I know, I know. With a title like that, I’m obviously going to join the ranks of the church and Christian-bashers out there and set out on an explanation of what’s wrong with all the other Christians.
I think I speak from my heart here when I say that is not my intent. I am not a church-basher nor am I a Christian basher, and I don’t share these thoughts because I think I’m some kind of “super-Christian.” In fact, the “religiously transmitted diseases” that I list below are all infections that I’ve had at various times in my Christian life. There just seems to be this natural tendency over time for people in the church – many of us anyway – to tend towards some of these behaviors and attitudes, and sometimes it’s good and helpful and healthy to remind ourselves of this on occasion. After all, Paul encourages his Corinthian friends in 1 Corinthians 13:5 to “Examine your faith…” In light of this command, as well as my own experience and observations, here are a few of these religiously transmitted diseases that seem to be quite common:
Self-Righteousness: This is the most common of the diseases that I’ve noticed, and perhaps the most serious. A.W. Tozer said that the “self-sins” – self-righteousness, self-pity, self-sufficiency – are the most grievous of all sins. Why? Because the most important pre-cursor, and even perhaps prerequisite, for being a Christian is to recognize that you can’t save yourself! You can’t live a holy life, you can’t live a sinless life, you can’t live up to God’s glorious standard – this is the basis for our need of Jesus! Without this, one cannot be a Christian. Therefore, it stands to reason, that self-righteousness – or, considering myself righteous in and of myself – stands in stark contrast to the gospel. The Pharisees were the New Testament portrait of self-righteousness, and it was for them that Jesus had the harshest words and judgment. He called them “white-washed tombs” – in other words, they looked really good on the outside, their speaking was highly polished, they memorized a lot of scripture, people really looked up to them and respected them, and yet Jesus said they were “dead.” There’s this crazy concept in the bible that not only are our actions important, but our heart and motivation behind doing them are just as, if not more, important. We need to remind ourselves that any good in our lives is the result of God’s work, not our own – this is a sure-fire antidote to the disease of self-righteousness.
Judgmentalism: Another syndrome, intimately related to self-righteousness, is judgmentalism. Almost inevitably, when we see ourselves as great (i.e. self-righteousness), we will tend to also see ourselves as being better than others. Better than those people; better than the sinners. Prostitutes, drug addicts, sexual deviants, people who use harsh language. We can look around the room and spot sin from a mile away, right? “That’s a sinner right there. I know one when I see one.” The truth, however, is that this attitude represents an egregious sin against God in and of itself. The view that I am better than any other person stands in stark contrast to the sacrificial death of Christ that was just as necessary for me as it is for “them.” My salvation, as well as any good that I might do in life, was sparked and started by God, it is being motivated and empowered by God, and it will be completed by God. Where in that statement is there room for my own awesomeness? Or comparison to others? There is none. The work and the glory belongs all to God. I like what Carl Lentz said: “A little bit of grace leaves a lot of room for truth.” Yes, sin is sin, but we need to show grace as it’s been shown for us, and inevitably when we do that, the opportunity will open to speak about biblical truth. Don’t judge.
Fear & Isolationism: I originally listed these as separate diseases, but the more I’ve reflected on them they are almost symbiotic in nature. As God works in our life, and as we begin to see real change in our own lives, and as we experience some of the above feelings, sometimes we begin to almost fear people who are outside the church. Like I said before, the sinners. And as this fear, often combined with judgmentalism and self-righteousness begins to blossom in our lives and minds, the common result is an increased isolation from the rest of the world. We begin to live in a “Christian bubble.” We attend church services and bible studies and church events, and hang out almost exclusively with church members and other Christians. And while all of these are absolutely good things to do, they cannot define our lives, and they certainly can’t lead to the exclusion of other things that Jesus calls us to do. Evangelizing the lost, being a light in the world, inviting people to church, sharing the gospel, telling unbelievers about our testimony, praying for the lost, serving the poor, helping those lost and caught up in sin, loving the sinner! These are just a smattering of the purpose behind being a Christian in this world – to reach the lost. And here’s the thing: they absolutely cannot be accomplished while living in a Christian bubble. Fear and Isolationism are definitely not of God and therefore should be denied in the Christian life.
Not to make this more complicated than it needs to be, but it should also be noted that we Christians are really good at masking these diseases. Even from ourselves. By simply writing this article, I could easily be perceived as “judging” those who are “judgmental.” Or perhaps I might be motivated by a feeling that I’m better than those people who are “self-righteous,” therefore displaying my own self-righteousness. This is definitely possible. The reality is I’ve suffered from all of these at some point or another as I’m sure many Christians do. I don’t write this out of some paradoxical self-delusion, but simply out of a recognition that these traits can definitely show up in our lives if we’re not careful. At the same time, however, we mustn’t let our self-declared humility become our pride. It’s really quite a conundrum if you think about it, but just like so many things, there really is no other answer than to turn to God to help us to see our hearts for what they truly are. God bless.