I’ve heard it a hundred times. I’ve said it a thousand times myself over the years. There are various versions of it: “I just want to be a better Christian.” “I’m trying to be a better Christian.” “I need to be a more consistent Christian.” “I should being do better by now.”
David Wayne, a. k. a. The Jollyblogger, explains why “trying to be a better Christian” is a problem:
“It seems to me now that almost all of us have embraced a mode of Christian living where we come into the faith via the gospel then set it aside as we seek to grow in Christ. It seems to me that our mode of Christian living is usually the pursuit of self-improvement or getting better.”
Christianity is not a self-improvement program. Christianity is a life of self-crucifying, desperate dependence on Christ. Self-improvement or “trying to be a better Christian” simply amounts to flesh-improvement, like putting pretty clothes and make up on a corpse. Paul never promoted self-improvement, but rather exhorted us to “crucify the flesh, along with its passions and desires,” including the fleshly desire to depend on my performance as a “good Christian” rather than on the perfect performance of Christ in my place (Galatians 5:24; Romans 6:6).
Here is an example of how to think through this issue from a gospel-centered world-view. In his recent post “Is The Gospel Of Any Use To The Christian,” David Wayne records a conversation he had with a fellow believer about the desire to “do better” with his quiet times. I’ll post part of the conversation here, but read the entire piece because it is instructive not only for our personal approach to “quiet times” but also how we can preach the gospel to each other.
Me: . . . I’m just trying to illustrate the way we professing Christians tend to think. Think of it this way – when you wake up in the morning do you wake up as a person who is deficient spiritually, and who is a bad Christian who needs to get better? Or, do you wake up as a sinner for whom Christ died, whose sins are forgiven, who is loved by God with an everlasting love and a love which nothing can separate you from?
Bill: I guess the first.
Me: And here’s another way of thinking about this. You would probably feel more at ease in your soul if you could be this mythical “good Christian” that you’ve got in your imagination than you would in knowing that Christ has forgiven your sins.
Bill: I guess so.
Me: But, suppose you woke up in the morning as a forgiven sinner, who didn’t have the pressure of having the pressure of spiritual performance haunting you, and as one who was surrounded by the grace of God.
Bill: OK . . .
Me: And suppose your attention was on God and all He has done for you in Christ rather than on yourself and suppose your eyes were opened to all the blessings God has poured out on you and the goodness that surrounds you.
Bill: Alright . . .
Me: If that was what you woke up to every day, the knowledge that you are a forgiven sinner surrounded by the grace of God, do you think you might then want to read His word and spend time with Him?
Bill: I think so.