“Let’s go, push yourself!” the exercise instructor yelled. “We didn’t come here to be mediocre!” I laughed, or possibly just grimaced, and clumsily attempted the physical feat she demonstrated so easily. After class, I joked that given my age and lifelong lack of coordination, I aspire to be mediocre.
If you have played a sport, taken exercise classes, or worked with a personal trainer, then you have probably heard similar encouragement. Doing a little more at each workout makes us stronger and more fit. But the drive to always be better, faster, and stronger isn’t limited to the fitness world. We hear the same messages at our jobs, in our schools, and even in advertising. Just walk into a bookstore. The ever-growing “self-help” section testifies to the human longing to improve ourselves.
What Is a “Good” Christian?
This desire flows into our spiritual lives. We all want to be “good Christians,” with whatever behaviors we think that involves. A good Christian reads through the Bible every year. A good Christian doesn’t yell at his or her kids. A good Christian wouldn’t be bored at church. A good Christian prays faithfully, and never wonders what to eat for lunch.
2 Peter 1:5–7 says:
Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
That’s quite a list!
When I read verses like this, it’s easy to feel that I can never measure up. I try to read my Bible and pray every day, but sometimes I don’t. And when I go back to whatever devotional or reading plan I started, the self-recriminations start: I’ve missed how many days? I should have done better. Ugh. Why can’t I get my act together?
A Book of Rules?
When I was a kid, I heard the cheerful cliché that “Bible” stands for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. For a long time, that’s all I thought the Bible was—a book of life lessons and rules. Rules that I could never live up to. When read through that lens, the lists of virtues, the fruits of the Spirit, and what are meant to be encouraging exhortations all sound like condemnation.
But the Bible is not a self-help manual. It is not even about us. It is the story of who God is and what he has done for us. And when I read the Bible to get to know God and his ways, I can drop all of the self-focused ways I strive to be a “good” Christian.
Let’s look at that passage from 2 Peter again. It doesn’t start with “make every effort.” It starts here:
His [Christ’s] divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort . . .” (2 Peter 1:3-5b)
Jesus, through His life, death, and resurrection, has already given us what we need for godliness, whether we’re “good” Christians or not. We “make every effort” to participate in the gifts of grace, life, and power that we already have, thanks to Jesus.
Aiming to Know God
When I’m striving to be a “good” Christian, and trying to prove myself to God or others, I’m going to fail every time.
When my greatest aim is to know God and how He loves us—well, I’ll still fail. But I run to God when I sin, instead of berating myself and running away. I want to read the Bible, pray, and love others better. I don’t do this to earn points on a nonexistent scorecard. I do it to participate in the life and godliness that Jesus has already given me.
When I begin with God’s grace instead of my self-improvement, I notice how kind God is and how tender He is with His people—even when they sin, even when they fail, even when they can’t see God in the face of Jesus and put Him to death. You see, it doesn’t matter if we are “good Christians” because there is no such thing. There is only the grace and forgiveness and love of Jesus.
Pushing myself harder might work in my barre class—but thanks be to God, Jesus loves mediocre Christians.
If you want to re-evaluate your spiritual habits through the Holy Spirit’s guidance, read Christina Hergenrader’s Inspired by the Holy Spirit.