Summary: What Is A “Good” Christian? 1) One who struggles with sin. 2) One who stands with Christ.
Soccer fans around the world have been glued to their television sets this past month. They’ve been watching Europe’s soccer powerhouses battle each other in the Euro Cup tournament. As always, this year’s tournament has provided a number of upsets. Countries thought to be fielding less talented teams have beaten teams packed with superstars. It just goes to show that what makes for a good soccer team is more than power, finesse, and speed. A good team is one that consistently executes the fundamentals of passing and receiving the ball and hustles to create opportunities for scoring not relying on one or two players to get the job done.
It isn’t difficult to define what a good soccer team is but have you ever considered what a “good” Christian is? A “good” Christian, as the Bible defines it, might surprise you. Let’s find out what a “good” Christian is and ask the Holy Spirit to mold us into such people.
We’ll take our definition for a “good” Christian from the Apostle Paul. Paul doesn’t so much define what a “good” Christian is as he does model it when he wrote to the believers in Rome: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing... 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am!” (Romans 7:15, 17-19, 22-24a)
Are you surprised to hear one of the greatest Christians admit that he continued to struggle with sin after his conversion? It isn’t that Paul fell into sin “once in a while”; he was constantly sinning, doing that which he knew to be wrong and failing to do that which he knew to be good.
Can you relate to Paul’s struggle? Have you ever woken up on a Saturday morning and said: “Alright. This is the day. I’m going to clean my room without being asked. I’m going to let my brother play with my Gameboy as long as he wants. And I’ll smile when Mom asks me to take out the garbage.” In short, you resolve to live like a Christian. But do you even make it to the breakfast table without impatiently kicking the dog for being in your way, or shoving your sister so you can get to the cereal boxes first? Parents, have you ever made an early-morning promise to be patient with your children the whole day only to lose it with them over a little spilled milk at breakfast? Have you ever determined not to speed on the way to work or talk about a co-worker behind her back only to commit these sins without batting an eye?
If you struggle with sin as Paul did, don’t despair. In fact you may be a “good” Christian. Really? Yes! A “good” Christian struggles with sin. But I thought “good” Christians were like Ned Flanders – always cheerful, never mean, ever forgiving. Oh, we may look like that to each other. You may think, for example, that the pastor and his family always say “please” and “thank you” and whistle a merry tune when we’re cleaning up after one another, but then again you didn’t go camping with us last week. The good I wanted to do, I didn’t do. I lost my patience. I thought about my comfort ahead of the comfort of my wife and children. I got annoyed when the girls didn’t want to do the activities I suggested for fun. Yes, I wondered how I could call myself a Christian much less a pastor.
Why are we this way? We are this way because we carry in us the sinful nature in which there is nothing good, explains Paul. The sinful nature always wants us to do the opposite of what God wants. The only reason a Christian ever manages to do anything remotely good is because at baptism God gave us a new nature – the part of us that now wants to do God’s will. The two are at war within us – like those comic characters Spy vs. Spy. The new nature will spend an afternoon stringing lights on our heart to show others God’s love but just as he is about to flip the switch the sinful nature will cut through the power cord making a mockery of the afternoon efforts.