That’s my rallying cry: especially when I’m feeling low or caught doing something I’m ashamed of. I’m not perfect – but I must be getting ‘better’ – otherwise, I may as well give up now. If I’m not improving in some way, then what’s the point?
As a Christian I reckon I’m meant to be getting progressively holier – but this isn’t just for religious folks. Whether you’re a church-goer or not, aren’t all of us striving to be nicer, kinder and better than we are? Don’t we all want to point to our old selves and say, ‘ha! Course I’ve moved on since those struggles’.
There are different ways of doing it. Getting better I mean. Maybe we compare ourselves to friends, people who seem to be naturally sunny and generous. Or perhaps we make a list of resolutions: this week I’m gonna’ weed the garden, call my Mum, nag less, take out the rubbish without being asked. Maybe we paste verses or inspirational texts on the fridge. ‘Be nice’. ‘Love like Jesus does’ etc.
I got up at dawn for my quiet time. Prayed for the persecuted church. I’ve read the book of Leviticus – Twice. I’m in seventeen accountability groups. Job done, right?
er – no. In my life anyway, no amount of teaching on obedience is making me better
And let me ask, how’s that panning out for you? The whole loving-other-people-getting-better-all-the-time schtick? Is it working? Is reading a list of rules or happy thoughts making you nicer? If good cop’s not the way forward, then what about his evil twin: PC Guilty? Has he kick-started you into moral self-improvement?
Now look, I’m not saying that goodness isn’t good. I’m not saying it’s not right to want to be better and to try and do it. But is that the Christian life? Self-improvement. Trying harder. Being ‘better’.
If it is, then I’m out. You see, I’m good at pretending to be good – but doing it…er, not so much.
The point of Christianity is not getting better. It’s knowing Jesus. And I’m sorry to keep banging on about this, but every skerrick of my being screams ‘I’ll do it myself’.
I have to keep reminding myself of the gospel because it leaks out my ears overnight. (Along with sleep drool, my pillow is saturated with the stuff). And if I think the gospel is about getting better, I’ll make myself and everyone around me very unhappy. I’ll have to hide who I am and fake godly. I’ll never know I’m saved and I’ll never be good enough. I’ll exhaust myself performing and then I’ll leave it all behind.
But here’s what Paul says in Romans 7: Paul, a church leader – the one we’d expect to have it all together and to be a living embodiment of progressive niceness:
“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging waragainst the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? “
…. rules? Good intentions? Accountability groups? Not bad in themselves, but not the answer either. He continues;
“Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”