On Being Christian

stop being good

Last night was week 2 of a lecture series on spiritual formation I’m attending, taught by professors from Biola University’s Institute for Spiritual Formation. The theme is “Is There More to the Christian Life?” And last night was about “Resisting the Temptation of Moral Formation.” Your daily Christian life is about to be turned upside down.

Aren’t Christians supposed to develop a good moral foundation? The problem is that we substitute it for true spiritual formation by trying to fix our failures in our own strength, using serving, ministry, spiritual disciplines, and in general “being good” or doing better. “Being good” is actually a great place to hide from God, because we don’t have to seriously deal with our failures and guilt. Stop trying to be good.

The whole hiding things started in the Garden of Eden, you know. Genesis 3:7 says Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened and “they realized” they were naked, and and made coverings for themselves. The first experience of sin was shame, and covering. Genesis 3:8 follows saying they heard God in the garden and hid. The second experience of sin was guilt, and hiding. We cover our shame and hide from our guilt by improving our moral behavior. It becomes an endless cycle of covering and hiding.

One way to tell if you’re a moralist: whenever you feel guilt at the conviction of sin your first response is to think, “I’ve got to do better.” Then, “I’ll get up earlier to read my Bible,” or “I’ll spend more time with my kids,” or some other thing you will do to improve your own behavior. Those are all good things, but not for purposes of curing our guilt and shame. Stop trying to do better.

Our first and only response to failure should be to come out of hiding and flee to the cross. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says our sins are imputed to Christ, and his righteousness was imputed to us. So there’s no need to cover our badness, but simply to confess our sin and obey in light of what Christ did.

This is one of the key issues in a languishing Christian life when we feel it doesn’t seem to be “working.” Trying to fix our failures by our own actions is like putting on a “yoke of slavery,” according to Paul in Galatians 5, and “Christ will be of no benefit to you.”