Guest / Limited Access /

At the risk of derailing someone's hard fought New Year's vows, let me suggest that some of us stop trying to become good Christians, or whatever noble thing we're striving to be.

I grant that the New Testament is replete with admonitions to "strive" and "make every effort" to be faithful followers of Jesus. One of Paul's favorite expressions along these lines is a dressing metaphor: "put on the new self" (Col. 3:10), "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 13:14), and "put on the whole armor of God" (Eph. 6:11), to quote a few of the places where he uses this stock phrase. He often ties this metaphor to the virtues: We are to put on "the breastplate of righteousness" (Eph. 6:14), "to put on … compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience" (Col. 3:12), and above all we are to "put on love" (Col. 3:14).

What Paul doesn't address is how exactly one "puts on" these virtues. The answer is more mysterious than we are apt to think.

During an evening prayer service on New Year's Day, a friend described his spiritual journey the previous year. He lamented that his plans to become more regular and disciplined in prayer and Bible study had come to naught. And yet, he said, he found he grew spiritually more than ever.

This is precisely how the spiritual life has worked for me. The more I strive to be a "good Christian"—more prayerful, patient, giving, sacrificial, whatever—the more I find myself anxious, irritated, guilty, resentful, and self-righteous. When I simply accept that I'm a sinner, really, I find that I pray more, am more patient, more giving, more humble, and more loving.

This is the paradoxical reality that has been exploited effectively by Alcoholic's Anonymous for decades. The more an alcoholic ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

SoulWork
In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
Mark Galli
Mark Galli is Editor of Christianity Today in Carol Stream, Illinois.
Previous SoulWork Columns:
Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Current IssueThere’s No Crying on Social Media!
Subscriber Access Only
There’s No Crying on Social Media!
Young adults are desperate not to let peers see any signs of weakness or failure.
Current Issue
Subscriber Access Only Reply All
Responses to our December issue via letters, tweets, and Facebook posts.
RecommendedThe Seven Levels of Lying
Subscriber Access Only The Seven Levels of Lying
We lie more than we think. And that's part of the problem.
TrendingTrump Adviser’s Megachurch Withholds Major Donation from SBC
Trump Adviser’s Megachurch Withholds Major Donation from SBC
Prestonwood Baptist diverts denominational giving over concerns about Russell Moore’s ERLC.
Editor's PickWhy Africa Needed Its Own Study Bible
Why Africa Needed Its Own Study Bible
And why Americans might want one too.
Christianity Today
Blessed Are the Poor in Virtue
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

January 2011

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.