A couple months ago I saw a blog post going around titled “I Don’t Have My S*** Together.” It’s by a self-professed Christian author who is seriously troubled by the thought of pretending to be good. My response was—and is—visceral, but I was hoping some distance would give me clarity.
I’ve seen this line of thought before. I’ve even wandered a little ways down that path myself. It usually comes of rethinking a legalistic background. You work so hard to be good, to appear perfect, and everyone else around you pretends to be perfect when you know they’re not.
Then you discover grace. Or maybe you discover it anew. And you realize Jesus didn’t die for perfect people, and that church isn’t a place for perfect people, and that it’s ok not to be perfect. Then you realize just how screwed up the game you were playing really was.
Then you enter the fog.
Christians are supposed to be good, but technically you don’t have to be good. That’s supposed to be the good news: that you’re saved by grace. But sometimes in the fog you start to wonder if being good even matters. And that good news stirs a delusional monster that thinks it’s invincible, that it can enjoy sin without consequence.
But no! You know you shouldn’t. You need to fight this! But then you find yourself losing and you feel like instead of fooling others you’re just fooling yourself. And then you remember someone once told you to “let go and let God.” So you throw up your hands and cry for help.
The writer of that post seems to be in some version of this fog. He’s done with the facade, and that’s fantastic. But I think he goes too far because instead of owning up to his state in humility and striving for something better, he seems to be committed to authenticity and waiting for a miracle. Instead of just losing the facade, it seems he’s lost the image of what could be. He’s just clinging to his brokenness because it’s real.
And I say, “No, you definitely do not have your poop together.” But 1) who does? and 2) is this worth boasting about?
There are good people in the world. Some of them are even Christians. I’m bewildered at how Athenagoras of Athens boasts about the holiness of the early church. He said Christians were above reproach, the best people in the land.
It seems downright cruel to suggest it’s possible.
Because that’s not the church I see. And that’s definitely not me. But what really, really ticks me off is the suggestion that it’s not worth the struggle. A wise man once told me the struggle IS the gift. (He’d stolen it from another wise man.)
The struggle is the gift! I believe that with all my heart. You’re not a slave to sin anymore if you are in Christ, but you will still screw up. And you have the potential to screw up BIG. The point is to do everything you can not to go down that path, and know that you’re not alone in the fight. You have the Holy Spirit and the Church. The fight may be long and hard. Maybe you won’t even win before you breathe your last. But that doesn’t mean you give up, that doesn’t mean sin wins.
Let’s take the major example the writer mentioned. Swearing. He’s tried not to swear, but he still swears, and he’s tired of pretending he doesn’t swear, so he’s being authentic and swearing.
Let’s ignore for a moment that people disagree over how bad swearing really is. The author obviously feels convicted that this is wrong, and you shouldn’t violate your own conscience. He’s tried not to swear. Good! He still swears. Not good. He’s tired of pretending he doesn’t swear. Good! He gives in and embraces swearing because it’s who he really is for now.
This is the mistake: wrapping your identity around the sin. If swearing is a problem for you, yes, that is part of who you are, part of your story, but it’s not the whole story. So is the fight. So is the remorse. So is your attempt to make things right after the fact. When you as a Christian say “I’m a sinner” as if that’s all there is to it, you’re dead wrong. Wrong! Add “saved by grace” and you’re getting warmer. Some would say you’re a “saint who sometimes sins,” and that’s better still.
So, Christian dude who can’t help swearing, you’re not being authentic when you just embrace the swearing like you have no control. Because you can fight it. Maybe you’re tempted to swear 100 times in a day and by exercising minimal self-control, you work it down to 80. The temptation isn’t the sin. Giving in is the sin.
You aren’t defined by your temptations. The “real” you isn’t the you that just happens, it’s the version of yourself you choose to be. Some things you can’t change. You can’t change your past, your natural aptitudes and disabilities, your physiological framework. Maybe you can’t even control what tempts you. But you can work to strengthen the good and minimize the bad. You have a limited range of people you can be. You’ll always be you, but you have freedom to move around the range and be the BEST you possible.
Let me say it again: the real you isn’t what surfaces when you give up. The real you is who you choose to be each day. Pretending you’re something you’re not is wrong. (I say this to myself, too…I want people to think I’m better than I really am.) But giving into the version of you that “just happens” is foolish.
And I get worked up over this 1) because I’ve wrestled with sin and grace and sanctification, I spent a long time in that horrid fog, 2) because I’ve traveled in legalistic circles and seen the damage fake perfect people can cause, and 3) because I see people who should know better falling into this trap and taking others down with them.
So I’m saying to you, no matter where you are: do not be fooled. You struggle with sin? GOOD! Be glad. Some people don’t have that luxury. The struggle is the gift. You won’t be perfect, and you should never claim to be, but giving up is worse. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t lose heart.
You’re not alone.