if someone were to stick their head into an auto shop, one full of damaged cars with broken windshields, dented bumpers and other vehicles in the process of being taken apart, they might mistakenly say something like “well i am never using this shop, look at all these cars; they’re in terrible shape!”
the shop’s manager, if he were to overhear this statement, would respond, “no, no, no. these cars aren’t finished, I am still working on them. I’ve hardly touched this one yet, and there is much more time to be spent on this one. but you come back in a little while. you’ll be amazed to see what I’ve done!”
the trouble with Christians is…
i’ve heard many people say they have trouble with Christianity because they know someone who professes to be a Christian, but who lives a lifestyle that looks nothing like the Jesus they’ve read or heard about. someone who talks one way, but who lives a completely different way.
now, only The One who created each one of us, only He who really knows our hearts, may ever know whether such people are actually believers in His son, whether they actually desire to follow after Him. but, i still have trouble with this argument.
you see, Christians are simply sinners in the process of being made into God’s likeness.
a Christian is merely someone who has recognized that they’re driving a broken machine, and who has acknowledged that the one who is called Jesus Christ is their only hope to be made right. that is it. not that they are fixed, but that, because of Him, they are being made right. it is a process, to be certain. a process that goes more slowly for some than it does for others (the machine person a is driving may be in much worse condition than the machine person b is driving, for example). but it is a process He promises to finish.
He promises to finish what He starts. but He isn’t finished yet.
apples and oranges
here’s another problem i have with this argument.
we cannot compare one car to another, one that has been in the shop and one that hasn’t, and expect to have a fair comparison. so often times, though, that is precisely what some people will do.
“well i know a guy who has never stepped foot in a church,” they might say, “and he is a whole lot more like this Jesus guy you talk about than another guy i know who is in church every Sunday and who is pretty serious about his faith and church and all that.”
but this is not a fair comparison at all. you cannot compare the lives of two different people to each other (one who professes to follow Christ and one who does not) and expect to have a fair argument. we wouldn’t do that with other arguments, so why would we do that with Christ or with Christianity?
for example, you wouldn’t say, “this guy has never had knee problems at all, but that guy is always seeing the doctor and he has terrible knees!” and expect to have an argument against physicians. no, the problem is not with the physician, it is with the knees this man has had handed down to him from his parents.
the comparison must always be between the condition of the man’s knees before he ever stepped foot into the physician’s office and their condition after receiving the physician’s treatment for a period. that is how we must treat this situation if we are looking for a fair comparison.
but let’s bring it back to the conversation at hand. these people being referred to, person a and person b. these people may be driving very different cars.
two kinds of car breakdowns: inborn traits and life experience
everyone may know that car a is known for it’s engine trouble, or that car b is known to run forever. but that is not a result of the auto shop, that is just how they came. that is how they were made.
if we think about it, we all know someone who being good simply comes naturally for (the sibling who never seemed to get in trouble, for example). in the same way that some people are naturally athletic, artistic or good at fixing cars, some people are genuinely nice, caring and empathetic without really having to try. and then there are others who, try as they might, are pretty terrible people to be around (but that does not excuse them from trying). God knows this about each one of us. He, after all, created each of us. He knows the machines we are driving, and He is proud of the growth He sees in our lives, even if it isn’t readily apparent to others. or, even if the growth that has produced what is now visible goodness in your life simply cannot compare with what is natural goodness in the life of someone else who really never has had to make much effort at being good.
it makes no more sense to credit someone for the good that comes naturally in their life than to credit them for having blond hair and blue eyes. you may compliment them on how they take care of it, but the hair is naturally blond and the eyes are naturally blue not because they chose it to be so, but because that’s what they were given. they had no choice in the matter.
and then there is the life experiences we are given. each road we travel is unique. the road i travel is different from the road laid before you.
car a and car b have also had very different experiences. car a may have had a pretty tough run, first going off the road after being caught in a blinding snow storm, smashing up its entire front-end pretty badly, and then being stuck behind a gravel truck for miles, only to have it’s windshield fractured into millions of different spiderweb-like cracks. sure, it may not be the prettiest car on the road, even after it’s been in the shop a while, but you should have seen it before!
car b, on the other hand, may have had the fortune of being parked in a garage and only taken out for sunday drives here and there. it is much less likely that the damages car a experienced are likely to befall car b, for it has been removed from much of these dangers. but, again, the condition of each car is not a credit to the car itself, it is merely a result of the experiences it has had, which are so different from each other that you simply cannot compare the condition of one to the other and expect to have a fair comparison.
however, simply because car b has traveled a much easier road, it is still in need of fuel. it is still in need of general upkeep and maintenance. for, even if car b is only taken out once a week (or less) and sits untreated in the owner’s garage the rest of the time, it will not run as it should. (and that is precisely the point. it would not run as it should, not that it would not run as car a, or even car c, for that matter, runs. but it would not run as it should if it were maintained and cared for as its maker originally intended.)
both cars in this example need maintenance. one car simply needs more help than the other.
back on the road before it’s time
but then you have the other cars, the cars who after receiving treatment for minor dings in their doors are back out on the road as if everything has been taken care of. when, really, the shop owner was only just getting started. there is still much work left to be done! and yet, there they are, back on the road as if everything was taken care of, all the while their rear bumper drags along the road, causing sparks as it goes. or the brakes, still in need of repair, squeal at every opportunity, causing an earache for anyone near.
and the real trouble with such machines is that often times the driver thinks, because they have been in the shop, that they are better than those other cars on the road who have yet to spend time with the shop owner, who have yet to have his careful, attentive hands make much-needed repairs on their machines. no, this car is not better, in fact, it’s making things far worse for those cars who have yet to go in the shop. for, after seeing this car, they will now likely refuse to do so themselves.
“if that’s how i will turn out after going there, you can count me out!” or something along those lines, is their likely response.
they will refuse the very thing they need because of this driver’s error. yes, that is when the real trouble comes in.
one final point
i would like to close with this point. when we are truly broken down, we must look outside ourselves for help. a broken machine cannot fix itself. it must have the help of the One who knows its every intricacies if it desires true repair. for our ultimate problem, we must look to Him who has already paid our price. who is waiting to begin the work it will take to get us to where we ought to be.
from what i have experienced in my own life and those i know, as well as from what i have read in His Word, God is not in the business of towing broken down cars off the road against their will. in the same way that mechanics don’t just drive around looking for broken down cars to bring into their shops, God doesn’t pull people into His loving presence against their will.
no, if i find my vehicle broken down and in need of repair, i must pickup the phone to call and ask for help. it is the only way i will find it. sometimes the phone is handed to us, sometimes it is the only thing left, but every time, it is up to us to make the phone call to Him, the only One who can repair us. and when we come to Him for help with our brokenness, we will find Him waiting patiently for us. as though He had nothing else to do but wait for our call. and when we arrive, He will welcome us with open arms. arms that have desired to hold us for so long. arms that desire our comfort and our care. arms that catch our tears. arms that know exactly what we need, even if we don’t. arms that feel like home.
but it begins with our call. and so call we must.