One of the most discouraging (and blindsiding) things in life is to follow the Lord for some time, feel like you’re on the right track, be involved in the His work, and feel the definite guidance of the Holy Spirit…only to find yourself, as time passes, becoming a worse Christian. Sometimes we feel like we are going through sanctification in reverse. Our latter self seems more depraved and dispassionate than when we first picked up the Cross. Do you feel that way? Do you feel like you are a worse Christian now than you used to be?
Why do good Christians often go bad?
I write this post out of experience. So often I feel as if I am going backwards. So many times I have awoken, realizing I have less hope, faith, and love than I did the day before. It scares me. I know that “he who began a good work in me will perfect it” (Phil. 1:6), but why aren’t I being perfected? When I look back on my last twenty years as a believer, I don’t always see a progressive growth from worse to better, but a decline in the virtues that God is supposed to be developing within me. I remember John Piper once said, “When do I doubt God? Not in tragedy, but when I see the slowness of my sanctification.” Not only is our sanctification often slow, but it sometimes goes the opposite direction.
Here is a list of ten issues that cause good Christians to go bad that are less obvious than the blatant sins we often blame for such a state.
1. Dried-up Passion
When we first begin to follow the Lord, life is new and exciting. We are going to do great things for the Lord. We can’t wait to see what is around the corner. Our passions are high and our commitment is unwavering. However, at some point down the road we find ourselves tiring and slowly replacing this passion for what we believe to be the new “reality.” The answers that we had at the beginning are not so simple. God’s hand is heavy and his movements at a crawl. We started the race sprinting, but now we are taking break after break – and we are not that far down the track! Our passion dries up and we begin to consider whether we need to run this race at all. We shuffle along, hands in our pockets, kicking up dust as we go.
Christ tells us that we can lose our first love: “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place– unless you repent.” (Rev 2:4-5)
2. Entitlement for Sorrow
It is so easy to go through so many trials and troubles that we cut ourselves some slack. This is something I have done quite a bit over the last six years. Things have been so hard in my family (most of you know the stories). I held up great at the beginning, but at some point I began to feel sorry for myself. In doing so, I allowed myself to enter into self-destructive self-pity.
Unfortunately, this will often be the advice of others. “You’ve got to start thinking about yourself [insert your name]. After all, not many people have to go through what you have been through.” If we listen to this advice, we will quickly replace our spiritual life for one of paralyzing sorrow. And, even though this sorrow does not help anything, it is addictive and counter-productive to all we know.
The Lord tells us: “If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses?” (Jer 12:5). There is the ever present reality that our pains and sufferings may very well get worse. We must be weary of advice that may come our way which says we are entitled to sorrow. We are entitled to joyful suffering for the sake of Christ.
3. Wrong Companions
Don’t ever give up your kindness towards, love for, and friendship with those who are in desperate need of life change. But keep in mind that bad company does corrupt your morals (1 Cor. 15:33). The companion of fools suffers harm (Prov. 13:20). If your Christian life has gone in the wrong direction, take a look at those around you. With whom are you surrounding yourself? Are they people who inspire you to greatness or pull you down into the base hopes of this world?
4. Overly Critical
I see this so often with apologists. So many times we seek to present ourselves as those who are not naive. We want people to see us as seeking rational justification for everything we do and believe. This becomes unhealthy and destructive to the Christian life when we build a methodology which puts the Bible on the witness stand at every point. “I am not going to believe this verse until it is rationally justified on its own merits.” The idea here is that God is guilty of falsehood until proven innocent (although we would never put it that way). In doing so, we think we are doing God a favor.
However, after a while, this will tear our faith apart. We don’t need rational justification for everything we believe. Hang with me. Just think if you did this with your spouse. What if everything Kristie said to me needed to be questioned. “I am going to pick up the kids,” she says to me. “I don’t believe you unless you can prove it,” I respond. “Dinner is ready,” she says. “We will see about that,” I think to myself. At some point in our marriage, Kristie earned the right to be trusted. I don’t need to critically evaluate everything she says. If I did, our relationship would fall apart.
Some of you have quit believing the Lord and the Scriptures. You put everything in a queue of future belief. But there is a point when you decide that God and the Bible are trustworthy and you set aside the critiques. It is not a matter of “just believing” for no reason at all. It is a matter of “just believing” because God is trustworthy. Some of you need to get back to reading and believing the Scriptures.
5. Not Working Hard
Laziness is a companion of spiritual lethargy. God did not create us to be idle. One of the greatest gifts one can have is a job that is labor intensive. I have rediscovered this recently. I spend quite a bit of time every day doing hard labor in the sun in my backyard. I have three and a half acres of land. The lack of rain over the years has cause about forty trees to die. I have logged quite a few hours cutting down and burning these trees over the last few months. I don’t know if there has been anything else as spiritually satisfying as this.
Many of us need to fill our idle time with sweat. Don’t underestimate how spiritually invigorating this can be.
6. Other Christians
Other Christians can be such a drain. I often get this on this blog. I can be brought very low when I see how mean Christians can be to one another. It sometimes makes me think, “What is it all worth?” Some of you have had your worst experiences with those who profess Christ. Some of you don’t want to live the Christian life any longer because of other Christians.
As easy as it is to sympathize with this, realize that this is a counterproductive dead end. The answer for all of us is simple: Be everything that they are not. Every minute of every day, surprise people by your kind and gentle spirit. Be a force for good. You are only responsible for yourself. You can inspire and change people with one comment, one smile, one act of grace at a time. If other Christians are acting worse than heathens, you be Christ to them and be everything they are not.
7. Misreading God
It is so easy to misread God. We often interpret him one way when he is really going the other. This can disillusion our spirituality, causing us great hopelessness and a derailed Christian life. I have a friend who, a few months ago, was in serious trouble with the law. He had done something wrong and he got caught. He came to me in great sorrow and repentance, fearful of what was going to happen to him and his family if he went to jail. His repentance was sincere and heartfelt. He was broken beyond belief. We all entered into prayer for him. A few weeks later we got word that no charges were being filed. He came to me and talked about all the blessings this difficulty had brought about in his life. It restored his family and caused him to be closer than ever to God. When he found out that the charges were not being filed, he rejoiced with tears, praising the mercy of God. I have never seen someone so happy, and he stayed that way for weeks. However, last week,a bomb was dropped on him. They suddenly decided to press charges and it does not look good. His joy has been turned to the deepest sorrow. And it is not just that he is being punished for a crime, but that from his perspective, it seems that God toyed with him.
We must be careful about misreading God. We don’t really know which way he is going and he does not guarantee the type of deliverance we so often long for. When we go left and God goes right, it is important for us to quickly submit and adjust course. But the best is simply to wait to turn until we are certain that he has turned.
8. Liberty Leading to License
It is easy for those of us who believe so deeply in grace to fall into license. This can cause our faith to fall apart. We can sometimes keep from falling into serious sin, but it is the little liberties in which we indulge that can slowly erode our spirituality. When we give ourselves too much license, the resulting actions, though lawful, are not always profitable (1 Cor. 6:12). One of the liberties I started taking a few years ago was watching a few series on TV. Why not? There is nothing wrong with relaxing, taking a break to enjoy some entertainment. As well, much of it can be somewhat educational. But liberties are so easy to become addicted to. After a while, we don’t find any enjoyment outside of them.
The same could be said for Christians who enjoy alcohol, relief that comes by prescription meds, food addiction, sexual indulgence (even with one’s spouse), or rest. All of these, in and of themselves, can be good things and are gifts of God. However, it is so easy to give ourselves so much rope in these areas that we eventually find ourselves hanging by this rope. Addictions are among the hardest sins to break and can prove to be the most spiritually draining of all. Their danger comes by way of their subtlety.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
9. Not Accepting God’s Grace
Just as dangerous as giving yourself too many grace allowances is not accepting God’s grace every day. There will rarely, if ever, be a day when you don’t sin. Many good Christians struggle with issues including pornography, homosexual attraction, food addiction, and so many others. Not only is the sin draining, but neglecting to accept our only hope—the unmerited mercy of God—is fatal to our spiritual life. I know how hard it is to accept God’s grace for the thousandth time a week for the same sin. But if you don’t, not only are you cutting yourself off from your only renewal, but you are saying that Christ’s sacrifice is only for those things that are not too difficult or addicting. Christ died for all your sins, no matter how many times you commit them. Learning to be a beggar for grace is learning to be a Christian.
10. Excessive Pampering
I have a little jewel of a book called A Knight’s Own Book of Chivalry, written by Geoffroi de Charny in 1356. In it he gives advice, knight to knight, about how to be a knight of virtue. One of his contentions is that a good knight needs to guard against “excessive pampering.” This, according to de Charny, leads to an inability to be effective in life. His advice is to make sure that one does not get used to nice beds and soft pillows. We need to learn to sleep out in the heat and cold. We need to make sure we don’t become too fond of pampering ourselves or we will find ourselves impotent in many opportunities the Lord may give us.
We can pamper ourselves in so many ways. The basic principle is to never get to the point where you think you must have something to survive. This can be something as small as giving up our morning coffee, to something much greater like giving up our savings account. The point is that when we structure our lives to take away all the stress that we need to engage, we can find ourselves slipping spiritually. This is why fasting and self-discipline are such important parts of the Christian life.