For the last two decades, Christianity has come under increasing fire from those who would like to see it torn from our country’s DNA. In this war, opponents have spread much misinformation about God, the Bible and faith itself. Over a period of time, these half truths and lies become so ingrained in our culture, that even those who profess to follow Jesus often say things that sound great to American ears, but betray the message of the Gospel. I ran across an example recently.
I read an article on IGN focused on in interview between a staff member Jared Petty and Yuji Horrii, creator of the Dragon Quest series. Yet, the interview did not capture my attention as much as Jered’s opening thoughts. There, he discusses how both faith and gaming influenced so much of his life. He states “One thing both fields hold in common, and perhaps the tie that most binds them in me, is that they are both intrinsically rooted in stories of trying, failing, trying again, learning, exploring, growing, and finally overcoming. They are stories of second chances and becoming better people.”
I wish to address this thought became I know that many think of Christianity this way. They might say that, fundamentally, at its core, Christianity is about falling down, getting back up, and becoming more like a saint along the way. This, in turn, means it shares a lot in common with many other religions. However, that thought misses the mark.
Certainly, in the Bible, we have plenty of examples along these lines. David had Bathsheba’s husband killed so he could take her as his wife. God punished him harshly, and he never did anything like that again. Peter denied Jesus three times, regretted it later, and eventually became a foundational stone for the Christian Church. Yet, the Bible makes it clear that this process of sinning and repentance is not the point of Christian faith. And, even more importantly, God’s purpose for our lives reaches much further than simply helping us to ‘become better people.’
As I have discussed earlier, God requires that we repent of our sins, come to Jesus in faith and, as a result, become ‘born again.’ If we do this, He welcomes us into His Kingdom. Nowhere does God require a certain behavior or righteous acts or that we become better people. Paul points out that our acts of goodness do not qualify us for heaven, but only our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He points out that God considers David highly. Keep in mind David sinned greatly long after he learned to walk with God. Did Paul state that the reason God holds David in such esteem is because David repented and became a better person? No. Paul says that God forgives David’s sin simply on the basis of David’s faith, and that God goes so far as to credit David’s faith as righteousness on his behalf.
I cannot emphasize this critical distinction enough. Certainly proper repentance and faith will lead to behavior that better glorifies God. However, this natural result should never become an end unto itself. Christianity is not about second chances and becoming better people. It’s about a loving God who died for our sins. It’s not about us, it’s about Him. We become saved and righteous in His sight when we place our faith in Him, even while we are sinners…not when we clean up our act.
Assume for a minute that we could learn from our mistakes and clean up our act without faith. The Bible says God would still be forced to condemn us to hell for two reasons. First our best acts pale in comparison to the works of our Holy God. We show our ego when we believe that our small acts of ‘kindness’ mean much to He who literally gave His life for us. Next, our good deeds never offset our bad deeds. Ask any police officer. If you commit a serious crime, you expect to pay a price even if you have many good deeds beforehand. If someone kills your loved one, you expect a judge to convict that criminal even if they lived a perfect life up to that point. We seek justice, and a Holy God can do no less. He must hold us accountable for our rebellious, hurtful deeds. Jesus paid this price with His blood for those who place their faith in Him.
I should take just a moment to address an argument that often comes up when I dive into this subject. Some would say that if we are saved by faith alone, then we can simply sin as often as we want, hurting God and those around us. Yet, this strawman argument fails because of two reasons. First, placing your faith in God requires that you abhor and desire to turn from sin. Second, once you do, the Holy Spirit comes into your life and begins the process of giving you a new heart. When one becomes ‘born again,’ his desires and priorities change. This does not imply they never sin. Again, David fell hard after learning to walk with God. We still live in the flesh. However, by the Holy Spirit, we change direction and, like David, Peter and many others, begin to walk closer in holiness. Again, this is a natural result, but not the focus of the faith.
Jesus does not ask us to clean up our act, for He is the cleaning up of our act. John proclaimed, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” We cannot do one good act that contributes to our salvation. Jesus does all of the work. He simply asks that we repent and follow Him unconditionally.
Eph 2.8 For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not by works, so that no one can boast.