the imaginary Good Christian

21 Jul
So the Christian message is bascially this: "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
He died for us – he came further than it is possible to imagine in order to save us, forgive us, do ALL the work it took to make us right. And he didn’t wait until we were good enough, or were making a bit of an effort, or had cleaned up our act, or even had some good intentions to reform. Nope – while we were still sinners – while we were cheating on him, slandering him, totally cutting him out of our lives – it was then that he died for us.
It seems to me that we are quite good at accepting that fact on the surface. That Christ can love completely a complete sinner, that there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, but that he has to do it all for us. But it also seems to me that once we become Christians, we are quite good at changing the rules…
Christ calls us up into a new and better way of living once he has heaved us out of the mud. He changes us so that we start to want different things, to live lives centred around a different centre, to battle with our old ways of thinking and living and choose freedom. This is true. What he doesn’t do is say, "I’ve saved you from the past but if you mess up again now, I’m not sure what I can do for you, I’m afraid." Or, "I loved you when you were a hideous sinner who didn’t know any better, but now you do know better, I’m going to be terribly disappointed in you if you continue to stuff up."
We know this. But do we actually know it? It’s quite scary to ponder whether you might actually, a lot of the time, live as if he had said either of these things…
While we were still sinners – you can’t get any worse than that! So why should Christ’s sacrifice be enough for a complete sinner, but not enough for a half-reformed Christian? So out of some kind of shame and fear that we’re not a "good Christian", we try to hide stuff from him. We convince ourselves that we are better than we really are. Or that we’re worse than we really are. We cover ourselves in false humility and try to dupe God in our prayers. "Oh Lord, if it is your will, please provide this promotion for me – not for my sake but for the sake of my family, so that I can provide for them better…"
Who is this baffling new cardboard person? Brennan Manning calls them the "false self", saying, "this is the man I want myself to be, but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him."
This cardboard "good Christian" is not the person that God carefully and purposely created, and loved with such passion that he cast aside everything to die for. Suddenly they have become some sort of stranger. This made-up person is not the one he loves and wants to speak to and change and use and love. "The false self is frustrated because he never hears God’s voice. He cannot, since God sees no-one there." Mr or Mrs Pious is not a real person – they’re not in God’s phone book. It’s like God trying to phone his own child and instead of getting them on the line, with all their tantrums and traumas and rudeness and love, he is met with a very polite, automated call centre full of well-trained strangers. They sound nice, but they are not the beloved child he aches to speak to. Who’d want that?
Why do we do this? Why do we keep a little bit of us, the bit we don’t like, hidden behind our backs, stuffed down and never voiced? Do we think God doesn’t know about that bit? Do we think God only loves the nice bits of us? Are we afraid that the real us will be a disappointment to God? To the God who died for us while we were at our very worst, in full knowldge of everything we would ever do in the future and still thought it was worth it – while we were still sinners..? Is it possible to take him by surprise? Is it possible to be too bad for his sacrifice to cover?
To accept that God does not just love the "who I will be one day" version of me, but also loves me every single minute and even while I am still sinning (not loving my actual sin, of course), but that he loves me while I fail, while I am angry, while I am ashamed, while I am neurotic – that he adores all of me in those moments too, that he knows it all and loves, seems too deliciously good to be true. When you find that it is true, you discover why the gospel is really good news.
With all this hiding and pretending and trying to be a "good Christian" and in our false humility, we are robbing the gospel of its full power. We are robbing grace of the full extent of its meaning. We are robbing Jesus of being glorified – of being what he wants to be: "a Saviour of boundless compassion, infinite patience, unbearable forgiveness, and love that keeps no score of wrongs".
The moment we open our hand and show him everything we’ve been hiding, and cry, "I cannot even begin to be a good Christian!" – that’s the moment that he is glorified, that grace shines through, that we are being Christians again. That’s where real humility is to be found – in the knowledge that he loves us, all the time, even now. Even like this. Even the bits we want to hide. I think a lot of Christians fear that accepting ourselves and accepting Jesus loves us is an exercise in pride. But knowing we’re utterly loved when we also really know ourselves doesn’t make us proud – it makes us eternally humble. And suddenly we are the sinner only saved by grace again, and we can begin to live…

One Response to “the imaginary Good Christian”

  1. Charley 11/08/2008 at 10:20 pm #

    Another awesome piece, Melissimo. So true and so what I needed to read today. Sneak hug! xx

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