Saturday, May 7, 2016


What would you think if you overheard a friend tell someone that you were not a good Christian? Of course if you claimed to be an atheist, Muslim, or Buddhist you would not in the least disagree, though you might wonder about the motive for such a confused statement. But let's assume that you see yourself as a Christian. In that case, what would you think of those words? Would you think them to be judgmental or hypocritical? Might you feel a bit offended? Now let's say that the next day you overheard another friend talking about you, and that person said that you were a good Christian. How would you respond to those words? Let's evaluate more closely.

The Surprise in a Good Question

Are you a good Christian? There are only two possible answers. If you are not a Christian at all then the answer is obvious. But if you are a Christian, then what does it take to be a good one? I live in a part of Utah which may be the friendliest and most expressively religious part of the USA. Ninety percent of the people claim a heritage with the Mormon Church and all of them now claim to be Christians. Outsiders may say that they are not, but they claim to be. I discuss religious matters with hundreds of Mormons annually and commonly inquire whether they consider themselves to be good. Nearly all Mormons tell me that they see themselves as good. I always ask curiously how they come to that conclusion. They then always explain that they simply compare themselves to other people. One USU student said that she was good compared to everyone else. When I then ask how they would do if compared to Jesus, all stop smiling and say they would not be good. The conversation usually turns humorous at this point as they all declare that it is not good to compare oneself to others, but that we all do it. They are often surprised that they think it good to compare oneself to Jesus. They also say that they don't like people looking down on them but freely do it to others to feel good about themselves. Do you see the quandary this puts us all in?

Now back to our question. If we honor what my Mormon acquaintances tell me, then it is never good to compare myself to you, my wife, or any other Christian to determine if I am a good one. The Apostle Paul declares in 2 Corinthians 10:12 that it is not good to compare myself to my past performance. Now compared to Jesus I am a failure. How about you? Thus no one is a good Christian if being a good Christian is based on right behavior. But what does God see when He sees a Christian? Certainly He notices our behavior. But when He sees me as a person He sees me in Christ as dead to law--as dead to my old identity under the obligation to always do what was right. My righteousness was corrupt, lawless, and sinful. Christ took my righteousness, my identity as a law breaker, and gave me His identity as a righteous son. Because of the cross He could do this. It is a real identity exchange; it not an illusion. It is not just God checking a box in heaven and then continuing to relate to me like I am still in my old identity as unrighteous under law. I really am always in Christ and thus am always in a right relationship with God. God sees me as being as righteous as He sees Christ because Christ is my righteousness. This means that my behavior is not my righteousness. 

Identity or Behavior?

So in God's judgment--which is the only one that really matters--I am always righteous and He always smiles on me because of Christ, even at my worst. This implies that God always sees me as a good Christian because of Jesus. Thus to be a Christian is to be a good Christian--to be filled with all goodness as Paul says in Romans 15:14. This is true for you if you are a Christian. Our question reveals how much we are gripped with seeing ourselves and all other people through behavior. Behavior is important, but it needs to be kept in perspective. A non-Christian who works hard and stops most of his sins is still trapped in his identity under law under God's good reaction against all evil. I live surrounded by some really nice people who hate the gift of righteousness with a passion. They are in big trouble with God if they don't swap identities with Christ. It is important for us saints to take seriously our role as God's ambassadors of reconciliation to these nice lost people. The behavior of Christians also concerns God. He cares so much about it that he has made our good behavior the work of His Spirit. I suggest that the Spirit always points every saint to the person and work of Christ--to perfect love and righteousness as a gift--and when we hear the voice of the Spirit and keep our minds set there, then the fruit of the Spirit flows out effortlessly to everyone we meet. This sounds like good behavior to me. God worked at the cross, and when we remember the meaning of that work, then we work God's way.

Identity, identity, identity. Right thinking leads to right action.

The answer to our original question depends on whether you are thinking of behavior or identity. God thinks in terms of identity. Which will you think in terms of? It is critical to learn to think and speak clearly so that God gets the glory and we don't quench the work of the Spirit. I suggest that you start by pondering the meaning of your identity as fully righteous in Christ, then begin thinking about how that identity applies to all the Christians you know, and finally ponder how it applies to all the non-Christians you know. Especially apply this to the obnoxious people you know--non-Christians, Christians, and yourself.

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