Monday, January 11, 2016

When Christians Screw Up

At work I'm known as "The Bible Banger." Not because I go in each day preaching or wagging my finger every time someone misbehaves; but because I don't. I claim to be a Christian -- that means publicly; and I do everything in my power to follow through on that. I think they see that. The Bible Banger moniker doesn't bother me in the least; I consider it a compliment, and the person who started it, a friend. Truth is, my work environment is pretty rough. Take a small group of relatively intelligent people who get up in the middle of the night -- every night -- to go to an office illuminated no brighter than a corner bar; surround them with computers that lock up every couple of hours or so, and telephones that ring constantly with ridiculous questions, and you're bound to encounter some cynicism tempered with juvenile humor. Colorful language and busting each others' chops just seems to come with the territory. But there is one bit of ribbing that bothers me most: the idea that Christians mess up, ask forgiveness, and it's all good.

"That's not how this works. That's not how any of this works!" At least, not entirely.

I grew up in a neighborhood where the vast majority of my friends attended the same church. They had the idea that if they met all their milestones, if they didn't "do anything too bad," if they darkened the doorstep of the church for -- at least -- the major events, they were good to go. When they screwed up, they just recited a few prayers and -- Voila! Slate clean. I can't begin to tell you how left out I felt as a kid. I got in big trouble for stuff my friends' parents considered part of growing up. My parents didn't hang out drinking and smoking on weekends with the other parents. I had no hope of attending a dance at my Christian school. There were no big milestones, and no parties for big milestones, and no presents at parties for big milestones. Being a Christian was just "No. NO. NO!" I just wanted to be one of them.

Thanks be to God, I am not. My parents may have been strict, a bit old-fashioned even (they were some of the oldest parents in the neighborhood); but we attended church that taught only the Bible. And the Bible says that when Christians screw up -- yes, we ask forgiveness, and yes, it's all good -- but that desire for forgiveness must come from the heart, and a desire to repent must accompany it.
God is no fool. If your child continued to commit the same offense day after day, and asked for forgiveness day after day, and received from you forgiveness day after day, but still persisted in his way; how long would it take before you realized this child is not sincere? How much more a God who sees our hearts? Who knows what we are all about before we ever close our eyes or open our mouths to pray.

All Christians struggle with sin -- or at least, they should; there shouldn't be a Christian alive who accepts sin in their lives. But we are still human, with 100% of our free will still intact. While we may now be "in Christ" and, therefore "new creatures," we don't begin new life in Christ with blinders on or earplugs in; we still reside in, function with, and perpetually observe this fractured world. How else would we be of any use to it? Some of us are constantly tempted by the same sin in our life. Like a skunk that keeps moving back into the woodpile each time you chase him out, the temptation to ___  just keeps popping up, even when you thought you'd gotten it this time. But should we, in our discouragement, give in, ask forgiveness after the fact, and turn around only to do the same thing the next time? "Succumb. Repent. Repeat." No! As Christians, we have an obligation to do all we can to resist temptation: pray, fast, get in God's Word, distract ourselves, phone a friend... Our relationship with Jesus is not "performance based," but it's not a free ride either. We have to put something into it.

How do I know Scott loves me? Not simply because he says it, but because he backs it up with action. The same holds true for my behavior. Being a follower of Jesus Christ, and a daughter now reconciled with her Creator and Heavenly Father, is a loving relationship. But love has standards and love has boundaries. And "Bible Banger" or not, I overstep them sometimes. If I casually rely on God's love for me and Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, to cover whatever I do, as many times as I do it, with no real desire to change that pattern, well -- I guess anyone would have to ask, "Is her commitment for real?" Or maybe they'd already have their answer.

When Christians screw up, God's infinite grace is what makes things "all good." Nothing we can say or do, no matter how contrite we are, has anything to do with cleaning our slates. But our clean slates today should certainly determine how clean we endeavor to keep them in the future.

"My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth." 1 John 3:18
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