I’m a Horrible Person and it’s All God’s Fault.
It’s great to be a Christian! Not only do we get to go to heaven when we die, but we get all this stuff, too! We get our own special music and jewelry and books. We get weekly concerts with cool graphics and video (although sometimes these are kind of lame). We even get our own special “secret” language. (“He’s just such a blessing to me!”) I’m telling you this whole Christian thing has some seriously cool perks, even our very own “Get Out of Jail Free Card!” What? You haven’t heard of it? Oh, you do NOT know what you’re missing out on!
Here’s the deal: Say you’re at home and your husband/wife/mom/dad/rugrat brother/sister is really super irritating you. You can straight up yell at them, hurt their feelings and be totally jerky to them all you want. No, I’m serious. You can do all the bad stuff you want. The key is that you have to bust out this phrase afterward: “I’m sorry. I guess the Lord still has work to do on me.”
Haven’t you heard it before? It’s the best! It totally deflects EVERY possible consequence of our bad behavior! Who can possibly argue with God? Awesome right?
Sure, except that it’s totally and 100% WRONG.
Here’s the dirty little secret of being in relationship with God. Yes, God works in us “to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Phil 2:13) but we are not without responsibility. In fact, that verse I just quoted, here’s the whole thing: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Phil 2:12-13 NIV)
Work out your salvation? But I thought that it was not by works, but by grace? (Eph 2:8-9) You’re right! Our salvation is a gift, not earned by anything we do; rather, it is freely given if only we are willing to receive it. But a relationship with God isn’t limited to simply a single transaction whereby we get into heaven. A relationship with God is a daily, moment by moment thing. And that relationship affects the rest of our relationships. So when we’re jerkwads to the people around us or spew venemous and foul things out of our mouths or do XYZ, we’re failing to take responsibility for ourselves.
Being a Christian doesn’t mean that God is going to one day push a magic “Holiness” button and POOF! your bad behavior will stop. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Grab a Bible and check out Ephesians chapter 4. How does Paul start it off? Well, he’s just spent the last 3 chapters talking about all the things that God has done for us and then he says this: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Eph 4:1-3 NIV) Live a life worthy of the calling we have received? What? I have to make an effort? No see, God is supposed to do all that, right? I don’t have to make any effort; He’ll do it for me.
Head down to the passage that begins in verse 17 (but definitely go back and read verses 4-16 if you want to know why it’s important to hang around with other Christians and be involved in your local church). Specifically verse 22: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Notice that it doesn’t say, “God will take away the old self and put on you the new self.” Nope. He’s a gentlemen; He’s not going to force Himself on you.
Here’s the punchline: God starts us off on the right foot, setting us apart to be the kind of people He desires. And while He has sent the Holy Spirit to come alongside us and help us make right choices and decisions, we have to take a part in holiness. We have a part to play in holiness. We cannot make ourselves holy; only God can do that. What we can and MUST do is live the way God sees us. We must develop a habit of holiness. Now I’m not saying that you have to read your Bible for 30 minutes each day or listen only to Christian music, although those are both great things. What I am saying is that we must make it a priority to try and live life the way Jesus did. To “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” And when we mess up, because we will, let’s stop blaming God for it. It’s not His fault we do stupid stuff.
I’m so tired of Christians failing to own our own shortcomings. No wonder the world thinks we’re a bunch of hypocrites. We’ve conditioned them to believe that you say a prayer and Bam! you’re perfect. It’s true; God isn’t through with me yet. He has a lot more work to do in me. But so do I. I make the choices the affect my relationships, both with those around me and with God. So it’s time to stop blaming God for the fact that we don’t have it together. Instead, let’s acknowledge that we are not without fault. Let’s live lives of agape love, choosing to behave with love toward those around us. Because love is a choice, and so is holiness.
PS. As if my 1,000 words on the subject weren’t enough, there’s an amazing book by Jerry Bridges called “The Pursuit of Holiness.” It is really challenging and completely amazing. You can find it on Amazon (and if you have a Kindle, they do have it in electronic form). Definitely worth a read!