This one’s for the “good Christian.”
The one who is just as inherently broken as everyone else—yet somehow the world, and even other Christ followers, think she’s freakishly put together. At best, she’s labelled a goodie two-shoes. At worst, a legalist.
But in her mind, she doesn’t feel like much of a rule-follower at all. In her mind, she’s just trying to draw closer to her Father and do the best she can with the gifts He’s entrusted her with. To her, it’s not about the rules. She just has a strong sense of stewardship, and lives to hear the words:
Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness! - Matthew 25:21
But this one’s also for the woman who feels like she could never be the “good Christian.”
The woman who feels like a few unyielding sins will always stand between her and God. The one who envies the “self control” she sees in others. But beyond self control, she questions her own motives, her own heart condition. When she examines her actions, she doubts her own for God. She resonates with Paul in Romans:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. - Romans 7:15-20
So where do the ability and willingness to obey God come from? In some cases, they may be the products of legalism, pride, and arrogance, as Jesus warns about repeatedly in the New Testament:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. - Matthew 23:23-28 (NIV)
But our society is quick to throw around terms like “legalistic” or “judgmental” in response to any kind of rule-following or emphasis on God’s commands. So we must proceed with caution before dismissing someone’s motives as such. Remember that Jesus Himself equated love with obedience:
Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them. - John 14:21
John later echoes this same idea:
In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome. - 1 John 5:3 (NIV)
But they feel burdensome at times, don’t they?
Whether you’re the “good Christian,” the one who always misses the mark, or a hybrid of the two, let’s keep this in mind:
When we are in Christ, we don’t obey because we have to. We obey because we want to.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith . . . - Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)
Sin is not the suppression of desire for the sake of holy deprivation. Sin is nothing but a hindrance. It holds us back from reaching what we really want. And what we really want is Christ.
Wait, but didn’t Jesus conquer sin? Sin can’t hold us back from God when He already forgave us, right?
Right. Paul tells us this:
But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. - Galatians 3:22
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh. - Romans 8:1-3 (NIV)
But here’s why we’re still discussing sin: if you are in Christ, you’ll know it by your deep desire to rid yourself of sin. That’s a sign of the Holy Spirit at work in you. You’ll want to rid yourself of sin so that you can look even more like Him and be as useful for His Kingdom as possible.
And the freer you are from sin, the less baggage you have to carry around, the more useful for the Kingdom you will be. Our job as His children is to do everything we can to make ourselves as useful as possible.
There’s this popular argument floating around that “You can’t get in the way of God’s plans for your life.” This axiom suggests that no matter how badly you mess up, even if you go on living in sin, God is still going to unfold all the same plans for your life as He would if you were actively pursuing sanctification. But is it true?
Let’s go back to what Hebrews 12:1, which urges us to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” The race metaphor creates a sense of urgency. Either we will finish the race marked out for us within the time we have on earth, or we won’t. And the more sin baggage we carry, the slower we’ll run.
Hebrews 12 isn’t the only Bible verse that compares the Christ follower to an athlete:
Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. - 2 Timothy 2:3-4 (NIV)
If we’re going to compete—if we care about our “sport” at all—we need to throw off the sin that weighs us down and holds us back.
Easier said than done, right? But the verse emphasizes that we are to cast off sin while “fixing our eyes on Jesus.” And that fixation is key. We’re only able to cast off the sin because we know how good and how beautiful our God, the antithesis to sin, is.
And I’m not talking about a head knowledge of His goodness. I’m talking about a continual meditation, a deep-seated confidence that cuts to our core. And with this knowledge in mind, we cast off our sin so that we can run to Him.
To say that we only refrain from sin because “the Bible tells us to,” would be selling ourselves short. That’s the good Christian answer, and it’s partially true. But it fails to capture the depth of our hearts. We’re not just straight-edges confined to a strict set of rules. We’re athletes, warriors, and daughters with a burning passion to see God’s glory. And we will stop at nothing to discover more of Him and to bring His Kingdom to this earth.
But Hebrews goes on to say this:
For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. - Hebrews 12:2 (NIV)
Here Jesus sets the example for us. Even He didn’t endure the cross merely because He had to. He endured it “for the joy set before him.” He endured it because His heart was set on a greater desire: the joy of completing his mission on earth and sitting at His Father’s right hand.
So even when putting off sin is painful, remember why you’re doing it. Ultimately, you aren’t suppressing your desires. You’re sloughing off your shallowest desires in order to fulfill your deepest ones.
And if “throwing off” sin still sounds easier said than done, keep in mind that other verses frame the sin issue in graver terms, comparing it to putting something to death:
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. - Colossians 3:5-10
As we venture to put our sin to death, this could involve a battle or a long-term struggle. A battle is no small endeavor. We’ll have to armor up and give it our full focus. We might not achieve victory overnight, but we’re called to fight nonetheless.
It’s time to rethink how we articulate our choices to the outside world, and even to other believers.
Story time: One of the lovely ladies in my life group shared with us that she no longer feels compelled to go out drinking in the same way that she used to. “It’s not that I feel like I can’t,” she explained. “It’s just that my desires have changed.”
Boom. That’s where the magic lies: in desire. Or rather, a change of desire is proof of the magic at work in us.
Maybe next time we find ourselves articulating our choices to others, we should take that humble approach of admitting our own desire for the higher kind of life. Maybe we should start owning our “good Christian” choices as choices rather than as regulations imposed on us by God or the Bible.
What hit me about her words was that they expressed precisely how I felt about my own choices to obey. Yet somehow, I had felt like I wasn’t allowed to tie those choices to my own desire. I thought my desire was an invalid reason. But as she spoke, the folly of my view began to crystallize.
As we pursue God, we begin to put on the mind of Christ. Our desires do begin to align with His. And while there is beauty in obeying even when we don’t want to, there is just as much beauty in acknowledging that we do want to obey, because of God’s transformative work in our hearts.
For, "Who can know the LORD's thoughts? Who knows enough to teach him?" But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.” - 1 Corinthians 2:16 (NLT)
So what can we do if our desire just isn’t there?
“If you really loved God, then you wouldn’t have the desire to keep sinning.” I’ve heard this argument before. It has a grain of truth, but when phrased this way, it’s too polarizing. It leaves no wiggle room for the realities of the complex human heart. It leaves no room for the process of spiritual formation.
The reality is that you can engage in spiritual disciplines to shape your heart. Your relationship with God, like any relationship, grows with time and effort. This is not a quick fix--it’s a lifestyle. So let’s create a lifestyle of meditation on Him.
Where there is no vision [no revelation of God and His word], the people are unrestrained; But happy and blessed is he who keeps the law [of God]. - Proverbs 29:18 (AMP)
It’s not enough to know in your head that God exists or even to know all the biblical facts about what He’s like. You have to have vision. You have to see Him and fix your eyes on Him. Regularly.
In his book Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, N.T. Wright says this:
“You become like what you worship. When you gaze in awe, admiration, and wonder at something or someone, you begin to take on something of the character of the object of your worship.”
So when we gaze in awe, admiration, and wonder at our God, we begin to don His nature, His desire, His character.
Below is a concrete practice you can implement in order to spend some quality time focusing on Him:
● Invite a faithful friend to sit with you in nature if possible. But a coffee shop works well too.
● When your time is up, share any revelations you received with each other.
● And after you do this once, don’t stop there. Remember that there is no quick fix when it comes to reshaping your desires. There is only lifestyle transformation. Find and pray for friends who will practice this with you on a semi-regular basis.
● Then repeat this practice alone. Both solitude and community offer unique value. You may find the two experiences radically different, but equally powerful.
ARE YOU GOING TO TRY OUT THIS PRACTICE? WE WOULD LOVE TO KNOW IF YOU ARE. LET US KNOW IN THE COMMENTS!
by Erica Baker
Erica is a professional writer and editor, helping ministry leaders and entrepreneurs share their stories. She is passionate about pointing women to God's Word and empowering them to take fierce ownership of their discipleship to Jesus.