How can we explain the contention between the believer who fails to exemplify his faith through word and action, and the unbeliever who looks down on faith as a fallacy of the age—judging the believer based on the very moral and spiritual grounds they claim to reject in the first place? I would like to take a closer look at this issue here.
IF NO ONE IS PERFECT, THEN WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN?
One of the most tragic arguments baffling the mind of the unbeliever is the idea that once a believer, a person is automatically perfect. The reason this is a fallacy is because no one belief makes a person perfect. Digging deeper still reveals the imperative argument demanding a definition for human “perfection.” Some might expect perfection to come in the form of character or moral pursuit—and if this is so, what does a perfect character with scrupulous moral pursuits look like?
In my previous article, “Disbelief & Finding My Way Home: Part 2,” I explain what I believe Christianity is. To reiterate, here is how I define Christianity:
“—putting my relationship with Jesus first and seeking Him when I forget to do that. Being a Christian means humbly pursuing Him and coming back to Him when I lose track of that pursuit. Christians are not perfect people who have decided to stop pursuing a life of denial, nor do we think we’re perfect because of our decision to accept Jesus; Christians are sinners who recognize their sin and acknowledge their need for a Messiah capable of and willing to extend mercy, grace, and love through sacrificing Himself in order to prevent us from experiencing the eternal judgment that we actually deserve.”
That said, I do not believe faith makes any person perfect; we’re all capable of and prone to flaws—before and after faith. A person’s faith, if anything, gives them more reason to predict their failure to ever become perfect by humbly admitting their need for a Messiah in Christ. Again, if anything, a Christian recognizes more so their need for a Messiah in Christ because of their imperfections. In other words, Christianity doesn’t perfect; it humbles. Where do people get this idea that Christ-followers believe they have everything figured out? From Christians who project their faith as the moral insignia of pride. Let me explain.
MORAL DOMINANCE & FIGHTING THE WRONG BATTLE
When a Christ-follower gets caught in the trap of believing faith-based morality is grounds for ostracism or for criticizing the unbeliever, the humility of their faith as been compromised for the pride in their choices. The tragedy is divulged in how a Christian disparaging atheism’s lack of belief is no more effective or correct than an unbeliever condemning Christianity’s open-mindedness. What needs to be noted here is the dichotomy revealing how the misplaced disparaging of the atheist’s lack of belief allows no room for humility or compassion in the censorious believer. Capitalizing on the belief that one is more right than another does nothing short of mistakenly prove to the unbeliever that what is most important to the Christian is their pride in their beliefs and how it trumps doubt, when in fact the fight is taking place on a different battlefield altogether: The believer is convinced that proving their belief to be correct to the world is more important than being a living example of how faith in Jesus as Lord changes one’s life from the inside out—which has nothing at all to do with winning arguments, but renewing hearts.
The abusive treatment of the believer towards the atheist is ultimately the grounds for which the unbeliever blindly claims faith is a transparent fallacy. Understandably, from this perception—the source of the believer’s faith seems grounded in judgment, condemnation, prideful morality, and the careless freedom to live in the name of a faith which seemingly has no impact on behavior, words, thoughts, or interactions. In other words, a faith which has no bearing on renewing a person’s intrinsic humanity or lifestyle.
THE PURPOSE OF CHRISTIAN METAPHORS
There are a lot of metaphors used in Christianity. Why? There is a larger reality within grasp which does not present itself to the naked human eye—that which is tangible through the senses of faith itself. What does this mean? This means that the purpose of metaphors in Christianity is to examine that which we can barely fathom with our intellect or imagination, let alone our senses. Not to be misperceived as impossible to the imagination, Heaven itself is used both as a metaphor for the fantastical (where the very nature of painlessness and deathlessness coexist with permanent bliss and happiness) which can be sourced within our very soul through faith in Christ; as well as a literal place and location. Metaphors are not used to divide the truth of the Bible from reality, but to express how such extremities can only be gathered by taking a leap of faith out of our expectations and comfort zones and placing ourselves into the space of hope. Hope for something beyond words, beyond this reality; transcendence.
THE DILEMMA OF IDENTITY AND CHRISTIAN HYPOCRISY
Timothy Keller, in his book Making Sense Of God, writes:
“Theologian Miroslav Volf summarizes four ways that we can set and bolster our self-worth by excluding others. We can literally kill or drive the Other out of our living space. A more subtle and common way is exclusion by assimilation. We can demand that they conform completely to our own patterns and standards, not allowing them to express any difference at all. “We will refrain from vomiting you out… if you let us swallow you up.” A third form of exclusion could be called “dominance.” We let you live among us and maintain your identity, but only if you assume an inferior race—not getting certain jobs, attaining particular levels of pay, or living in certain neighborhoods. The fourth kind of exclusion is abandonment. That is, we exclude the Other by disdaining and ignoring them, taking no thought for their needs. The reason we indulge in these attitudes and practices is that by denouncing and blaming the other it gives us “the illusion of sinlessness and strength.”
When a Christian denounces the unbeliever for their doubt instead of loving them in their unbelief, they make the mistake of identifying with the egocentrism of pride rather than the selfless character of Christ. When this happens, pride takes the position of one the four aforementioned reflections of self-worth. But when a believer’s self-worth is not rooted in Christ, it is automatically rooted in the neediness of the world. How then can we be reborn if we still cling to the world? We cannot. We either surrender ourselves by intrinsically and authentically picking up our cross and following Him (rebirth), or we end up abandoning our cross for someone else to bear and call them weak when they won’t even carry their own (claiming the “Christian” title without “walking the walk” of a relationship with Jesus).
CHRISTIAN FACADES AND PLURALISM
The choice we make (how seriously we take our faith) defines the example we are for the world. When a person claims to be a “Christian” while still clutching the ways of the world, the unbeliever witnesses hypocrisy and assumes this contradiction to be the face of all Christ-followers. While we do not carry the responsibility of every believer in this world, we do bear the witness of every unbeliever in this world. When we do not take seriously our own faith, we leave room for the unbeliever to view the Christian faith as fallible and indistinguishable from secularism. Pluralism itself is made to look foolishly redundant in the face of Christian hypocrisy as the multifarious religious views suddenly blur together into one conglomeration; a mirage of people pretending rather than rebirthing, clutching for dear life their mental volition instead of surrendering their hearts; closing their eyes rather than opening their minds, and believing in the self—which ultimately deteriorates the soul and crushes our most intrinsic need for selfless, unconditional human connection.
CALLED FORWARD IN CHRIST
We are called to be sons and daughters of the living Christ. We can complicate the picture of what that looks like, or we can come to grips with the reality that it requires a heart full of humility. We cannot grow in Christ if we are climbing a ladder of egocentrism. Even in faith, the boastful soul does not become vanquished until we have received a heart of humility in God the Father. We receive this when we’ve had enough of ourselves. I found myself dead inside during my adolescence and desperately craved a purpose by the time I was 22. I found that purpose in Christ, but only after I realized I needed to let go of my self-made purpose, which ultimately was disguised in self-deprecation and the turmoil of this world.
Moving forward in faith means letting go of the self to make room for Christ, and in so doing, His thoughts become more of our own. We lose nothing—we gain everything. We gain a new perspective, healthier relationships, more fulfilling desires, and a deeper sense of purpose than we could have imagined was possible. Moving forward in faith—to be taken over by such an abundance of surrender, we completely lose ourselves to the call of Christ to run beyond our self-preserved path of narcissistic hedonism, ahead into the light of recognizing our need—not for the world’s attention or validation, but God’s promises to make us new, to make us right, and to fulfill us completely.
TAKEN OVER BY FAITH
If we truly have been changed, what does that look like? Compassion, grace, mercy, love, peace, empathy, boldness, faithfulness, gratefulness, thoughtfulness, forgiveness, and selflessness. Altruism could but become the floorboards for the character we are called into through Jesus. In so shining our light back to Him, we do not mistake what our faith translates into, but we express to the world how belief in Christ needs to be: All-consuming, all-renewing, and fully satiating. When we understand the love of God, we don’t miss our old selves, we beg for more of His heart to flood our own—and this, truly, is the sweetest form of desperation in this life we will ever come face-to-face with.
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