What does it mean to be a good Christian?