Good Pagan, Bad Christian

The good pagan idea has been in my mind for a while and it wasn’t until after I wrote a draft of this that I started to read Dante’s Inferno. Either I unconsciously absorbed his “virtuous pagan” freshman year of college or I am kindred soul with the greatest writers of Western Civilization. You decide.
One troubling aspect of Christianity for me is what I have come to call good pagans. I know several non-Christians that most would call, good people. They may have no Scripture to support their lifestyle or comprehensive “worldview.” These good pagans have some kind of internal moral code, whether reasoned and logically derived or simply based on their conscience; most of the time they are mostly friendly, fair, responsible, and generous. They don’t lie or steal. They are good parents, faithful spouses, and good citizens without an external system of beliefs to support their actions. Their moral compass is internal and they follow it.
This bothers me when I ponder bad Christians. People who profess to follow Christ yet act like jerks, to use a friendly word. We all know of Christian leaders who have failed sexually and churches torn apart by arguments. Some have tried to answer this. Here are a few of their suggestions. People that start out with more struggles will likely be drawn to Christ. They are more aware of their flaws than people who have a naturally good. As a camp song says, “God’s still working on me,” but there are some people that seem like they need more work then others. In addition, Satan is always tempting Christians to fail morally. Yet think how this looks to good pagans. They observe people professing to be Christians and professing to have a higher standard acting worse then they are. What reason do they have to become Christians? Who would the man helped by the Good Samaritan what to be like; the religious people who passed him by or the Samaritan with his corrupted form of Jewish worship?
I recognize that all Christians are a work in progress and that no one is perfect. I also know that the ones on the fringes are often the most vocal about their faith. (Why is that?) There must be some evidence of change, however. We are the ones that have the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us. Not only is faith without works dead, it also kills. It turns away people from the truth, especially the good pagan, the atheist who has never cheated on his wife, and the spiritually agnostic person who is friendly and hospitable. It gives them proof that being a Christian makes no difference. Instead of looking to God as the one who gave them a pleasant attitude and good common sense, they have plenty of reason to look to themselves as their source of goodness.
I don’t have a good answer for this. Perhaps what it means to be a Christian has become watered down. The longer I walk with Christ the more I realize that being saved from my sins is only one part of Christ’s death on the cross. An attitude that focuses only on salvation from sins (the justification work of salvation) produces dress-up Christians. They put on Christ as Paul says, but in a manner other then he means. Dress-up Christian put on Christ as a costume to mask what is underneath. Some of us do look nice in our beautiful dresses and neat suits. Yet the world is full of nice people, it doesn’t take Christ to do that. I think what really concerns Christ is the bulging bellies and flabby forms that even nice clothes can’t hide and often show at embarrassing moments. He is interested in such a complete transformation that we will be such beings, to steal from C.S. Lewis, we would be “strongly tempted to worship.” It’s an idea.

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One comment

  1. Jessi · December 6, 2009

    so why aren't more Christians transformed? why, if they have the power of God inside of them, don't they look different? why do they appear to be even worse? I know I have asked you this before and we have had this conversation…it just still puzzles me. It might always. But I am determined to find at least a somewhat satisfying answer. Does Christianity work and if so, how? Where is the power and what does it look like in a person's life? Because it obviously doesn't make them look like a good person…maybe the power is in humility? In a person being able to admit their wrongdoing? But even then I know few Christians able to do this, myself being one.

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