Go ahead and live badly

Coming up short

Coming up short (Flickr, wilhei55).

Perhaps the most tiresome complaint about Christians is that they are hypocrites.

Just typing the word makes me yawn. Yes, some professed believers are sanctimonious. Yes, some are false. Yes, some are even manipulative. But most are like me; they are garden-variety moral losers. And how boring is that?

The majority of complaints about supposed hypocrisy are really complaints about moral weakness and failure, something that plagues everyone. Can it be any other way? Jesus tells us in Matthew 5 to be perfect. Ever succeed at that? Me neither.

One response to this is to define morality down, to lower the bar. If losing your temper, or taking God’s name in vain, or having lustful thoughts, or gossiping, or gorging yourself at the dinner table are suddenly acceptable behaviors, then one need not let them bedevil the conscience.

Our therapeutic, narcissistic, self-actualized culture has become quite adept at loosening the tolerances on our moral filters so that just about anything can get by. As the church lamentably drifts with the culture, the more significant concern is not a church full of strident but hypocritical moralists; it’s a church full of supposed Christians who don’t care that much about biblical morality.

Instead of defining morality down, we should try living up to the impossible standard. After all, “if a thing is worth doing,” as G.K. Chesterton said, “it is worth doing badly.” That includes living the Christian life. Nobody does it perfectly, and coming up short shouldn’t stop us from giving it our all—despite opening us up to charges of hypocrisy. Like St. Paul we press toward the mark even though we stumble. That’s what repentance is all about.

The point of the Christian life is to progress into greater union with God, to become more like Christ and enjoy ever more communion with the Father. It’s a transformation that comes in degrees—and since God is infinite, growing into his image is a job and a joy that never ends.

We don’t settle for badly, but we have to start someplace. Look back on the last ten years of your life. Has your walk deepened, your faith grown, your understanding increased? Take heart and keep pressing toward the mark. None of us are done yet, none has arrived, and none of that matters. We keep going anyway.

Living the Christian faith badly is the only way to do it. And it’s the only thing worth doing.

About Joel J. Miller

I'm the author of Lifted by Angels, a look at angels through the eyes of the early church. Click here for more about me or subscribe to my RSS here.

  • http://www.skingsly.blogspot.com Kingsly

    With every right choice we make, we become more like Jesus and as you have rightly said, it is a life long process.

  • http://www.necpacarts.com Loralee

    Bravo! Well said Joel! The truth is, hypocrisy is a part of ALL of our lives – regardless of our theological leanings. The degree to which we are aware of our OWN hypocrisy (rather than everyone else’s) I believe is a true indicator of spiritual maturity. We all stand with the apostle Paul (“For what I want to do, I do not do; but what I hate, I do” Rom. 7:15) Thanks for sharing.

    • http://joeljmiller.com Joel J. Miller

      True. It’s interesting to read the lives of saints. By any observable measure, they have attained levels of holiness that those surrounding them have not — and yet they are very frank about their sin. The closer we get to a Holy God the more unholy we realize we are — and how much we need him.

  • http://www.bikiniorbust.wordpress.com Donloree

    YES! We wouldn’t need instructions on how to live if we could do it already. Besides, it’s about who you are and what you bring to the world, not just what you do. I wake up every morning and strive to live the best life possible. The day I ‘arrive’ is the day I die…and I am quite enjoying living right now! Onwards and upwards!

  • http://fireandhammer.blogspot.com Dennis

    Thanks for the great post. As I read I thought about the current NFL playoffs. We are down to four teams. Ultimately only one will win the Super Bowl. That means thirty-one teams will fall short of the mark. Many of those teams will face criticism for how they played this year and questions asking if they are doing enough to win next year. Yet each will continue to be a football team and will play again next season (assuming no lockout). They fall short but what makes them an NFL team is not how they play on the field. We Christians fall short of the mark but its not works that make us Christians. Thus, knowing what and who we are we should strive to live as instructed by God, accepting his grace when we mess up.

    • http://joeljmiller.com Joel J. Miller

      Amen, and a great analogy.

  • http://mhmcintyre.wordpress.com Mark McIntyre

    Everything that is worth doing is worth doing badly. We learn to read, play an instrument, play a sport and live by making mistakes and striving to do better.

    Thanks for the post.

    • http://joeljmiller.com Joel J. Miller

      Absolutely correct. If instant perfection were the requirement, we’d never get started. We become saints step by step.

  • http://steveakers.com Steve Akers

    Great article… very encouraging. I particularly like the statement, “Since God is infinite, growing into his image is a job and a joy that never ends.” This is something that I have been thinking a lot about lately.

    Having said that, I do believe hypocrisy is a huge problem. Not necessarily because we often commit transgressions that we may publicly speak against. Rather because too often service molded to our liking or done out of a sense of obligation rather than passion or love for the Father. Jesus said in Matthew 15:7-9, “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS , BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME , TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’”

    • http://joeljmiller.com Joel J. Miller

      Point taken. Nothing above should minimize the problem of true hypocrisy.

      • Myrt Buoncuore

        True that!!!

  • http://www.brockhenning.com Brock S. Henning

    Joel, that’s quite thought-provoking! To start somewhere, even ‘badly’, than to not live it at all. To shed the worry over setbacks, and simply continue walking. I can dig it. :)

  • Dass

    Dear Joel,
    This post was very really useful to me. Cos i always felt bad and worthless when i miss the mark God has set. My major fears were “what if someone call me a hypocrite?” “look he is christian and he is not like Christ”.. This post gave me practical and doable guidance. I am really blessed.

    Thanks for posting this Joel… God bless you…

  • Roy Wallen

    Many thanks for a great article.

  • http://www.confessionsofalegalist.com Jeremy Statton

    I have heard Mark Driscoll say, “Don’t judge people by where they are, judge them by where they have come from.”

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