One of the great frustrations experienced by Christians has to do with how badly we have blown it.
I’m not talking about how badly we have blown it before we became Christians. I’m talking about how badly we have blown it as Christians.
There are things in our lives which we want to hide. They embarrass us! We are ashamed! And we should be!
Remember the Johari window*? Through one pane lies all the things we know about ourselves but we choose not to reveal to others.
To make things worse, we all have nonchristian friends and family members who know that we have blown it. They see it as clear evidence that we are nothing but hypocrites. Sure, they’ve blown it too. But, in their words, “At least we’re not hypocrites about it!” (By the way, they are making the same tragic mistake that Gandhi made when he said, “I’d become a Christian if it weren’t for Christians.” They are looking at us instead of looking at Christ.)
And then, of course, we have a spiritual enemy who loves to whisper into our thoughts, “You’re not real. You wouldn’t have done that if you were a true Christian.”
Add to that the abundantly clear New Testament teaching that when we receive Christ we do become new creatures and begin to walk as He walked with the power to keep His commandments–and you have the makings of a monstrous case of schizophrenia!
But it gets even worse. All around us there are people who call themselves Christians who seem to just go on sinning with impunity. They say they are saved by grace. And they perceive that their sin is no big deal. Apparently, from their perspective, God just sort of understands their unique situation and overlooks what would normally be called sin.
There are those–who call themselves Christians–who very “humbly” tell nonchristians, “I’m no different from you. I sin just as much as you do–maybe more! I’m just forgiven!” And thus they give the nonchristian the clear perception that it’s ok to go on sinning just as they are now, but if they will accept Christ they can do it in a forgiven state!
What is going on here? Are Christians sinners? or not? Do we sin just as much as we always did? Is sin really not such a big deal (after all, we’re forgiven, right?)… even though it is somehow a bad thing that, ideally, we shouldn’t do?
Are Christians the same as nonchristians–just forgiven?
And when we, as Christians, do sin, are we simply unvarnished hypocrites for having the temerity to call ourselves Christians? (Or should I say varnished hypocrites?)
Here are some Bible truths that may help us sort all this out.
1. Christians are NOT the same as they used to be. They really HAVE become new creatures.
If we tell a nonchristian, “You and I are the same except that I’m forgiven,” we are revealing that we have a horrific misunderstanding of Scripture.
The whole point of Romans chapters 5 through 8 is to convey this truth. These chapters are some of the most profound (and most misunderstood) paragraphs in the whole Bible. The old person–who we once were–is dead. We are no longer what we once were. We are new creatures with power over sin.
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2)
“knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;” (Romans 6:6)
“For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:14)
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 )
2. For that reason, Christians sin a LOT less than they once did (or than nonchristians do).
To some, that sounds arrogant and perhaps false. But if we are true Christians it is true. It sometimes seems to be false because of the large number of people who claim to be Christians but who really are not Christians at all. These people continue to sin just as much as they ever did. They claim the name Christian. They are perhaps members of some church or denomination. But their lives betray the lie.
“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16-20)
The reason it is not arrogant is because Christians know that the source of our power over sin has nothing to do with our own self-righteousness or our own will power. It has everything to do with the power of God living in us.
3. We have not yet become glorified!
We are still at war! We fight temptations coming from the world, our own flesh, and our enemy the devil. Sometimes we drop our guard. Sometimes we weaken in battle. Sometimes we give in to the temptation. There is no excuse for it. We have the power within us to say no to it. But Christians do sin. Afterwards it brings bitter grief to our hearts. It brings reproach to our Lord. And, even if it was twenty years ago, it gives a nonchristian a memory to hang on to as he points his finger in our face and cries, “Hypocrite!”
The old apostle John is extremely helpful at this point in his little letter we call 1 John.
The same John who wrote:
“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;” (1 John 2:3-4)
“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;” (1 John 1:8-2:1)
4. Meanwhile we should not be confused either by hostile nonchristians or by nonchristians who try to pass themselves off as Christians!
Just because we stumble in war doesn’t mean we are hypocrites! Open nonchristians try to use that accusation to place a higher standard on Christians (moral perfection) than God Himself does! To fall into sin because we temporarily lost our focus on our Lord is certainly not the same as excusing a lifestyle of sin. The real hypocrite is the one who claims to be something he is not. Christians don’t claim to be morally perfect yet. But they do claim to be radically different! They do claim to be new creatures! Nonchristians posing as Christians who excuse themselves to continue a lifestyle of sin are the true hypocrites.
5. One reason for the confusion all around is the loss of Biblical church discipline.
The almost total absence of Biblical church discipline has resulted in many church members “in good standing” who continue to live in blatant and open sin. The Bible teaches that the church is to graciously and lovingly treat them as unbelievers (i.e., love them, pray for them, but expect repentance before restoration). When we treat them, instead, as “members in good standing” we bring reproach to the name of Jesus, we confuse nonchristians who are watching, and we actually encourage believers to begin to think that sin is no big deal! I have a series of posts on church discipline if you wish to do further study.
When we sin, we must be embarrassed and ashamed. We must quickly confess it and receive God’s forgiveness. We must make sure our spiritual armor is in place and not let it continue to happen. If we have a sinful stronghold, there are ways to deal with that too. (Read about spiritual warfare here.) (Read about addictions and strongholds here.)
We must ignore the accusations of hypocrisy. Jesus said if they falsely accused Him, certainly they would falsely accuse those of us who are His followers as well.
We must help those who claim to be Christians but who are producing the fruit of nonchristians to come to grips with their inconsistency and hopefully to become a genuine Christian.
We must remember that genuine Christians are, and have always been, a minority of the population. That can make us look weird to others. Put yourself in their place! We are totally incomprehensible to them! Just keep loving them. And DON’T let them press you into their mold!
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
Related Article: Condemning Sin–Are We All Hypocrites?
*The Johari Window (conceived by two guys whose names happened to be Joe and Harry) represents our lives as a window with four panes. Pane One represents the things that others know about us that we also know about ourselves. Pane Two represents the things that we know about ourselves but others do not know. Pane Three represents the things that others know about us that we do not know about ourselves. And Pane Four represents the things about our lives that neither we nor others perceive.