What Makes a Good Christian?

I was feeling lousy. Really, really lousy. Lousy enough to use the word lousy, which I never do.

Lousy.

Why? Well, because of a sin. A bad sin. A recurring sin.

Sometimes I am able to kind of write off my sins with a, “Whoops, I messed up, but it’s not a super big deal. There were so many other circumstances and I at least made the logical choice, even if it was wrong. Oops.” This time, though, I ranked my sin lower than just an ‘oops.’ I had blatantly disobeyed God, and I had had no excuse other than the fact that I was scared.

As I walked back to my apartment, lots of thoughts were running through my head. I thought about how God was disappointed in me, how I was a hypocrite since I couldn’t carry through what I often say I should, and how there was no way I could be considered a good Christian now by anybody.

But then I wondered. What exactly is a “good Christian?”

Praying

When I think of that phrase, my mind immediately conjures up this person who does all the right things, says all the right words, and, while I allow them a few human mistakes, they generally have following God down. That’s pretty much the sum total of it.

But looking at the Bible, I noticed that the people of Jesus’s day who would fit that description were the Pharisees.

You know, the guys Jesus spoke angrily against for almost an entire chapter of the Bible, and pretty much every time he saw them. The ones about whom Jesus said,

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28).

Obviously, that’s not what we’re going for, which means the picture that I have painted for myself of an ideal Christian walk is pretty shallow. We know that good works are part of it because Matthew 7:16 tells us that we can recognize Christians by their growth and good works in Christ, but that can’t be all of what makes a good Christian.

Missing Piece

Photo by KatieThebeau on Flickr

What’s missing?

Well, simply put, it’s the fact that, “all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).

C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity gave a wonderful definition of faith. He says faith only comes when a person realizes that even if he were able to do every good thing, “he would only be giving back to God what was already God’s own. In other words, he discovers his bankruptcy.” He also says faith is, “the change from being confident about our own efforts to the state in which we despair of doing anything for ourselves and leave it to God.”

On my walk home, I was right about the fact that I had not been acting like a good Christian. I didn’t have enough trust in God to obey Him, and that caused me to sin.

Have you ever heard the verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13)? It’s pretty common for people to emphasize the ‘doing all things’ part, but what we really need to pay attention to in our Christian walk is the ‘through Christ’ part.

Our job is to be in humble submission to the Lord, to be trusting Him with our everything. If we have that attitude right, if we know that anything good we do is through Christ and that everything we bring on our own is filthy rags, then we have a right picture of ourselves. Having that attitude every minute of the day, that utter dependence on and trust in Jesus, is what both leads us to follow Christ and be obedient to Him, and is what makes a good Christian.

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