THE “PERFECT CHRISTIAN” FALLACY
Many Christians sometimes live under the pressure of a fallacy that, once a believer, one must “have their act together.” This creates a problem because it undermines one of the key reasons people turn to Christianity to begin with. A person who comes to the faith is initially humbled in admitting they are imperfect, recognizing their need for a Savior and their desire for a fulfilling way to live a life of intention, purpose, and Christ-like love.
One of the problems with the notion of a believer having their act together is that if, once a believer, a person did have their act together, what would be the purpose of continual faith? If the process of becoming a Christ-follower carried the full weight of the journey of faith, what reason would a person have to remain vigilant in the faith, keeping devoted and consistent with prayer life, community, the Bible, and choosing God first above all things? There would be no need if we were made perfect through the commencement of faith. But this is far from the actual truth, and the actual truth is what I want to explore in this article.
THE ‘WALK OF FAITH’ LIFE DOESN’T END
When a person first gives their life to Christ, among the first actions usually urged by spiritual leaders of a church is to get involved. Whether by life group or volunteer work, the purpose is for the believer to get to know others within the community of Christ-followers. But, why? Is this ritual-based, or perhaps a per-church requirement? Very simply, the purpose is to encourage, uplift, and support the new believer in their faith walk. Christians not only need to continue to strengthen their faith in Christ, but also, outside support from those around them when facing the spiritual struggles of life (I.e. Doubt, defeat, depression, grief, etc.). A Christian is not called to walk their journey alone, but we are called to be part of one ‘body’ (metaphorical for ‘community’).
We, as believers, are called to reflect the Truth of Christ and be an example for others, encouraging one another in our adversities (1 Timothy 4:12) (Hebrews 10: 24-25). We are called not to be haughty, but to be able to associate with people of low positions (Romans 12:16). To be a Christ-follower is not to have the attitude of a conceited critic, looking down from the throne of pride, but rather, faith calls us to be dependent on Christ and to love others the way He first loved us (John 15:12). We can’t love unconditionally if are fixated on the belief that we are made perfect through the mere professing of faith. Surely, we are not made “perfect” in Him if, by the professing of our faith, we become so proud of our title as a Christian that we mistake loving others for closing others off from experiencing His overflowing love through our expression of gratitude for God’s grace (1 Thessalonians 3:12).
Undoubtedly, a new believer needs the nourishment of support from other believers who understand the difficulties and struggles of faith: the dryness of despair in a hurting world, the chaos of spiritual warfare, and the heaviness of the occasional stint of doubt as a result of experiencing this world at its cruelest. We, as Christ-followers, never have our act together, in the sense that we are never in so much control not to need any help. It would be beneficial to remember and remain aware that grace is given to us through Jesus’s love and volition, and not because of any act of our own. After all, it was while we were still sinners that He came and died for us (Romans 5:8). Therefore, actions are not a prerequisite for grace, but a means by which we can express our thanks for what He did on the cross.
THE DANGEROUS GAVEL OF CONDEMNATION
Still, other times Christians face pressure from unbelievers to ‘be better’ because, after identifying as a Christian publicly, they are met with criticism for not being a more “perfect” (I.e. Nice, selfless, compassionate, friendly, mannered, gentle, forgiving) person.
Critics sometimes stigmatize Christians as the failure of a promise towards perfection when they see a believer act “out of line,” because there is a fallacious notion that once a believer, faith makes the person “better” than an unbeliever. But this problematic assumption is rooted from people having witnessed believers who treat faith like a graduation certificate in the morality of life, behaving as though they know better than they really do, waving around a dangerous combination of Christianity and condemnation like a gavel.
There are many unbelievers with previous experiences in which a person treated them unfairly or unjustly while identifying themselves as Christian. These actions do not align with what Jesus intended for the community of Christ-followers to hold true to (loving others the way He first loved us), but they do not defeat Christ or His work by any means. Believers must be diligent and committed in lifting each other up to continue putting into action loving those who don’t understand the life-changing invitation to relationship with Christ, being renewed in the spirit, nor the significant role humility plays in choosing surrender to Christ.
AUTHENTIC MOTIVES IN A FALLEN WORLD
The notion of a Christian having his act together has an authentic root, however. Generally, depending on the true heart posture of the person before giving his life to Christ, a person who becomes a believer has a genuine desire to improve the manner in which he lives his life, the passion with which he loves his family and friends, and to express a more Christ-like acceptance/love/grace towards strangers. These intentions are byproducts of the Holy Spirit working in a person and moving him towards closer alignment with relationship with Jesus.
When a Christian speaks or acts in an unloving way towards a person, the claim that the believer is a bad example of the faith is a reality check that any believer is just as imperfect and flawed as any unbeliever. However, the difference is between a believer and nonbeliever is that the believer wants to improve, and to do so as a reflection of Christ’s impact on their life. The point to take away from this is the importance of discerning and distinguishing between two heart postures:
1. A person who is emptily professing they are a Christian but not acting or speaking from a genuinely Christ-like heart posture.
2. A person who identifies as a Christ-follower, makes mistakes, then repents; making noticeable changes in behavior to display Christ’s influence in their life.
While number 1 is refutable, number 2 is increasingly important to consider. The only authentically good change a believer can make is to turn their heart to Christ in humility and try again.
“REFLECTIONS” OF CHRIST, NOT ‘REPLICAS’
Christianity is merely a word until a person depicts Christ-like qualities. That means the actions of a Christ-centered individual coincide with the Truth that the only perfection that exists does so through Christ, and is merely reflected through a person who identifies as a follower. Put differently, perfection exists only through Christ (God incarnate), and therefore, to expect more “better-ness” from a person is too high of a standard from which to judge. There is always room for more improvement, so the best action to take is to choose Christ, move forward, and humble ourselves to receive His grace again and again when we mess up—which we will—taking responsibility for our sinful choices but always turning to Jesus for the strength and grace to try again. His grace is sufficient, His love unending. If we can learn to view others through a more Christ-like lens, we will then come to see others with a deeper sense of empathy, understanding, patience, grace, forgiveness, and love, while not looking down on them with unnecessary condemnation. Only Jesus is Jesus. Believers are His followers, and we must humble ourselves constantly to be redirected by Him. We are nothing without Him, but because of Him, we are made new in God’s eyes, and that is the actual Truth that will set us free from ourselves, others’ criticism, the lies of this world, and the choice to live our lives the way we would without Him.
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