Repenting of Righteousness (Converting the Converted)
The main thing between you and God is not so much your sins; it's your damnable good works. ~ John Gerstner
“He’s a good Christian boy.”
“Well, I was raised a Christian, so I should know better.”
You’ve heard statements like this, right? You have heard people described as Christians who go to church and maybe don’t cuss or drink all that much - at least publicly. They are the do-gooders, the righteous ones.
That’s not Christianity.
Christianity is not a behavioral system. To call yourself a Christian is not to merely hope that you don’t go to hell and that maybe your good weighed against your bad will pan out in your favor. It won’t pan out well, by the way.
When something becomes mainstream in culture, it becomes watered down and it becomes harder to define. Take hipsters, for example. What is a hipster? At first it was a group of uniquely style-conscious people in Brooklyn, but now people call trendy suburban dads hipsters.
Christianity underwent something similar in the U.S. Because Christianity has been - and still is, by the way - the predominant religious system in our culture, the word has gotten murky and hard to pin down. You’ve got all kinds of people calling themselves Christians, and their belief systems may be drastically different.
And many of them completely ignore Jesus.
The Gospel of Good Behavior
It is completely possible - and actually quite likely - that you can brand yourself as a Christian and even think you are one without having any redemptive grace in your life whatsoever. You can go to church and small group and do the things that Christians do but never experience the transformative grace of Jesus Christ.
One of the main reasons is that for many, Christianity is self-help. Help my marriage get better. Help me raise my kids. Help me stop looking at porn. Help me to stop hating myself. On the surface, this all sounds harmless and even good, but this is very problematic.
I know virtuous atheists.
I know morally upstanding Jews.
There are many kind-hearted Buddhists.
You see, Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on righteousness. Quite the opposite, in fact. Christians are, if they are Christians at all, people who realize that they’re a complete mess. Christians are the people in sick beds, not the well visitors holding flowers.
The Monopoly of Salvation
Christians actually don’t have a monopoly on anything, but their God does. You see, what’s different in Christianity is not that we act right or treat people better. No, what is different in the Christian faith is that we ascribe not to a behavioral system of performing but rather a salvific system of accepting.
We accept our sinfulness as fundamental to our nature.
We accept that our futile attempts to live virtuously are no longer working.
We accept that we have hurt others by omission and commission.
We accept the grace of Christ to cover all of the above.
Most religions are behaviorally based with a God as the enforcer. Do these things and you’ll prosper. Fail to do them and you’ll be damned. Now this is almost true, but it leaves out a really important - and unavoidable - component: what happens when we fail? There is a treadmill of fail/do better in most religions.
The massive difference in what is offered in Christ has nothing to do with what we do, but rather what he has already done. Because Jesus came to earth to die in our place, we can knock off all the attempts to save ourselves by being perfect. The blood of Christ changed our position with God such that he now says, “You are mine.”
If my kids act up, I don’t stop loving them. Do I expect them to be obedient? Sure. Are there consequences to acting a donkey in my house? Yes. But they remain my cherished children. Their behavior doesn’t make them my kids, my DNA makes them my kids. If we are in Christ, his Spirit lives within us as a seal that we are his.
May we repent of our attempts to earn our way to God and realize that he has already come to us.