If you are willing to be a “bad” Christian, you are ready to be a true Christian. If you insist on being a “good Christian,” you will never get on your way to experiencing a real life of faith. The pursuit to be a good Christian is an illegitimate quest. You must be a bad Christian or no Christian at all.
“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (Isaiah 64:6).
When we set out to follow Christ, sometimes we expect to look like a champion marathoner. We envision ourselves running steadily on a dirt path through a beautiful amber canyon at dawn, a bird chirping while a gentle wind conveniently nudges us forward. But as many of us have already experienced, there is a gap between the ideal and the actual—between fantasy Christianity and real Christianity. Instead of running like olympian Florence Griffith-Joyner (“Flo-Jo”), we run like a college freshman making a mad dash for the campus shuttle that is pulling away from the curb. Complete with spilled coffee on our shirt, heavy backpack slugged over one shoulder and arms flailing, we yell, “Wait!”
And we wonder: Am I going to be a rookie-Christian forever?
The short answer is: Yes. When we recognize Jesus Christ as the only "expert" Christian, we will realize that even the best we can offer is not so hot. Nobody has it together. Not Billy Graham, not Charles Spurgeon, not R.C. Sproul, not even Mr. Mere Christianity himself, C.S. Lewis. Only Jesus had it together. No believer will ever "arrive" at the apex of discipleship; only Jesus arrived. On the spectrum of Christ-likeness, every one of us will (for the rest of our lives) have to settle somewhere in between total success and total failure.
I find being a rookie-Christian repulsive, and yet ... strangely attractive. Rookies are amateurs. Goof-ups. Immature and inexperienced. These are not words I would choose to describe the kind of person I aspire to be. In fact, these are words I would use to describe a “bad Christian.” There is nothing initially appealing about being a rookie; that is, until you consider the qualifications required to be a "good Christian.
Think of it. To be considered a good Christian, you’d have to think all the right thoughts, say all the right words, do all the right things and have all the right motivations—all the time. Basically, you'd have to be Jesus. If that attempt isn’t a slow and painful death, then I don’t know what is! And yet, so often I place this heavy yoke of being a good Christian on myself. So often, in my efforts to be a faithful, worthy disciple, I end up killing myself. Because in order to be good, holy, upright and blameless, I have to resist my humanity, deny my limitations and suppress my fears. On top of that, I have to feed a secret desire to be like God. Having it "together" comes at a high—yes, impossible, price.
God loves rookies. God loves those who stumble toward Him. The beauty of the Gospel is this: We do not have to be Jesus. But we do have to be His disciples: imperfect, fallible, selfish and sinful, yet deeply loved, always accepted and ever changing to be more like Christ. We do not have to get over our weaknesses; we only have to get used to them. A pastor once said, “We live and minister out of weakness.” Every time I remember this, I breathe a sigh of relief. Christian growth is not turning every one of our weaknesses into strengths, but learning how to live with our weaknesses, and even with some of our sins.
If we want to be real Christians, we must learn how to be weak people: dependent as a branch, malleable as a heap of clay, needy as a baby. When we realize that we bring nothing to our relationship with God except a broken heart and contrite spirit, it is then we will experience God’s grace to be sufficient, and God’s love to be unfailing. Paul understood this, saying, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10, emphasis added).
We should be grateful that God never asks us to "get it together." He only asks us to admit our need for the One who had it together and allow Him to represent and change us. Believe it or not, God is content with our needs and our shortcomings. He proved this by choosing to die for us when we were in our worst (but also our truest) condition—while we were sinners.
Chances are, you are still a sinner. And the last time I checked, I'm still one, too.
(This article was featured as a guest post on November 7, 2011, on Kimberly Crandall's blog, Christ in the Chaos.)