Summary: Learn to grow in Christian maturity without guilt or lowering God’s standards.
I did some soul-searching. I’m usually not a contemplative person, but I was forced to consider what is happening on the inside of me. This week my wife confronted me about an indiscretion. I was wrong, and I knew that I was wrong. Furthermore, she pointed out the fact that I am a pastor, and that I am her pastor, made that sin even worse.
Have you ever been asked by someone close to you or even by your own small voice, “How could you be a Christian and act that way?” Or, “How could you be a leader of the church and do such a thing?” Or, “How can you say that you love God and behave that way?”
Steve Brown wrote on the inside back cover of one of his Bibles, “I wouldn’t be so shocked at my own sin, if I didn’t have such a high view of myself.” And I would add, “You wouldn’t be so shocked at the sins of others, if you didn’t have such a high view of others.”
That insight is therapeutic, but for most of us there is still the desire to reconcile the Bible’s teaching that we are sinners, and yet, we are called to be perfect as God is perfect. How do we explain to our non-Christian friends and family members that we love God, but we still sin? How do we explain that to ourselves?
Some of us grew up in churches where the leadership attempted to model perfection and gave us the impression that perfection is possible this side of heaven. But when we continue to struggle with sin in light of this impression, how do we reconcile the difference? Do we fake it so we can make it? Do we lower God’s standard to lower the sense of guilt? Do we cover up the difference by equating head knowledge with maturity?
For many years, I faked it so I could make it.” I tried with all the willpower I could muster. I tried personal development programs. I tried all the steps to maturity found in sermons and books. I’m a lot better, but I don’t come close to being free of sin. Just ask my wife and children.
Some of you may know what I’m talking about. Church, the one place that teaches people are sinners, are sometimes the most intolerant of sinners. So we learn to play to the game, to be patient, loving and kind at church, but to be critical, angry and selfish at work or at home. We don’t want to live this double life, but we don’t know how to work toward consistency.
Living this way can give a periodic sense of maturity. But living this way can also lead non-Christians to see Christians as hypocrites. When we fake it so we can make it, non-Christians see us one way at church and another way at home or at work. This approach defeats our Christian witness and our integrity.
When it comes to lowering God’s standard to lower the guilt, I rarely intentionally do this. Some people cope with the guilt of failing to live according to God’s standard by picking and choosing what they accept as God’s standard. Some reinterpret Jesus’ hard teachings so that God’s standards can be lived with little effort.
While Christians love God, we all have besetting sins, and we live with significant guilt. Some don’t see any other option besides lowering God’s standards. So homosexuality is not sin, but love between two people of the same sex. Or lust after a woman, who is not your wife, is not committing adultery because, after all, everyone else is doing it. And cheating the government of tax is not wrong when the government manages money so poorly.
Living this way may comfort our conscience temporarily and superficially. But like the cartoon character, who shoots his arrows and then draws little bull’s-eyes around the place where the arrows land, obedience to selected or modified standards from the Bible is meaningless. True spiritual maturity obeys God’s true standards.
Finally, equating knowledge with maturity can easily happen to anyone, especially long-time Christians. I read a lot. I study a lot. I know a lot. And I can sometimes fool others and myself to believe that I’m a lot more mature than I really am.
People who have grown up in the church can know the vocabulary, the etiquette and the pat answers. But the head knowledge is not always tested out in real life. Sunday School, Bible studies and Sunday sermons can provide head knowledge but not maturity.
In general, no Christian will confuse head knowledge with maturity forever. Having the studied answers to life is not the same as living with character and maturity through the storms of life. Because storms come into every life eventually, Christians with only head knowledge will have a rude awakening.