There’s No Such Thing As A Good Christian… or at least why I’m not one.

Someone said to me a while ago:

“You’re a good Christian, aren’t you? I only found out recently we’re not supposed to get drunk.”

I wish I was quick-thinking enough to respond by saying that I don’t think there is really such a thing as a good Christian.

In Luke 18:19, Jesus said to someone who called him a good teacher “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”

And in Romans 3:10, the apostle Paul said “None is righteous, no, not one”.

homer bible

Homer Simpson was absolutely right when he said “take a look at this Bible… everybody’s a sinner, except this guy.” (“this guy” being Jesus)

The whole point of Christianity is that we’re not good. We’re sinners. We’re a mess.

God made us in his image (Genesis 1:27), and God is love (1 John 4:8). We’re designed to love; God’s law is summarised as: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

Our failure to live up to this design and obey God’s law of love is what the Bible calls sin.

In our culture, the idea of “sin” has become a joke, but it’s really no laughing matter.

To briefly try to illustrate why offending God is not at all funny: If I were to swat a fly, most people wouldn’t care in the slightest. If I were to dropkick a puppy, many people would get very upset. How about if I were to hit a small child round the head with a baseball bat? Why are the reactions different? It depends on the value of the offended party. The puppy is considered more valuable than the fly, and the child more valuable than the puppy. The more valuable the being on the receiving end of the violence, the more serious it is. If we think about taking it up to a much higher level, to offences against the infinitely valuable God who created the universe, we start to get a little bit of an idea of how much of a problem it is that we offend him and disobey Him.

You may be a much better person than I am, but I know for certain that you are a sinner too. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). And since God is just (Romans 2:5-6), he needs to deal with our sin justly, which means us being cut off from him, i.e. death (Romans 6:23). Not a good situation to be in.

But there’s good news…

God wants to “show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:7), so he “shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us… while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Romans 5:8-10). Jesus died so that we could be restored to the loving relationship with God that we were designed for.

Importantly, the point of Christianity is not that we do certain things (or avoid doing certain things) to show God how good we are to try to make up for our sin (“by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight” – Romans 3:20). The whole point is that God shows the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us. It’s not about what we do; it’s what God’s already done for us.

Regarding getting drunk, I think it’s worth considering what Jesus said in Mark 7: “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him… For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts…”

I’ve always found it a bit odd that people talk about alcohol as if it’s some kind of magic potion that causes people to do stupid things and makes life more fun.

As this article points out (and I think it should be required reading for everyone in the UK),

“In high doses, alcohol impairs our reaction times, muscle control, co-ordination, short-term memory, perceptual field, cognitive abilities and ability to speak clearly. But it does not cause us selectively to break specific social rules. It does not cause us to say, “Oi, what you lookin’ at?” and start punching each other. Nor does it cause us to say, “Hey babe, fancy a shag?” and start groping each other.

The effects of alcohol on behaviour are determined by cultural rules and norms, not by the chemical actions of ethanol.”

If you act like an idiot when drunk, it’s not the alcohol; it’s you. (No offence.) Similarly, if you enjoy yourself while drunk, it’s not the alcohol; it’s you.

Personally, I’ve never thought “I really want to get drunk, but I really shouldn’t because I’m a Christian.” I’ve never had the desire to get drunk. But that’s not because I’m a good Christian. It probably has more to do with the fact that I’m worried about my reputation; if I got drunk I might say or do something embarrassing that I later wished I hadn’t (actually, if that happened, it wouldn’t be the alcohol that caused it, but I guess I’ve been influenced by our culture’s expectations of the effects of alcohol too). It’s certainly more down to my own pride than me being concerned that if I had too much to drink it might lead to some sort of debauchery. So when you consider that God hates pride (1 Peter 5:5), actually my motivations for not drinking (the evil thoughts that come from within me) may be more offensive to God than someone who does have a few too many. If there is such a thing as a good Christian, the fact that I don’t get drunk doesn’t make me one.

In Psalm 104, God is praised for providing “wine to gladden the heart of man”, and Jesus’ first miracle was to produce more wine when the guests at a wedding had already drunk all that had originally been provided (John 2).

So I don’t think alcohol is in itself evil, or even the effect it has on our minds necessarily bad, but that’s not to say that getting hammered is a good idea…

In Ephesians 5:18, Paul said “do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.” So I think the reason Christians shouldn’t get drunk is that, although alcohol isn’t inherently sinful and doesn’t inevitably cause sinful behaviour, it seems fair to say that if we’re inebriated, we’re more likely to give in to temptation to act in ways that are inherently sinful. So for that reason I wouldn’t encourage getting drunk, but the point of this post is not to guilt-trip anyone into trying to live like a better Christian.

If it does motivate you to try to live in a way that pleases God more then great, but the main point, as suggested by the title, is that there’s no such thing as a good Christian. We’re all sinners, we’ve all turned away from God and lived in a way that’s offensive to Him, but if we turn back to Him and ask for forgiveness, He delights to show mercy to us (Micah 7:18).

Advertisements

It Breaks My Heart (well, that may be exaggerating slightly…)

So, Steve, how do you feel about having to leave Bath CU soon?

I’d say the song Prague (preferably the Muse version found below) gives a reasonable idea of my thoughts on that prospect.

Ok maybe it’s not quite like that, it’s more that I just like the song more every time I listen to it 🙂

However, while I do sometimes struggle to feel properly united, the CU is still easily my favourite part of my uni life, and I am gonna miss it a lot.

[[Warning: This post could possibly be described as a bit ‘feelings-y’. It’s pretty much just me thinking out loud (or on a keyboard) about where my life is going, which is probably not very interesting to read.]]

I assumed when I started uni that 5 years would be long enough to work out what to do afterwards, but apparently not. In fact, while I’ve progressed at the same rate as my course mates, I’ve got to know new freshers in the CU each year. And particularly this year, this has meant that despite my own first year being a distant memory, I still kind of feel like I’m just getting started, when actually, in a couple of months it’ll all be over.

In some ways it’s ok, even quite exciting, that I don’t know what’s next, because God knows… but I would still like to have some idea. Until now, my route through education has pretty much come about without me having to think about it. I now need to go out and find something to do next, but don’t know what I want, or what God wants. At the moment it kind of feels like my life is being cleared out, and I’m intrigued to see what’s going to replace the things that are being taken away.

It’s not exactly making me more pleased to leave the CU that people have recently been thanking me for being so helpful and encouraging. These comments, ranging from the somewhat believeable “just the fact you’re at pretty much every event is really encouraging”, to the plain ridiculous “you’re an amazing man of God”, remind me of something Joel Beeke said at the Aber conference last year:

Joel’s son wrote about his dad for a school report, saying that, while he has flaws, “he loves Jesus more than anyone I know”. Joel admitted that when he read this, he “wept like a baby”, because he feels like he loves the Lord so little.

It’s encouraging to hear that people can see things like that, even if we can’t see it in ourselves, and it’s nice to find that people are encouraged by me even though I feel like I’m doing very little that’s useful.

So in conclusion, to quote the Foo Fighters: “I wish you only knew how good it is to CU.”

…ok, so the actual words are “See You”, but this is how I hear it 🙂

The Price of Dignity

So while I was sitting in Kwik-Fit yesterday waiting for the MOT to be finished, an old man pointed to the poster shown below and said to me “Here’s a tip for you: if you need 4 tyres, get 2 done then come back the next day and get the other 2, that way you get 30% off.”

I didn’t want to correct him and make him feel stupid, but assuming each tyre costs £30, I could have saved him £12 by explaining it.

Dilemma.

Jesus Camp & The Baby Bible Bashers

I’ve expanded my TV watching from just iPlayer to include 4oD.

Jesus Camp

This sort of thing doesn’t help with the idea that Christianity is just a method of social control by brainwashing people.

As we heard at my church last Sunday, you can (and should) try to bring up your children to live Godly lives and teach them the Bible, but you can’t make them Christians.

But when an interviewer suggested to Becky Fischer that there’s a difference between learning and indoctrination, she said she thinks churches should be indoctrinating their kids more.

Fischer talks about Muslims putting weapons in the hands of 5 year olds and claims we’re at war. Now, the Bible does use language that suggests a battle, but I think she’s got the wrong idea about who we’re fighting and the way to go about it.

It’s kind of scary, I think these people would agree with my definition of Christianity, but they act it out really very differently. Whipping people’s emotions into hysteria isn’t what Christianity is about.

There’s a kid preacher here too, he was apparently saved when he was 5. He wanted more out of life, this life just wasn’t fun. At 5. Do you know any 5 year olds who already find life boring?

Some adult tells him that God has his life planned out (true), then tells him that God has written that he’s going to grow into a preacher that will shake America, “What do you think of that?” (Personally, I’m fairly certain he’s talking out of his backside).

When someone asks the kid what his favourite subject is to preach on, he replies “faith”. What? I think most preachers worth listening to would choose a favourite Bible passage to speak on, rather than say “faith”. In the clips of him preaching that were shown, he was holding a Bible, but talking about what he felt God was telling him, that “this generation is a key generation”. Definitely sounds like he’s just regurgitating what the people running the camp are saying, not much to do with the Bible.

Baby Bible Bashers

(At time of writing this is still available to watch)

This was interesting because I was less suspicious of the way these kids became Christians, but there were other issues.

Despite Samuel claiming to be saved at 3, it somehow seemed more like he’d decided for himself than some of the kids at Jesus Camp. He hasn’t experienced any other ideas though, so I think he’ll face some serious challenges as he grows up.

I don’t think ordering people on the street to repent or go to hell is the most effective way to tell people the gospel. I’m all for open air preaching, but not in the way they were doing it, with a board listing all the people who are going to hell. That doesn’t seem like a good way of getting people to listen.

Terry Durham hears voices that “sometimes sound like me, but I say no, it’s the Lord”. hmm. I can’t find or remember the exact quote, but a friend suggested something along the lines of how amazing it is how often “what God wants” matches the desires of the person who claims to know.

I reckon if it’s not from the Bible, question it. If it is from the Bible, still check it, it’s not too difficult to take things out of context and say pretty much anything you want.

His dad was made to look very much like he’s using his son for financial gain. Good preachers don’t aim for celebrity status. They wouldn’t want to be welcomed onto the stage with a round of applause. But I guess my definition of ‘good’ is different to theirs.

Ana Carolina’s dad is her choreographer. I think that’s enough said really.

Do We Have Free Will To Think About Jennifer Aniston?

In The Secret You (available on iPlayer until 27/11/09), Professor Marcus du Sautoy (a mathematician) goes in search of answers to one of science’s greatest mysteries: how do we know who we are?

It’s basically about the search for a natural explanation for our consciousness. Are our thoughts just neurons firing? or is there something more going on?

In one experiment, where Marcus decided whether to press the button in his left or right hand, the scan of his brain apparently indicated which side he was going to choose 6 seconds before he even knew himself.

Obviously scientists like things to have a natural cause, and this seems to indicate that our thoughts are predictable, and hence that our concept of free will is a bit messed up. I began to wonder if a criminal could argue that he wasn’t in control of his actions based on this, but the guy did insist that our subconscious is obedient to our conscious wishes.

In other experiments, people were shown a load of pictures, and the response of a certain neuron detected. With one patient, out of 100 pictures, it only responded to the 6 pictures of Jennifer Aniston, and only when she was photographed on her own, it didn’t respond to a picture of her with Brad Pitt.

There was other stuff in there like sticking spots to babies’ faces and giving Marcus an “out of body experience”, and I found it very interesting, but in conclusion, there’s still plenty we don’t understand.

Aber

No, it’s not a Wurzels tribute to the group of Swedes that brought us Mamma Mia. It is in fact a Christian conference that takes place in Aberystwyth.

I could just direct you to other people’s blogs about the week, Gary Brady and Guy Davies have both written a fair bit about it. However, although it’s gonna require more thought than a lot of my posts, I actually feel it would be wrong not to write something about a week that I found so challenging and simultaneously so encouraging.

So, Sunday we went for the usual Geoff Thomas option, arrived at the church 50mins before the service started and there was already a queue of about 100* people outside. The stand-out memory I have of the preaching was the brilliantly succint “HE DIE; WE NO DIE.” You can read the sermons in written form here, personally I keep checking the Alfred Place MP3 page hoping to download the audio, especially the Monday morning one that I missed.

*100 is a very rough guess, it could have been less, but I did a more precise estimate of how many people were inside when it was full and reckon it was around 550. Hymn singing sounded better in the church than in the Great Hall, despite the Great Hall containing roughly double the number of people.

Monday evening was Jonathan Thomas. I thought he was good, probably my favourite of the evening sessions, we’ll come back to him in extratime.

Tuesday morning the conference was fully underway with the first of Joel Beeke’s addresses on Contagious Christian Living. Each morning he spoke on a different person in the Bible who’s life was a contagious example of a different aspect of how a Christian should live.

Tuesday was Jephthah & his daughter (Judges 11:34-40) and their Sacrificial Submission. I don’t remember hearing before of the theory that Jephthah didn’t actually kill his daughter, I thought he made a convincing argument. It does annoy me though (I’m sure there’s a more appropriate word than annoy, but I can’t think of it right now) that if the hebrew word translated ‘burnt offering’ does not necessarily mean burnt offering, the translators seem to me to have done a pretty poor job on this passage, which begs the question, what else have they screwed up on?

Wednesday was Bartimaeus’ Christ-Centredness (Mark 10:46-52), overall I found this one less helpful than the other days, but in the last 15mins or so it was very encouraging to hear that Joel isn’t quite the super-confident evangelist that might have been expected.

Thursday was Jacob’s wrestle with God (Genesis 32:22-32) leading to Contagious Blessing and Friday was Daniel‘s Consistent Integrity.

I bought the CDs of these main addresses, and spent Saturday afternoon when I got back home turning them into audiobooks for my iPod. So far I’ve listened to the first two again, maybe I’ll add to the above when I’ve listened to Jacob and Daniel again.

I only went to one of the extratime sessions (for 15-25 year olds), but it was a good ‘un, a question panel featuring Joel Beeke and Jonathan Thomas (and a woman I forget the name of). Someone had submitted a question about whether Christians should go to the cinema.

The question was addressed to Joel first, Joel does not watch any films, doesn’t even own a TV and suggested that there are much better things a Christian can do with their time. The question was then passed over to Jonathan, who had mentioned a few films in his Monday evening talk, he describes his thinking here (there’s some amusing stuff afterwards too). Basically the conclusion was that watching films is not necessarily bad, but we shouldn’t be filling our minds with rubbish. I personally know that my head does contain a lot of rubbish (lines from Simpsons episodes, Bill Bailey jokes, song lyrics…), Joel spoke of the thousands of Bible verses his head contains. I’m certainly thinking a lot more about how I’m spending my time than I was before.

Faith or Truth

“I wish I had your faith”

What’s that about?

People seem to think there’s some virtue in blindly believing in something, anything.

I’m interested in the truth.

I’ve been reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters recently, and I think he makes some very useful points.

He tells how the “learned” people of his time (around 70 years ago) read lots of old books, but rather than decide whether a statement is true or not, they discussed what influenced the author, whether it was consistent with their other books, what stage in their development, or the general history of thought it represented, how it influenced later writers, how it had been misunderstood, the current general thinking on the subject, and the present state of the question.

Things don’t seem to have changed much in the last 70 years. No one is right or wrong, there may be advantages and disadvantages to different points of view, but what is called ‘truth’ is subjective.

It seems I’m not that good at explaining why what I believe should be the objective truth, but part of the problem is probably that people don’t believe there is such a thing as objective truth.

I’m pretty sure the faith that Christians are supposed to have is faith that God will keep his promises, not to cling on to believing he exists while keeping our eyes shut.