One of the saddest conceptions that people have about Christians in the world today is that they are ‘holier than thou’. There seems to be this belief that Christians think they’re better than non-Christians, and that, as a consequence, they are constantly judging those who don’t live in the same way. The problem is that when you get to the heart of the Christian message – the message of Jesus that we call the gospel – you can actually see that that’s not what Christianity is about at all.
Before I get to the Bible, I want to give you a couple of lines from a poem by a man called George Herbert. This poem, called ‘Prayer’, is essentially a consideration of what prayer actually means, and, whilst the whole poem is striking and powerful, I want to pick out two lines for this post. Herbert calls prayer:
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tower,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear
What’s he on about? How can prayer be an engine (think siege engine) against the Almighty, a tower for sinners, or the spear that pierced Christ’s side (when he was on the cross, a soldier pierced Jesus’ side with a spear to check if he was actually dead)? How can prayer, one of the foundations of Christian life, be any of those things?
It can be those things because we have to realise that prayer is a privilege, not an entitlement. The ability that any human being has to come directly before God and have him listen to them talk about anything and everything was granted to us by God himself in an act of incredible humility, that we Christians call the incarnation. We have direct access to God because God came to us first, as a man, and we killed him. And in that death, as Christians say, he took all the junk of the world on his shoulders, he took all of the punishment that we deserve, in exchange for giving us the freedom and the power that he deserved.
Christians believe that we have access to God not because we deserve it, or because we’re better than the next guy, but because we know that we have messed up so incredibly badly that the only way we could ever know the perfect God is that if he chooses to know us first. And the amazing truth of the gospel is that, in Jesus, God did choose to know us first. He chose to come to us and pay the ultimate price so that we could come to him.
Those lines of poetry, to me, represent the incredible humility of God in allowing sinners to come to him, and in allowing sinners to pierce his side with a spear. What do I mean by sinners? All of us. We’ve all screwed up. We’re all separate from God.
Did you know, that I actually believe that it’s impossible for humans to be good enough to go to heaven?
But I also believe these words of Jesus, from the book of Mark, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (10:27)
There’s something else that Jesus said that’s pretty important here: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)
And one more verse that’s important: “No one is good—except God alone.” (Mark 10:18)
What do these verses tell us? That no one is good, therefore, we’re all sinners. Who did Jesus come to call? Sinners. And who needs Jesus? The sick (sinners). So is there anyone capable of saving themselves through their goodness? Nope. Does that mean, then, that Christians are sinners just like everybody else on this planet? Yep.
Let’s get back to my point at the start. It’s a terrible misconception that Christians are, in any way, better than the rest. The message of Jesus tells us the opposite! If we actually believe the words of Jesus (which is pretty important for Christians) then to be in a relationship, to need him in our lives, is to know that we’re sinners. To be a Christian, you need to be able to recognise that you are not perfect! And once you know that, and you realise that the only reason you have access to God is because he humbled himself to come to you, you know that you are in no position to act like you’re better than anyone else.
We Christians are not ‘holier than thou’. We’re not holier than anyone. Only God is holy. Only God is good. As Christians, the only thing that we’ve done is recognise that, and admitted that our only chance of living good lives is if we let Jesus show us how.