Today I would like to commend to your attention a piece by Mark Galli that appeared in Christianity Today back in the summer of 2009. It was not a good time for evangelicals in the public spotlight: Carrie Prejean, Miss California and heroine of the anti-gay-marriage debate, was outed as having posed nude to kick-start her modeling career. John and Kate Gosselin, who were expected to use the fame from their reality show to champion Christian family values, got divorced. And then of course, there was South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, a strident evangelical who took off to Rio with some pretty young thing, revealed TMI about it publicly, and then tried to spin it all into some spiritual justification for staying in office. Good times; I am sure you remember it all quite well.
Galli then moves beyond all this to speak to one of the most prevalent idols in all of the evangelical ethos: the myth of so-called “transformation”. The idea is that once you accept Christ and enter into the Christian life, your sins will grow progressively smaller and your good fruit will grow progressively larger. This change will be visible for all the world to see. There will be a noticeable difference between Christians and the rest of the world, marked chiefly by the fact that we live holier, better, more upright lives. What’s more, this difference will be so striking that it will cause any non-Christian who comes into contact with a Christian to look and say, “OMG!!!!! What is it about that person that makes him/her so different from me and from other people? Whatever it is, I WANT SOME OF THAT!!!!!”
Not so, says Galli. Sanctification may be marked by growth in personal righteousness and spiritual maturity, but it is usually just as (if not more so) marked by an ever-growing awareness of how we FAIL to live up to the standard of righteousness which God has set for us. Yes, even after we are saved. The good news is that God has judged all our ugliness and sordidness for exactly what it is, and accepted us all the same. A monumental act of grace on His part, massively humbling for us when we stop to think about it.
The problem is that in many quarters of evangelicalism, this is just not enough. Our ethos is rife with warnings about “cheap grace”–grace which has been rendered meaningless (in our eyes) by its apparent failure to produce visible and lasting life change. And so we push harder and harder to grow in righteousness and spiritual maturity–or at least, to project an appearance of growth that will pass muster in the eyes of others.
Read Mark Galli’s article and consider this: Just what is it that we as Christians have to offer the world? Is it ourselves and our example of righteousness? Or is it Jesus Christ and him crucified?