“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”
(1Timothy 1:15 ESV)
What does it mean to be a “good Christian?” What does it mean to be a “mature Christian?” We tend to think that such a person has it all together. We tend to think that he’s overcome his struggle with temptation and sin.
For this reason, when you ask this question, the response tends to focus around our actions. People might answer that a good Christian reads his Bible every day. A good Christian prays before he eats. A good Christian is at church every week. A good Christian serves as much as he’s able. A good Christian lives according to the Ten Commandments. A good Christian doesn’t cuss or drink. A good Christian is always happy, and is always friendly and hospitable. A good Christian shares his faith on a regular basis.
We also tend to judge ourselves by these standards. We judge how “good” of a Christian we are based on our success at measurements such as these. And we judge our maturity in the faith by this basis as well. So, when we fail, it seems clear that we haven’t yet attained that status.
Let’s be honest with ourselves: Judging ourselves by these standards, we all fail miserably. Judging ourselves by these standards, none of us will ever be “good” or “mature” believers. And the reason for this is that we’re sinners. We face an ongoing struggle with the world, the devil, and our own flesh.
When we look to Scripture, we find that this type of thinking is contrary to the very gospel we confess. We aren’t saved by what we do. We’re saved by trusting in Jesus, and in the sacrifice that he made on our behalf.
A mature Christian, then, is one who sees his sin. He’s one who acknowledges that he deserves nothing other than judgment. However, he trusts in the promise of God. He sincerely believes that, in Jesus, we find grace. And he does so in spite of his ongoing struggle with the sinful nature.
Paul is an excellent example of this. We tend to think of Paul as one of the greatest Christians of all time. And we think of him in this way because of what he did. However, when we look at his words, we find that this is not how he thought of himself.
In the above verse, he refers to himself as the foremost of sinners. He thought of himself in this way because, previously, he was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent opponent. However, he thought of himself in this way not only because of his earlier life.
Paul doesn’t say that he was the foremost of sinners. He doesn’t give any indication that this status had changed in any way. He says that he is the foremost of sinners. In other words, even as an apostle, and even as one who was accomplishing great things for the Lord, he continued to view himself in this way.
His struggle with sin was not a thing of the past. We see this as we look at his description of himself in Romans 7. This was an ongoing battle.
Paul was a “good” Christian, he was a “mature” Christian, because of his faith. He understood that he was saved not by what he’d done. He was saved by Jesus. He was saved through faith.
Certainly, good works are the result of our faith. They reflect the faith that we have within. But they are not what make us Christian, and they do not make us mature.
So how do we know if we’re a mature Christian? Do we know our sin? Do we know the penalty that we deserve? Do we believe that, by his sacrifice, Jesus paid the penalty of our sin? Do we believe that he’s faithful to give us all that he’s promised? And do we believe this even as we continue to fail and to struggle with temptation and sin?