Is Not The Same
As Being Christian
This post answers the question, “Why are Christians sometimes more sinful than non-Christians?”
And the answer is found in understanding the difference between Christian Condition (salvation) and Christian Living (character). Or to put it more simply, salvation VS character.
I say “VS” because these two ideas don’t blend. And this really is the crux of the issue.
The right “condition” – salvation – should, in theory, produce better “character” but that doesn’t always happen, at least not so we can tell it, and it never works in reverse. Good character never produces salvation. They are two entirely separate issues. Both can and do happen apart from the other.
Nicodemus developed good character as an adult long before and apart from his salvation. Fortunately, he did eventually get saved but his salvation was not an outcome of his character and, sadly, there are many “good” people who don’t get saved. Nicodemus had many associates who missed their opportunity.
Christians often justify marrying unbelievers because they are “very good.” It is the “good” part that makes them attractive in spite of being lost. In some cases these good people eventually become Christian and in some they don’t but being “good” had no bearing on the outcome either way. Good character makes them easy to marry and live with. It does nothing to change their “condition.”
The reverse is also true. It is possible to become a believer and never catch up entirely on the character scale. David with his polygamy and adultery is a good example.
This is an important discussion because you often find non-Christians – in some cases atheists – living on a higher moral plane than Christians. You also find varying degrees of integrity among believers. Some have great qualities and others need a lot of growth.
But, the truth is…
“Christian” is not synonymous with “good” any more than “unbeliever” is synonymous with “bad.”
And the Bible has many examples of people who were good before they became believers.
- Cornelius was a good man before he got saved, Acts 10:2.
- Lydia was a very good religious person before opening her heart to the Lord, Acts 16:14.
- Apollos was a very committed person and knowledgeable in the Bible before he got saved, Acts 18:24.
- And, of course, Paul was also knowledgeable in the Old Testament and vehemently served God according to his understanding before he got saved, Acts 9:1-6. He was wrong in his beliefs but he had good character. His character was the foundation of his service after his salvation.
What was true for Paul was true for all of these people. They were solid, reliable, honest, decent people before they got saved and there was no connection between these good qualities and their salvation. Many “poor quality” people get saved also.
So, a person’s condition does not correspond exactly to their character. “Saved” is not always virtuous and “lost” is not always vile.
Each person’s character is based on many different factors and salvation isn’t the first one on the list. In the case of a lost person it is never a factor.
Character is initially influenced by the things parents do to nurture and care for their young. Even when a person is saved early in life it comes only after the initial influence of their first care givers.
And there is no guarantee that a person won’t develop bad character qualities even after they are saved. Probably will. It’s an upstream battle. But remember this…
Salvation makes good character possible in this life but it doesn’t guarantee it until the next.
The effects of poor parenting, bad influences and a sinful nature are not automatically overridden by salvation. In fact, it doesn’t even erase bad character and I’ll explain why just now.
When salvation comes late in life it may be added to layers of bad life style choices and sloppy habits. Unfortunately, salvation only changes your eternal destiny it does nothing to change your sinful tendencies. Your old nature is exactly the same the day after your salvation as it was the day before and its influence will continue until the new Christian develops the knowledge and skill to live by a new nature.
Yes, a new Christian will sometimes experience a spiritual high that makes them appear like a changed person but eventually “life happens” and their responses default to old habits. The new nature enables a person to develop better responses but only if they make an intentional effort to avoid the old by embracing the new.
That was the point of Romans 6:16-18.
But this is where many people get confused. They don’t understand the idea of two natures.
A Christian is said to be “born again” because they receive a new nature the moment they believe. This new nature is completely separate to the one they were born with naturally – a sinful nature – and is entirely perfect. It can never be corrupted. But, it doesn’t replace, remove, kill or annihilate the flawed nature.
Your old nature isn’t entirely bad but it is completely unacceptable, hence the need for salvation. Confusion comes because the old nature does have the capacity to develop good character qualities in spite of a lost condition. Good character doesn’t mean someone is saved and bad character doesn’t mean they aren’t.
It’s great when a person has good character but that isn’t the end of the story. Unfortunately, the basic sinful nature every person is born with cannot be eradicated by any level of goodness. Even when character is good an unbeliever’s “condition” remains the same – lost.
And the problem isn’t entirely solved once a person is born again. The foundation of your bad character – the old nature – doesn’t go away the moment you get saved. The effect of a sinful nature – condemnation – is over come but the sinful nature remains in place.
The Bible does say a lot about character so it is to be encouraged and applauded wherever found:
- The Beatitudes, Matthew 5:1-12, focuses on character qualities but in this case they are represented as action points: mourn, hunger and thirst, be merciful, make peace, etc.
- Even the two great commandments are character qualities in action: love god, love your neighbor, Matthew 22:37-40.
- Paul mentions nine fruits of the Spirit – all character qualities – in Galatians 5:22-23.
- Paul tells us to be transformed by Renewing The Mind. This transformation results in gift development, character development and healthy relationships, Romans 12:1-15:7.
- Peter mentions several interconnected qualities to develop. Each one adds to the previous one and so on, 2 Peter 1:5-8. He also says these qualities enable us to be fruitful.
But none of these passages suggest good character and salvation are directly connected.
So, the bottom line is this:
- Your salvation is secure. Good character can’t earn it and bad character can’t lose it. You can’t work hard enough to earn salvation or be good enough to deserve it, Titus 3:15
- Salvation can make good character possible in this life, if you make an intentional effort to pursue it, but it doesn’t guarantee it until the next.
- The old nature can never get better even when character is good. The new nature can never be corrupted even when character is bad.
- The old nature never goes away until you die. It is always there to oppose the new nature throughout life, Romans 7:21-23.
- No one can have perfect character and perfection is the only standard God will accept, James 2:10.
- There are thousands of very abusive people whose lives were made much better, yet not perfect, by salvation. Without salvation, it could have been worse.
Every person, those with good character and those with bad, needs salvation and Jesus stated the formula for salvation simply as:
The person (any person) that hears my words (in any place in or out of church, in any church) and believes on Him that sent me (God), has (present tense, right now) everlasting life and shall not come into condemnation (lose it) but is passed from death unto life. John 5:24
If you are already saved I recommend you work on your character but relax, you can’t lose your salvation.
If you are not saved I recommend you believe, right now. If your character is better than most Christians, so what. It isn’t good enough. And if your character is bad, Jesus still died for you.