Sometimes we Christians seek to make converts because we want to make people better than they are. We think that, if they get to know Jesus, they will be better people and the world will be a better place. That’s a lot of betters, but that’s also a bit of a misconception.
Ravi Zacharias (a well-known Christian apologist) once said, “Jesus did not come to make bad people good or to make good people better, but to make dead people alive.” At first glance, that statement sounds like bumper sticker theology. However, there’s a lot more packed into that declaration than meets the eye.
Cooperating With God
First of all, there’s nothing in Scripture indicating that Jesus will make us better. That’s not to say a relationship with Him can’t improve your life. I’m living proof it can. Still, the getting better part is, to a large extent, up to us. The theologians call the betterment process “sanctification.” In laymen’s terms, as we cooperate with God’s will for us, we get better. That’s where free will enters, however. Even though the Lord resurrects our lost selves in salvation, we don’t have to cooperate with Him after that. Most of us try, but many of us are definitely deficient in that area.
We are so bad at it, in fact, that THE Apostle Paul called himself the most wretched of people because of his struggles with this very thing. Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but no one wants to get better at their own expense. Half of us, no doubt, pray to God to make us better. Unfortunately for us, we don’t get the answer we wish for, because the answer is something like, “Sure, but you have to help me out here.”We’d rather not help out. We’d rather have a quick miracle performed to—say it with me—“make us better (now, please).”
That doesn’t usually happen, of course. Usually we struggle the rest of our lives listening for God’s voice and challenging ourselves to actually walk in the direction he’s pointing us.
Key to Heaven
It’s a good thing that “getting better” isn’t the key to Heaven. If it was, none of us would get there. For one thing, better is relative. How much “better” is enough? We don’t know that because we simply can’t get better enough to earn our place in Paradise. It’s a gift—the gift of life—given by God. Our biggest disappointment is that we can’t seem to get as holy as we want to be in this life; while our biggest fear is that, somehow, we have to get way better or we won’t actually make it.
That, of course, is poppycock. We can’t and don’t make it on our own. God calls, and we do our best (or worst, or something in between) to answer. Even though we’re messed up, we’re in good company. The Apostle ends that passage about his wretchedness by declaring that he is delivered “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” That’s good to hear.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]