The preceding title is either a flagrant attempt at compliment-fishing, or 100% fact. (Example: “You think you’re a bad Christian. You’re not. You’re amazing!” No, God is amazing. Any amazement I have is by association. I’m okay with that.)
In one of my classes, I have 4 months to study, break down, and present one biblical chapter–1 John 1. In the first couple of weeks, two things came immediately to mind. One is that I am not nearly as great, pious, and all-knowing as I think I am. The second is that it is not necessarily a bad thing.
I do not advocate reveling in one’s weaknesses, or passively accepting the qualities and behaviours that should change. I think that, in order to change anything a person must admit that it’s a problem. It’s hard to acknowledge weaknesses–particularly when they come with pay-offs like attention, sympathy, and comfort, but in a weird way, vulnerabilities can be a person’s greatest source of strength.
For example, I have an image I project to the outside world. For some, it’s one of kindness, encouragement, and sardonic wit. For others, it’s reserved indifference. Both images are me, but one is an image I show people I do not know well, (or people I do know well, but do not like). It is that selective kindness that makes me a bad Christian.
However, the fact that I know that this is a problem means that I can work toward changing that behaviour. What else makes me a bad Christian? Well, there are times when I don’t feel like reading the Bible. I know it’s an integral part of my life as a believer. I know it’s a way for me to get closer to God, and I know it’s irresponsible for me to neglect it. In spite of this, I do it anyway.
I always regret it at the time, but some days, reading and studying just feels like another thing I have to do, and it’s a chore. I’m not ashamed to admit this either. People can learn from another person’s struggles, but the person first has to confess to having them. (I know I’m not the only one who’s done this.)
As a youth, growing up in the church, I always saw through the pastors and church folks who spoke to congregations as though they were on a pedestal, and everyone that sinned differently from them was a godless heathen. I did not relate to them, and unbeknownst to them, they did not relate to me either. Few things they said connected with me because they elevated themselves so far above me.
Even if the church was, in fact, full of godless heathens, to have someone focus on one’s status without any offer of a way out is destructive. Messages from God always offer correction with hope. If there’s no hope, what’s the point of the message?
I am not a good Christian, and that is what makes me a good follower of Christ. Good Christians always do and say the right thing. Their image is always on point. Good Christians can quote the scripture with ease. They pray with eloquence. They are not vulnerable because everything about them is a carefully constructed façade. I’m of the opinion if a person cannot be him or herself around God, how can they be authentic to everyone else?
In order to make any progress in my life, I first had to acknowledge that I did not know it all. As a know-it-all who wore my knowledge like a cloak, this was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. If I did not admit I was wrong, I would probably still be at my job, wondering why I was so miserable all the time. (Hint: It’s because I was too afraid to leave.)
Instead, I admitted, first to God, then to everyone else that I did not have all the answers. When I did that, the answers to questions I asked decades ago, came to me with clarity. I had liberty to make mistakes because I was no longer the smartest person in the room. Most importantly, vulnerability reunited me with the best version of myself; the one that isn’t trying to save face; appear greater than she is, or jockey for a position at the top. My best self is sincere and caring, with a lot of love and respect for every person with whom she shares this life. Including the ones she does not like.
My best self is the one that resembles Jesus the most. I didn’t know whom that was until I was able to admit that I was a bad Christian. It’s easy for me to excel when the comparative standard is low, but if the standard is the highest one can achieve, I don’t even rate. The book and chapter I’m studying highlights this point. It is a letter of caution against self-righteousness, and self-preservation, and a call to authenticity and a deeper relationship with Christ and others. I will be chasing that high standard for as long as I’m alive, and the fact that I will fall short often does not make me want to chase it any less.
Authenticity draws people because, for better or worse, they know exactly whom they are dealing with. To quote POTUS #26, Theodore Roosevelt, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Authenticity gives power to love. When a person knows he, or she has the unconditional love of someone else, it changes them for the better.
Good Christians care about how they look to other Good Christians. So-called ‘Bad Christians’ only care how they appear to God, which is why they can interact with the people rejected by everyone else without fear of losing their good image.
This is not to disparage people who live an outwardly pure life. (The term “Good Christian” can be turned back into something positive.) It is honourable to pray eloquently; study the bible often, spend time with other Christians, abstain from destructive behaviours, and follow all the rules to the best of one’s ability. However, with the world–and God watching, the outward behaviour of a person has to reflect what is in his or her heart. If there is any inconsistency, not only will a person be judged by the world, they will also face judgment by God. In other words, if a person is a fraud with warm actions and a cold heart, it will come to light.
Sometimes a person’s greatest triumphs occur when he or she is at his weakest point. When a person can no longer rely on their self-preservation, intellect, personality, and resources to get them through, they have to be more adaptable and willing to work with others. We all need companionship, and if some of the members are holding themselves above everyone else because of their behaviour, it will jeopardize the unity of the whole.
I am a Christian, not because I am strong, but because I acknowledge my weakness. I don’t hold myself above anyone else because I know that I am what I am because of the grace of God. I didn’t do a thing to earn my redemption, so I am not expecting anyone else to either. I can’t judge anyone because I do not know what is in his or her heart.
I’m only writing this to remind myself of the truth if/when I get a swelled head.