I dated a pastor’s daughter when I was 21, with whom I used to have long-drawn conversations which seemingly always revolved around spirituality and religion. As someone who had only started becoming a follower of Jesus a couple years prior, I asked her out of curiosity,
“When did you first give your life to Christ?”
“I guess I’ve always known Him,” she replied. “I’ve always been saved.”
Interesting statement, I thought. How does being born out of a religious family automatically make someone ‘saved’ by default? I’ve heard of people say they’ve accepted Christ in their hearts when they were five years old, so it didn’t sound too far off – yet I was still taken aback by such a pious remark.
I have to admit, I was a pretty awkward guy in my late teens and early twenties. Even though I tried my best to maintain our long-distance relationship, I knew it was only a matter of time before it would come to an end. It became all the more real when she told me,
“I need to focus on my relationship with God.”
Fair enough. But not even a couple weeks later, I was even more taken aback when she posted a poem titled I Want You To Chase Me on her blog. Of course, I assumed it was directed towards me, so I tried to pursue her again upon impulse. But I found out rather quickly how wrong I was. I’d be lying if I said I have not struggled with feeling extremely bitter towards her for feeling so led-on. Although forgiveness has never been my greatest strength, I do wish her the best and I hope she finds herself a guy who can fulfill her in ways that I could not.
However, this experience caused me to be on my guard whenever I considered to date women with religious values.
This wasn’t the last time I was burned by a fellow believer. I’ve had many former friends act piously on Sunday morning and treat others horribly, including myself, every other day of the week. One Christian friend I once worked for used to condescendingly tell me all my mistakes were a direct reflection of my relationship with God. A paradox, it seems, when their wrongdoings were called out by others they were seemingly brushed aside as though they were the real victims who could do no wrong.
These among many other negative experiences with fellow Christians often led me to weigh my own self-worth and feel like I was, in their view, unholy and undesirable. One of the many reasons why many people seem to be extremely turned off by Christianity is because of those who harbor a bad case of moralistic superiority syndrome – or in simpler terms, acting ‘holier than thou.’ It seems very reminiscent to the passages in the Bible when Jesus called out the Pharisees for abusing their own laws and traditions to maintain their pious image.
Some of the most manipulative, condescending, rude and difficult people I’ve ever had to deal with were those who claimed to follow Christ. I’m not at all saying all Christians act this way, but there seems to be a special type of arrogance that comes with believing one’s self is already predestined to be ‘saved’ – the type that causes someone to think of the other person as less holy, sometimes even less desirable, intelligent or valuable. In effect, pride seems to swell up just enough to make a person in complete denial of their own wrongdoings. In a world where negativity spreads like wildfire, this seems to confirm a legitimate reason why Christians seem to have such a bad stereotype.
These are one of the many reasons why I have struggled with what many Christians believe to be justification by ‘Faith Alone’ (Sola Fide). The idea that one can nonchalantly ‘accept’ Jesus as their personal savior and not worry about the repercussions of their actions seems to be a very destructive mindset. The intent behind this ideology is that good deeds are supposed to be a reflection of good faith in the same way a good tree should bear good fruit.
To me, using Jesus’ death for our sins as ‘fire insurance’ while being self-aware of our own deliberate wrongdoing seems to be nothing short of a giant cop-out from being accountable for our own actions. For even the Scriptures say,
“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Matthew 23:12 NIV
“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” – Hebrews 10:26-27 NIV
Another interesting observation in Scripture is how Lucifer, a former archangel of God, was cast out of Paradise along with a third of the angels for the very same sin many Christians carry – the sin of pride.
“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart,
‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.’
Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.” – Isaiah 14:12-15 KJV
From my understanding, Lucifer and the rebelling angels were fully aware of God’s glory and experienced it firsthand. The Bible itself says that even the demons ‘believe’ in God and shudder (James 2:19). Angels and humans may be two completely different beings, but if belief and actions were supposedly divorced from one another, shouldn’t Lucifer’s ‘faith’ have kept him secured in Paradise?
Or perhaps this implies that actions speak louder than mere words or thoughts? Perhaps faith and obedience are inseparable and must go hand in hand?
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
– James 2:14, 24, 26 NIV
The truth is, nobody likes to be preached at or told we are sinners, especially Christians themselves. But I think being a follower of Christ should mean acknowledging we are all equally fallible human beings and we aren’t perfect from the beginning (Romans 3:10,23). Having faith is definitely beneficial and humbling when it comes to realizing that trying to work for our salvation is like washing with dirty rags (Isaiah 64:6); although there is something to be said about holding each other accountable for our actions as long as it is meant to build each other up.
Whether a person believes in Jesus or not, no one is exempt from personal responsibility. When Christ’s suffering comes to mind, I think of how everyone else (especially those who aren’t religious) have their own crosses to bear. Everyone has to endure the hardships of life and also experience death at some point. Should other people’s sufferings be invalidated by those who suffer with faith? Absolutely not! In fact, as people of faith, it should be our job to empathize with them. Mother Teresa once quoted,
“I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.”
If one were to ask whether I’m saved through faith in Jesus, my answer would go like this – I was saved (Romans 8:24), I am in the process of being saved (1 Corinthians 1:18, Philippians 2:12), and I have a hope that I will be saved (Romans 5:9). My greatest hope is that my love for God ought to be shown in how I treat everyone as people of value made in His image, regardless of what their walk of life may be.
But ultimately, it is not up to me to decide whether or not I fit the criteria for entering Paradise. If I invoke judgement upon myself for exalting myself and mistreating His creations, even as a person of faith, then I sure as hell deserve it.
“My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” – 1 Corinthians 4:4 NIV