When We Miss the Point
How would you describe a “good Christian girl”?
When I’ve asked this of myself, I usually come up with a list of the things I think a “good Christian” does. She studies her Bible every day. She spends her time well. She calls sin what it is, and she avoids it with all her might. She is involved in her church. She is kind, patient, and hardworking. And the list goes on.
“This is the type of person I should be,” I think to myself. And then I strive every day to become this person, to do the things I think a “good Christian girl” should do.
I’m sure you have your own list, your own mental picture of what it means to be a good Christian. None of the things on our lists are bad; obviously it’s good to study our Bibles, to be involved in our local churches, and to be kind and patient.
But what if I told you that someone could do all these things and still miss the entire point of Christianity?
The good Christian church
There was a church in the first century that was a lot like the “good Christian girl” in my description. When Jesus dictated a letter to this church in Ephesus, He acknowledged all the good things they were doing:
I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. // Revelation 2:2
The Christians in Ephesus were working hard for the Lord. They were persevering through challenging circumstances. On top of that, they were committed to following the truth of Scripture. They didn’t put up with people doing and teaching evil things; they compared the teaching they were hearing with God’s Word and identified when the teaching was false.
I’m already impressed by this church, but there’s more:
I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. // Revelation 2:3
In an age when the persecution against Christians was more intense than we can even imagine, the people in this church were not just enduring suffering, but enduring it patiently for the sake of Jesus’s name. They knew He was the Son of God, and they were willing to suffer rather than deny Him. And on top of that, in spite of all the good things they were doing, the people in this church had not grown weary.
Sometimes I get tired of showing up to my God-given responsibilities day after day after day—but not this church! To be working for the Lord, committed to sound Biblical teaching, and patient in suffering already sounds ideal to me, but to not grow weary? At this point, I’m inclined to label the church in Ephesus as “super-Christians,” the kind of Christian we all wish we were but feel like we can never quite measure up to.
But that’s not what Jesus calls them.
After listing all the wonderful things they were doing—the list of things that makes me assume these people were some kind of Christian superheroes—Jesus says, But I have this against you… // Revelation 2:4
Wait…what? What could He possibly have against this church that was doing everything right?
But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. // Revelation 2:4
Missing the point
You can do all the right things and still miss the point.
My description of the “good Christian girl” is full of the things she does. It’s easy to reduce Christianity to a list of behaviours we think we have to check off to be considered “good Christians.” But when we do this, we fall into the exact same trap as the church in Ephesus—the church Jesus criticized for having abandoned their love for Him.
What had the church in Ephesus originally been taught about the Christian life?
In Ephesians 5, Paul had indeed instructed this church to shun immorality and sinful behaviour. He had encouraged them to expose sin and to use their time wisely. He had commanded them to conduct all their relationships in a way that reflected Christ’s nature. When I read Jesus’s description of this church in Revelation 2, I think they were doing the things they had been taught to do, and doing them well.
The problem was that they had forgotten the reason why they were supposed to live in this way. At the beginning of chapter 5, right before Paul describes how Christians ought to live, he sums up the motivation for their conduct like this:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us… // Ephesians 5:1-2
We’re supposed to live lives completely separate from immorality—because we’re called to imitate a God who is holy.
We’re supposed to use our time wisely—but we don’t do it to earn God’s stamp of approval. We do it because God has already adopted us as His own dearly loved children, and all our choices are now filtered through that relationship.
We’re supposed to put others before ourselves—because Christ loved us to the point of sacrificing Himself for us, and we want to be as much like Him as possible.
The Christian life isn’t a checklist of good deeds we have to accomplish; it’s a life whose every step is directed by love. God’s love for me was so great He gave His only Son to redeem me, to adopt me as His own daughter. Faced with such love, how could I not love Him? How could I not want to be as like Him as possible, to please Him in everything I do? How could I not love the other people Christ died for?
But without love for Him—what’s the point of any of it?
If I study my Bible for an hour a day but don’t love the God it tells me about, my study is pointless.
If I am involved in all my church’s activities but don’t love the people I’m supposedly serving, my service means very little.
If I look, speak, and act like a “good Christian girl” but don’t love Christ—I’ve missed the entire point of what it means to be a Christian.
Remember… and repent
Let me be clear: I’m not saying you shouldn’t study your Bible, or obey God’s Word, or serve in your local church. I firmly believe that if we love Jesus Christ, we’ll do all those things.
But if we’re trying to live the Christian life without love for Christ, we’re on a dangerous path.
Jesus’s words for the church at Ephesus are sobering: Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. // Revelation 2:5
It makes me deeply uncomfortable to think that I could be doing all the “right” things and still be in need of repentance.
I like to feel like I’ve got the Christian life figured out. I like feeling confident that I have the answers, that people look up to me as a good example. I like feeling like I’ve arrived, like I’ve moved past the stage where I feel convicted of my sin and need correction from God.
I like to think I’m the perfect Christian girl, and I like to think my efforts got me there.
I see now why Jesus called the church in Ephesus to repent.
Pride can be so subtle, creeping into our hearts where we least expect it. Pride convinces us that our good works are evidence of how great we are rather than evidence of God’s great work in us. It whispers to us that God accepts us because of all we’ve done for Him rather than because of what His Son did for us. And it warps our perspective until we are so occupied with crafting our own image that we forget God wants to mold us to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).
Pride makes me focus more on living a good Christian life than on loving the Christ who died for me.
Pride makes me like the church at Ephesus: hardworking, biblically knowledgeable, and persevering, but lacking the one thing that matters most: love.
Like the Ephesians, I need to remember that I was saved by grace through faith, not as a result of my own efforts (Ephesians 2:8-9). I need to remember the early days of my faith, when I lived not to prove what a good Christian I was, but simply to be like Jesus. And I need to repent of the pride that keeps my focus on my own achievements rather than on the Lord who saved me.
May we live not to be applauded by others or to feel good about ourselves, but to be like our Saviour.
May we be motivated not by a prideful desire to be “good Christian girls,” but by love for a good, kind Master.
To read more from Amy, visit her website.