I’m thankful to those of you who have taken part privately and publicly in this discussion, and especially to those who are having issues with what I’ve been saying this week, because that forces me to find other ways of saying it which in turn makes it clearer and gets me closer to communicating the message I’m really after.
If you just tuned in, it all started when someone questioned why those who have almost always been Christians appear to have less of a testimony than those who have had a dramatic turnaround from sin to salvation. I was quick to point out that they, in fact, did have less of a testimony, not because their sin was any less awful, but because they were being less than honest about themselves. We’ve hidden it behind the safer word “testimony,” but what we are doing here is what simply can’t be done, and that’s to compare sin. We are weighing sin and making conclusions about whose sin is worse, or who has more or less of it. This is not only impossible to do; it’s absurd, not to mention it’s also forbidden since it includes passing judgment which Jesus clearly told us not to do.
Whenever you find yourself comparing sin, I have one quick easy way out of that cul-de-sac: affirm the fact that the only comparison you can truthfully make about this is that your sin is worse than anybody else’s. It’s worse because it’s yours. You know all about it. You don’t know about anyone else’s sin, but you are an expert on your own, so call yourself the worse sinner out there and don’t go beyond that.
And here’s one more thing. You don’t have to have had a bad “before” to have a good testimony, just look at your life right now, and you’ve got enough sin to make up for any amount of pious upbringing you think you might have had. Anyone who thinks that there exists somewhere in the universe, or in time, or in their church or on their block a worse sinner than they are has not yet seen as they ought to see.
That can only mean everyone’s got a good testimony. Everyone has a great testimony on the sheer merit of the current sin in their life that they are being freed from continually, and for which they are receiving moment by moment forgiveness.
[Here are some selected thoughts from comments received this week.]
The false self we create (Thomas Merton and other contemplatives write about this) is such a huge detriment to living in truth, transparency and total dependence on the power of the Spirit. This is a timely word to a “lost” generation of “Always Christians.”
I never gave much grace away before I saw my total brokenness.
I only wish more “Always Christians” would have shared this with me over the years as I was beating my head against the wall trying to live up to unrealistic standards.
I think he [a one-time close friend] embraced an evangelical denomination as a means of dealing with his feelings of betrayal, and so has become very judgmental on the actions and attitudes of others. We used to be good friends, and I was there for him during his divorce, but now I avoid him whenever I can. I just don’t need a religious brow-beating.