Summary: Myth: Christians are Better People

MYTH: Christians Are Better People

Series: Myths: Exposing the False Beliefs that Bind Us

Brad Bailey - April 7, 2013


(Could open with humorous story came out this week about poodles being sold that were actually weasels on steroids.)

We are continuing in our series: MYTHS: Exposing the False Beliefs that Bind Us.

Myth: a widely held but mistaken belief.

Recall last week...

A sincere Christian + false beliefs = A disillusioned Christian

False beliefs or distorted ideas about life and faith can lead to discouragement and disillusionment.

Our goal is to mine the myths and so we can more fully enjoy the truth discern what is false in order to grasp what is firm and foundational.

Today: "Christians Are Better People."

Now...this statement may really get your head spinning around different aspects of what it implies.

Remember... that some of the ideas we are engaging are not simply false...they bear truth in some ways...but they can imply some false assumptions....which are myths.

This is not as often an idea expressed explicitly as the other myths we will be engaging in the coming weeks. But even if not stated can certainly be a common unspoken belief or assumption.

How does this idea raise tensions?

Let me raise some questions that can arise around this idea...or claim...or assumption. [1]

• Women who has sought to be faithful to following Christ marries a man who expresses a serious commitment to the same faith in Christ.... marriage unfolds into control and abuse.... ending in divorce.... she finds her own community more distant from her. As she begins to consider future relationships... her Christian friends and family only ask her one question about any man..."Is he a Christian?" And she wonders about the assumption being implied.

• A news correspondent works with public response from social media... and notices that the most callous responses come from those claiming to be Christians. He wonders.

• One of the local restaurants near a large church gets a lot of business on Sunday afternoons....but it has become the least popular shift to work...because these religious people are known for being low tippers. Each of those waiters and waitresses wonders why.

• A young life, growing up as part of a church community, always felt their parents desire for them to be a "good person"...and an underlying assumption that “Christian” was synonymous with “good person.” “Non-Christian” was synonymous with “bad person." As they began to develop friendships over the didn't always prove to be true. And they wondered.

• Perhaps as the years go by and one carries such assumptions...they begin to travel....and spend time in countries where the dominant religion is different.... and they find themselves befriended by Buddhists whose self sacrifice is inspiring....or Hindus whose simplicity is challenging....or Muslims whose hospitality and kindness is striking. And they wonder.

• Then there are so many leading the way that fall in the ditches of depravity themselves. From child molestation to secret encounters, Christianity is at no loss for scandal. Then there are the great historical black-eyes from forced conversion (inquisition) to wars being lead by the church (the crusades). I don’t want to blow this out of proportion or be unfair here, knowing that fallen leaders will always get more press, but the fact is that leaders who seem the most devoted and passionate...fall...and fail...and we may wonder.

• We may look at our own lives...and wonder. (What I see in myself...and wonder.)

We all may wonder about what to make of the assumption that Christians are better people. Something may seem wrong with what we have believed. There is some assumption that doesn't always seem to fit our experience...and it can bring disillusionment to our own inner world...and conflict in our relationships with others.

What do the Scriptures actually tell us?

> No where does the Bible simply declare that Christians are better people.

What the Scriptures bring is clarity into some of what is true and false related to such an idea.

1. All lives bear aspects of God's goodness which should be appreciated.

The Scriptures tell us that human life was created in God's image... and never does that fundamental nature entirely change. The Scriptures go on the explain how we sought to exist apart from God and our condition fell from what it was.... we became lost in reference to our source of life...out of orbit. But it does not declare that there is no longer any aspect of that image left. All of the created order has been corrupted....but it has not become something else. [2]

> So we should not only SEE good qualities in everyone....but APPRECIATE such qualities.

Are you surprised by the kindness of a co-worker who hasn't yet began a relationship with Christ? Don't be.

Do you see compassion in other people...sometimes inspiring care for those in need...and feel it doesn't fit because they don't seem to acknowledge God? It fits. No where are we told that God's goodness no longer exists in human nature.

But doesn't the Bible say that we are all bad? says like sheep we have all gone astray.

Isaiah 53:6 (NIV)

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Our hearts have turned away.... that is what happened in the Genesis account. and what is declared...and what I believe most of us generally see and the turned away heart.... even if behaviorally decent. All human lives bear both remnants of God's good image (nature) and a heart turned away.

What the Scriptures are clear about is that all "goodness" comes from God.

Romans 7:18 (NIV)

"I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature."

There is "no goodness" in us... nothing good that we can claim to bear in some autonomous self....that didn't come from God.

The Scriptures declare that our problem is not simply that of our morality...but the autonomy of our hearts.

(naturally leads to...)

2. The fundamental difference in receiving Christ is realization of need for God's grace through Christ.

Sometimes Christians give the impression that they are somehow better people than non-believers. But this is not the case.

A human life is saved by admitting that they do not have a right relationship towards God... and cannot be made right based upon their own merits...and receive God's grace through Christ.

God has sent His suffering servant and, as we read of the prophecy, "the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all"

The Gospel is good news of mercy to the undeserving. The symbol of the religion of Jesus is the cross, not the scales. (John R. W. Stott)

Salvation is faith in Christ...and Christ alone (...not my ability to be better.)

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast.

It has been said that the ground at the cross is level. No one gets to heaven because they are better than anyone else. We are all saved by God's grace.

Salvation is 'not from ourselves'....'so that no one can boast.'

(This leads to recognizing...)

3. Any claim of those who receive Christ is rooted in humility.

The very root of receiving Christ is humility. The entire Gospels are accounts of human pride confronted by God's grace. The pride in Roman secular power and force...and the pride of self righteous religion.

You have to recognize you are sick to receive the One God sends to heal us. You have to recognize you are oppressed, blind, bound, receive a redeemer.

• We may think oppression is only something that befalls the poor....but more broadly....every human life is oppressed by this world when it defines them as something other than a child of God. The most successful CEP of a corporation must come to see that even that they are oppressed spiritually if they are being defines by anything less that a daugher or son of God.

• We may think only those physically blind are blind...because they can't see clearly enough and are dependent in navigating life. But none of us see reality clearly. We all must come to face our finiteness.

• We may not believe we are bound...we don't see the cords that bind us or the shackles of being enslaved. But we all have powers that bind us. We all need the power of God through Christ to liberate us.

Our profession is one of need.

That is the radical counter-cultural issue that should be at the forefront of what we have come to.

It's not the entire message...we are also choosing to follow Christ in his redemption of the world with justice and mercy.... but it's identifying with the "need" that is at he forefront of our personal claim.

That is a claim that is rooted in humility regarding ourselves...not pride.

If anyone besides Jesus could have a right to boast in his own righteousness it would be Paul. But even he knew how foolish that would be. [2b]

In one of his earlier letters he wrote: “I am the least of the apostles.” (1 Corinthians 15:9)...and later

“I am the very least of all the saints.” (Ephesians 3:8)...finally, “I am the foremost of sinners.” - 1 Timothy 1:15. As he matured he became MORE humble about his own position. Spiritual maturity brings less pride...and more humility. How often in modern times that seems turned around.

4. The "better" to be expected is relative to the nature of each individual's initial disposition.

What "following Christ" changes is most fundamentally to be one's direction towards God.

The central call of God is for a turning of our hearts and minds (repentance)... which is about changing the direction of our inward posture.

So what should we expect? Not that those who turn to Christ are simply better than other people...but that they begin to become better than they were.

It's more related to what the nature of our disposition was at the point at which we embraced the life and leadership of Christ.

In this way we can say: "Christians should become better people, not better than other people."

The distinction is so vital. If we share how something has drawn our hearts towards God...and we are trying to grow in that love... there is no sense of "better" by which people are being judged. If we begin judging every thing that is not right in others or the common if that judgment reflects being better..... it will naturally elicit a negative response.

(This naturally leads to....)

5. Our testimony is served by our transformation not our title.

What many people are really contending with is a claim associated with a title...the title "Christian."

The title Christian has taken an interesting turn. We might naturally think it's used throughout the New Testament... but there is only the smallest reference to the term. We are told that

Acts 11:26 (MSG)

It was in Antioch that the disciples were for the first time called Christians.

Followers of Jesus Christ were first called “Christians” because their behavior, activity, and speech were like Christ. It was originally used by the unbelieving of antioch as a kind of contemptuous nickname for those who so clearly were like Christ... because their behavior, activity, and speech were like Christ. It simply means "little Christ" or “adherent or follower of Christ.” It was a name they ended up accepting.

The reflects quite a shift in the way the term "Christian" is used. Initially used by those more hostile to followers of Jesus....because they saw the likeness. Now the hostility is about those who want to claim the title to be hypocrites because that they do not see the likeness.

The problem is not that we use the may still have some practical use...but it should be a secondary way to talk about our faith...and a humble one.

It's not that we get the label "Christian"....and we naturally announce we are new a watching set of family and friends that may not see it.

Bono.... the leader singer and front man for the band U2... when asked about his faith... never denies being a Christian but usually states that that is a title he feels unworthy of. That seems like a good posture. [3]

Christ Himself had said,

Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)

21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23 Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

Our only claim (and testimony) lies in genuine transformation not religious title.

Salvation is faith in Christ...and Christ alone (not my ability to be better.)

Sanctification lies in now "becoming like Christ" alone (not claiming change, going to church, etc.)

Sanctification is the act or process of acquiring sanctity, of being made or becoming holy. To sanctify is literally "to set apart for special use or purpose", figuratively "to make holy or sacred." [4]

So what are we to expect regarding our own process of becoming better people?

6. If our repentance (turning) and receiving of Christ is genuine, it will be shown not by perfection nor passivity...but by an ongoing inside-out process of the Spirit.

We may all face times of wondering if we really are becoming better people...if our faith in Christ is making a difference.

Some try to relieve the tension by claiming an ideal.

Some would suggest that once you become a true Christian you should expect to reach complete and total perfection.

Any battles with sin might be a sign that we are not really saved. This idea is referred to as “Christian perfectionism” or “complete sanctification.” The idea is that Christians should expect to acquire a perfected life. Sin can be completely eradicated on earth. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Christian should expect to conquer their sin nature.

It simply isn't true.... while many Scriptures admonish us not to sin... Jesus spoke against self-righteousness and Paul speaks of an ongoing struggle with an old nature.

It’s hard to get more clear than 1 John 1:8:

1 John 1:8 (NIV)

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

The Bible seems clear. Even those who receive and follow Christ, while here on the earth, will struggle with sin.

An equally wrong position is to just give up and give in.... using forgiveness as an excuse... and thinking heaven can wait...because we just don't seem to be able to change.

The very same point at which the apostle John wrote against claiming to sin...he speaks of the significance of not accepting our sinful life. [5]

1 John 3:1-3, 9-11, 16-18, 23-24 (NIV)

1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! ... 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him... 3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

> You are already restored as a child of God...that's your new identity...and won't be fully seen now but start living up to it.

...9 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother. 11 This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another....

> Now he states what appears to claim that we can have no sin. But his point is not to state some false sense of perfectionism. We know he already said that isn't true. He uses a word that refers to accepting a state of sin in an ongoing way. You cannot have turned and received this new life and simply embrace the old life in the same way.

In particular.... your love for others is inherent to your new non self-centered life.

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. ...

> We should each be challenged by these words. First we don't just choose We can try and pick our criteria... perhaps get really intense about certain activities or causes...whether worship or prayer or justice... but central to our transformation is love. And secondly....such a love will be demonstrated. You simply can't live disconnected from others.

23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

> There's a new trust in Christ...and a new a new commitment to love others. But he adds that HE WILL BE LIVING IN US AS WE LIVE IN HIM...and that reality will be through the Holy Spirit.

That Spirit will become a new force. It will convict us and move us in ways that will be hard to escape. Perhaps you've known that feeling.

Ray Stedman says in his book Authentic Christianity in a section entitled “The Battle Already Won”:

... how encouraging to know that the Spirit will never give up the battle! He seeks in a thousand ways to invade each separate relationship of the soul, and gradually He is doing so—sometimes faster, as we yield to him; sometimes very slowly, as we resist and cling to our veils. The more we work and live with the face of Jesus clearly in view, the more quickly we find each area of our life being changed into His likeness.” (102-103)

If you've known God's Spirit working inside you...he is not finished.


If you've ever wondered if those who follow Christ are really better people... I want to encourage you to:

Appreciate that there is a reflection of God's goodness in all people...and you should freely appreciate it.

Celebrate that through Christ we can already experience the most significant change of all...surrender to the grace of God. By that grace we turn back to God who has atoned for our sin. We already can live in his righteousness...his rightness with the Father.

Some of us may feel ashamed what others who claim the title "Christian" do....but I am not going to be ashamed of the one who gave his life to meet me in my need. I will hold onto the humility that in which I first received Christ.

Humility even means not becoming self-righteous regarding hypocrites...because it's hypocritical.

If you have thought of someone who you may have been too self-righteous towards...maybe God is calling you to simply ask them to forgive you.

If you have been disappointed with yourself ...with your growth in loving God and loving others... perhaps you have been drawn towards a false perfectionism...or justifying passivity. The Spirit is wants to call us back into the process.

Resources: Joey Svendsen


1. Some actual examples of people's experience from posts on internet:

Anon of 9:22, "I wish you the best in your new endeavors in the world of dating. I know exactly what you mean. My poor mother is the bravest, kindest person I know, and she has had far more than her share of heartache at the hands of Christian men. My father and mother were paired up by the church they were both attending, and he turned out to be physically abusive and left her when I was three with three small children. When I was six, she married a man who wasn't a Christian but who respected her – we all loved him. All that began to change when he became a Christian and began to drift towards the far, far, far right. He became evil; he made my father look like a saint. And now my mother is in the middle of another messy divorce, and now she is 51 and alone again. And my stepfather still is convinced he's going to heaven some day…"

January 15, 2012 at 12:22 pm

"This post is very timely for me. I'm starting to date again after getting a divorce from an abusive "Christian" man. It really bothers me that the first question family and friends ask about potential suitors is always, "Is he a Christian?", as if that's some foolproof test that the guy isn't a creep. Why don't they ask, "Is he kind? Does he treat you with respect? Is he a good listener? Does he tip well at restaurants?" etc. The "Is he a Christian?" screening tool obviously failed me the first time around, and yet they maintain a suspicion of "non-Christian" men who treat me with the utmost respect. Thankfully I've diversified my own vetting process and don't need their input as to whom I date and don't date."

Adapted from "Questions I Hope No One Will Ask: Why Aren’t Christians Better People? by C Michael Patton. (February 15th, 2011)

When others criticize "Christians" of being hypocrites or hateful and the like... we can presume there is both an element of fair truth and unfair simplicity in the indictment. I believe it's important that we not hide or dismiss such criticisms under the veil of "persecution. the Scriptures recognize we must recogize that we can be criticized for our own wrongdoing. (from article, source lost)

In 1 Peter 4 we’re told, “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed. …” sometimes we are insulted for proclaiming the good news of salvation in Christ. But listen to what follows: “If you suffer, however, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.”

The Apostle Peter is more or less saying: If you suffer for sharing the good news of Christ, great, you’re blessed. But if you suffer just because you’re being a criminal or acting like an idiot, then don’t blame it on Christ.

The word “meddler” means busybody: someone who inserts himself into matters that are not his own. Might this include some people involved in the Twitter, Facebook and “comments” showdowns of our day?

2. Scriptures that declare that no one is right before God. the language is strong...but one can also note that the emphasis is on fundamental corruption (rather than inability to do any good thing) and posture and heart rather than on complete lack of good behavior.

"The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men To see if there are any who understand, Who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt;

There is no one who does good, not even one." - Psalm 14:2-3

For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. - Isaiah 64:6

"for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" - Romans 3:23

"There is none righteous, not even one;" - Romans 3:10

2b. Someone noted how Paul's humility seemed to increase. (Lost source)

“I am the least of the apostles.” - 1 Corinthians 15:9

“I am the very least of all the saints.” - Ephesians 3:8

“I am the foremost of sinners.” - 1 Timothy 1:15

It is likely that 1 Corinthians was written in 59 A.D., Ephesians in 63 A.D., and 1 Timothy in 64 A.D. It took time for Paul to mature in the area of humility. But he went from seeing himself as the worst of the apostles, to the least of all saints, and finally all the way to the worst of all sinners. That’s humility, and maturity.

3. Bono regarding his faith:

Bono's American Prayer

by Cathleen Falsani | posted 02/21/2003

"The idea that there's a force of love and logic behind the universe is overwhelming to start with, if you believe it. Actually, maybe even far-fetched to start with," Bono said. "But the idea that that same love and logic would choose to describe itself as a baby born in s— and straw and poverty is genius, and brings me to my knees, literally. To me, as a poet, I am just in awe of that. It makes some sort of poetic sense. It's the thing that makes me a believer, though it didn't dawn on me for many years."

Bono is similarly self-effacing about his faith. He doesn't even like to call himself a Christian, although it is apparent to anyone who has spent any time with him—or even just listened to his lyrics—that his faith is rooted in the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ.

"I'm a believer," Bono usually says when asked about his faith. "I don't set myself up as any kind of 'Christian,' " he said as his gleaming silver and chrome tour bus motored east from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Iowa City. "I can't live up to that. It's something I aspire to, but I don't feel comfortable with that badge."

4. Sanctification is the act or process of acquiring sanctity, of being made or becoming holy. "Sanctity" is an ancient concept widespread among religions, a property of a thing or person sacred or set apart within the religion, from temple vessels to days of the week, to a human believer who achieves this state. To sanctify is literally "to set apart for special use or purpose", figuratively "to make holy or sacred", and etymologically from the Latin verb sanctificare which in turn is from sanctus "holy" and facere "to make". From Wikipedia -

See also Romans 7:14-20 where Paul describes his own battle with sin nature.

5. James Boice engages the tension of I John 3:6-9:

The point that John makes is inescapable, for it is made strongly: Sin has no place in the Christian life. However, the fact that he makes it strongly produces a problem. John says that the one who abides in Christ does not sin. But is that really true? Can we say that? Or again, since John has already written, “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives” (1:10), can we even believe that John is consistent? Ought we not rather simply to discount his words on sin entirely? The difficulty in dealing with these and similar questions has produced a wide variety of interpretations of these verses by commentators.

1. The first interpretation goes back to the days of the early church and is reflected by some Reformation theologians. It restricts the “sin” in this passage to particularly heinous sins—murder and the like. In Catholic theology the distinction is expressed as that between mortal and venial sins. It is enough to answer in reply to this interpretation that, in addition to the fact that John is obviously not making any such distinctions in the passage, Christians do on occasion commit heinous sins. Besides, in the Bible’s evaluation sins such as murder are not necessarily more evil than sins of the spirit such as pride, of which all are guilty.

2. A second view is that what is sin in an unbeliever is not so regarded by God in the life of a believer. But this is simply not true. Sin is sin, wherever it is found. Moreover, it is probably the development of this precise double standard by the Gnostics that John is opposing.

3. Some have distinguished between the old nature and the new nature in a believer, arguing that the new nature cannot sin because it is from God. This is true in a sense and may even be supported by statements such as “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6), drawn from the Gospel. But it is dangerous, for it can easily suggest that the individual is not responsible for the sins of the old nature or that he need not fight against them. One might argue that Paul makes such a distinction in Romans 7. But whether it is actually this distinction or not, it is surely a sufficient answer to note that John at least is not making any such distinction here. Indeed, he is calling for the individual Christian to turn from sin to righteousness; he is not calling upon the Christian to allow one nature rather than the other to dominate him.

4. A more recent and quite widespread interpretation of these verses is that John is here speaking of an ideal. But if this is so, the question must then be asked, “Did he expect Christians to attain the ideal in his life?” If he did, we have not escaped the problem; we have only changed its contours. On the other hand, if he did not, then his entire moral test becomes meaningless.

5. There is a qualified form of the idea of an ideal that is characteristic of the holiness movement. It is the view that John is indeed stating an ideal but that it is an attainable ideal to the extent that the Christian truly “lives” in Christ (v. 6). Here Stott’s reply is incisive. He notes that, while this is a possible interpretation of verse 6 (in which the Christian clearly has an obligation to abide in Christ), nevertheless it is obviously inadequate as an interpretation of verse 9 (in which all Christians, rather than just some, are included). The only way around this latter difficulty is to suggest that one can be born of God and be sinless, then, as a result of sin, cease to be born; in other words, to be born and unborn repeatedly. But this is contrary to John’s teaching and runs against his entire emphasis on the Christian’s need to be sure of his salvation. The Christian could hardly be sure of his salvation if each sin he committed alienated him from God’s family.

6. The sixth view is that the sin which the Christian cannot do is willful or deliberate sin. But this is only a variation of the first interpretation and is disproved by the acknowledged conduct of all too many Christians. We do sin willfully and deliberately. Consequently, we should not be under any illusions regarding our need to confess our sin and seek cleansing.

7. The last and only adequate interpretation of these verses is that the sin which a Christian cannot commit is lasting or habitual. Here the interpreter is assisted by the tenses of the Greek verbs, all of which are present tense. If John had used an aorist tense as he does, for instance, in 2:1, he would have been referring to a specific sin committed at some particular point. This Christians do, as the earlier reference tells us. The cure for it is confession before Jesus Christ, our great High Priest and advocate. In this passage, however, John uses the present tense three times to indicate, not a particular sin once committed, but rather a continuance in sin over an indefinite period. Each phrase indiciates this. In verse 6 he says that “no one who lives in him keeps on sinning,” that is, “continues in sin indefinitely.” In verse 9 he says that “no one who is born of God will continue to sin.” In English this distinction seems somewhat superficial and even unjustified, but it is not so in the Greek language, in which John wrote. In Greek John is simply saying that although a Christian may sin, and in fact often does sin, it is nevertheless impossible for him to go on persisting in sin indefinitely. Were this not so, righteousness could not be considered a true test of whether or not one is truly a child of God.

From - Boice, J. M. (2004). The Epistles of John: An expositional commentary (87–89). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.