Deep spiritual thoughts on a Monday night…
A few months ago, my friend John and I were having lunch after church and started talking about life—you know, the kind of conversation you can only have after you’ve been convicted by the Holy Spirit. One of the things that came out of that conversation was a question that has stuck with me for months. And that is: What does it mean to be a “good” Christian?
So I started thinking about this a lot, even shopping it around as an idea for a book. (For any publishers reading this, here’s the pitch: Let’s ask people—as many and from as broad a spectrum as possible—to answer that one question. Then let’s compile the responses into a book and insert some entries based on actual theological expertise. We’ll call it Perspectives from the Pew: What Does It Mean to Be a Good Christian?)
Anyway, I googled the question, curious to see if I could find anything. To my surprise, there wasn’t much out there. (Ann Coulter did pop up in the search, with a quote that she thought being a good Christian was “to believe with all your heart at every moment that God loved a wretch like you so much that he sent his only son to die for your sins.” I’d say that’s actually pretty good, in spite of Coulter’s constant hatemongering.) And so Google didn’t really help me out.
But here’s the deal. Let’s say we go back to the basics and accept that salvation is through faith and not works. And let’s say we make that important faith decision and put our faith in Christ. All fine, well, and good. Now what?
I know that in most Protestant Christian sects, the “good works” part comes after the “salvation through faith” part. There’s supposed to be this magnificent transformation that happens after you put your faith in Christ that just compels you to stop swearing, start donating money to the poor, and walk arm-in-arm with your spouse on the beach with a goofy, G-rated grin plastered on your face. (I think one of the witnessing tracts I used when I was younger even featured a womanizing, booze-imbibing man seeing the proverbial error of his ways after he meets the big JC and then magically turning into a preacher.)
But really, how is the “good works” part operationalized in our daily lives? In a purely dogmatic, doctrinal sense, there are several ways people typically answer that question. For example, does being a good Christian mean following each letter of Biblical law? Then I’d fail at that miserably, because God knows I suck at that big time. Is it loving God with all my heart, all my mind, and all my strength, and loving my neighbor as myself? I suck at that, too, because I keep forgetting that there’s a second part to that command. Is it to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God? I triple suck at that because I rarely walk humbly with God and keep thinking I can do things myself. (Craig Groeschel called it “practical atheism.”)
So does that mean I’m a bad Christian?
Before anyone answers that question, I can with a clean conscience say that I try to be a “good” person (whatever that means). But I think many of us Christians forget that in the end, being a “good” Christian has less to do with us and more to do with God.