Being a Credible Christian
“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:15, 19, ESV)
What the world and the church need today is more credible Christians. “Credible” means “believable.” Sadly, many today view us Christians as phony, rather than as authentic, genuine, or credible. Therefore many view the church as phony to the core. If we believers want to have a credible testimony for Christ before the world, then we must be credible Christians. And if we want the church (which represents Christ to the world) to be effective in its witness to Christ and His gospel, then the church must recover its lost credibility.
But what does it mean to be a “credible” Christian and a “credible” church? Many seem to think it means we have to be virtually without any trace of struggle with sin or the brokeness that is the result of sin. To many, being a “credible” Christian means you have to be always living the “victorious Christian life.” But the truth is that even genuine believers often face an agonizing struggle with the sin that remains with God’s children in this present age. Certainly we believers have victory over sin through Christ, in the sense that our sin has been pardoned and (in principle) mortified (i.e., put to death) through Christ’s perfect redeeing work. But at the same time the remnants of our old sin nature can powerfully exert their presence, resulting in a fierce inner conflict between what Paul called “the flesh and the Spirit.” We often attempt to deny and to hide this fierce and ongoing spiritual struggle with our sin from the world’s view by pretending that we have it all together and that we are always living “the victorious Christian life.” But look at yourself in the mirror honestly, Christian, and ask yourself if your Christian life always seems all that “victorious.” If you are honest with yourself I suspect that you sometimes (perhaps often) feel like a “defeated Christian” rather than a “victorious Christian.” (And when you feel this way you can thank God that the truth of the gospel does not depend on our feelings!) The unbelieving world can see through our facade of pretended perfectionism, and unbelievers are right to identify such a facade as phony.
So being a “credible” Christian doesn’t mean being perfect or sinless. But some professing Christians who recognize this fact will go to the other extreme in their attempt to be “authentic” in their Christianity, so much so that it is often hard to distinguish them at all from those who are of the world. So, for example, if unbelievers are getting tatoos and body piercings, wearing leather and gold chains, using a large dose of profanity in their everyday conversations, and listening to punk rock music, these Christians feel that being “authentic” before the unbelievers in their lives means they too should do the same. But, again, more often than not professing Christians who try to impress their non-Christians friends with how hip, with it and “authentic” they are only end up looking silly, phony, and maybe even outright ridiculous. So much for being “authentic”! (Whatever gave us the idea that we could attract the world to Christ by trying hard to be like the world?)
What, then, does it mean to be a “credible” Christian? Perhaps it means that we stop trying to put on a religious act and realize that we are a lot like the believers we read about in the pages of the Bible — justified yet sinful at the same time; sanctified yet still deeply flawed; faithful (at times) yet unfaithful (at other times); etc. Very often in Scripture we read of believers who (on the one hand) sometimes demonstrated great faith and virtue, but who also (on the other hand) demonstrated great flaws and shortcomings. King David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, the “man after God’s own heart,” was a man of great faith and devotion. But he was also a great sinner who fell horribly in the affair with Bathsheba. The Apostle Peter was a man of earnest devotion to his Savior, but it was this same Apostle who denied Christ three times and on one occasion fudged the purity of the gospel to such an extent that his fellow Apostle Paul had to publicly rebuke him (Galatians 2). And even the great, learned, eloquent Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, who suffered so much and sacrificed so much for the cause of Christ’s gospel, confessed his own inner turmoil over his ongoing struggle with sin (in Romans 7). At one point in his ministry Paul had such a sharp disagreement with a co-laborer in the gospel (Barnabas) over whether or not to take John Mark along with them on a missionary journey, that they had to go their separate ways and labor in different fields of service (see Acts 15:36-41). And many more examples could be given.
The world and the church desperately need more of us to be “credible Christians.” How do we do that? I don’t have an easy, step-by-step formula to offer you on how to be or become a credible Christian (“5 easy steps to Christian credibility!” or something like that). But may I suggest that being a credible Christian means neither pretending to have arrived at sinless perfection, nor (on the other extreme) trying too hard to be like the world. Instead, perhaps we should just learn how to be who we are in Christ — with all of the amazing complexity that that involves in this present age where we are “already” saved, and yet “not yet” saved in the final, ultimate sense. We are great sinners who have been redeemed at great cost by a great Savior. And while we are certainly not perfect or sinless (and we should be willing to admit it, even before those who reject our Savior!), it is our earnest goal and desire to press on toward that sinless perfection which will be ours in glory (see Philippians 3:12-15). Perhaps we will regain our credibility as professing Christians when we learn to view ourselves as unworthy beggars who have been given the incredible gift of the Bread of Life. In relating to the unbelieving world, we will only be credible if we approach the unbelievers in our lives as beggars who have received the Bread of Life, and who wish to share the feast with our fellow beggars. In sum, we need to live in light of the gospel we profess to believe.
God, be merciful to us, and grant us grace to be credible Christians before a watching world. Amen.