Sunday, 13 February 2011

Does being a Christian make you a better person?

This is a question I've puzzled over for some time.

I fear that many - perhaps even most - non-believers would answer that it doesn't. Many would even suggest it does the opposite - that Christians are hypocritical, judgemental, self-righteous, out of touch, etc. Mahatma Ghandi for example, who had many sympathies with the Christian faith but remained a committed Hindu all his life, is alleged1 to have once said, "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians".

For myself I've known some Christians who seem to be genuinely "saintly", in the best popular sense of that term - kind, caring, generous, patient, loving, big-hearted people. I've also come across some very saintly people who are not Christians, but my general experience of most people is that they are a mixed bag of tricks. I can sometimes be shocked by a person's arrogance or selfishness or their apparently shallow or short-sighted attitude, and then shortly afterwards be amazed at the same person's kindness or sensitivity in a different situation.

What about me though? Does being a Christian make me a better person? This is a hard question to answer. For one thing, I was raised in a Christian family and made my first commitment to Jesus when I was four and a half. It's difficult to remember what I was like before this and given the age difference between now and then I hardly think it would be a fair comparison in any case! I was brought up with certain moral standards. For example I was taught to respect and obey authority (this may have been over-emphasised...), always to tell the truth, not to swear, not to engage in physical violence, not to steal, etc.

It wasn't until my early teens however, when I began to question my faith and had my first major experience of God that I can remember, that I first began to realise how selfish I was. God showed me all sorts of unpleasant things about my heart that didn't seem to have been touched by all those rules I'd learned to follow. God also showed me - at the same time - how much He loved and accepted me, which felt great at the time, but which I began to lose sight of as I realised that all of those bad attitudes didn't seem to be changing very much!

For a long time I've compared myself and other Christians to those who don't seem to know God or Jesus and wondered if it really does make any difference. I can always find ways to compare myself unfavourably with others. Likewise I can usually find some way in which I think I excel - but even as I am internally praising my moral superiority over some poor, unenlightened heathen, I notice my own judgemental self-righteousness and am knocked back down a peg again!

What can I say now? That I'm still very much in process and have learnt that following Jesus is a journey. That without love and acceptance I'm unable to change - I just get discouraged and frustrated, which ends up encouraging and re-inforcing the same negative attitudes and behaviours that I'm trying to replace! That I suffer from the same moral weaknesses and afflictions as everyone else but have learnt that discipline and good habits can make a difference. Finally, that I can't do it alone - I need help from God and from others who are similarly committed to developing this way of life.

Does being a Christian make me a better person? I hope that it slowly is doing - but only time, and those around me, can really say.

1 This has been disputed - see here - but I still think it unfortunately sums up many people's feelings towards the Christian faith.


  1. A very interesting read Dan. So many things here echo some of my own feelings and observations; especially the ones about 'saintly' non-believers. It's true to say that I've met a lot of people who are much more real and in touch with people whilst not claiming to have faith and then some who think they're great Christians who are just awful people!!! It's become clear to me that nothing is at all clear!

    Ben C

  2. So what do you think Ben? Does faith make a difference? My own instinct/perception is that it does, or that at least Jesus does anyway, but perhaps for some people, "Christian" can also become a label to hide behind such that they actually then avoid asking themselves the really hard questions?

  3. I have very little doubt that if everyone followed Christ the world would be a better place. What I have had to deal with is why is it so HARD to be a better person. After all, the Bible teaches us that God has joined himself to us through the presence of the Holy Spirit? I think we become better people only as long as we spend time with God allowing us to be renewed, rather than conformed to this world. I believe that too many "Christians" give little thought or effort to this process. I know that I did not for too many years. We are content. I still am way to content with how far God has brought me.

    In short, I know that being an "active" disciple of Christ will make me a better person, but simply claiming to be a Christian does not guarantee it.

  4. Dan,
    Excellent post. I stole your pic. I don't have money yet, but do you want me to take it down?

  5. To be honest Vincent, it wasn't mine in the first place and I can't remember now where it came from. I've just done a quick search and found so many copies of it that I wouldn't know who to ask, and I think I probably came to the same conclusion at the time and decided that it was unlikely that anybody would mind too much...

  6. Hi - there seems to be one category you miss out - genuine believing Christians who seem to be arrogant, selfish, beyond reasoned discussion and highly agressive. I say this as a worker in a mission agency commenting on some of those I have worked with. When you look at the level of vitriol coming from Christians online it also seems to be very little different (maybe less swearing) than non-christian internet trolls. I find this perplexing. How is it that the fruit of the Spirit appears in some lives but not in others - regardless of orthodoxy. Would these people have been so horrible as athiests or Buddhists or is there something in our need to be right and defend our views that makes people act in ways just as bad as "the world"?

  7. Anonymous - thanks for the comment! I sort of touched on that in the first paragraph I think, but you've fleshed it out a lot more for me!

    I don't have an easy answer for that, except perhaps to say that transformation doesn't appear to be automatic! I think perhaps part of the problem is that many Christians - once they become believers - think they've arrived, and forget that there is so much about themselves that still needs to be "converted", so they just don't do the hard work of self-examination and discipleship. We also often have a tendency to judge ourselves by a certain set of outward behavioural criteria, instead of taking a long hard look at what is really going on in our hearts. Finally, it's easy to use our faith as an excuse to feel "better" than other people, and to justify our horrible behaviour towards them on the basis that we're "defending the faith" - when what we're really doing is bolstering our own egos and misrepresenting the loving God who we claim to serve!


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