If you are not a Christian (and, sometimes, even if you are) you may come to the conclusion that Christians, by and large, have a “Holier than Thou” attitude. Sometimes, to hear Christians talk, you might begin to suspect that they think they are they are closer to God than non-Christians. Why, you may even suspect that they think they are the only ones going to heaven! And because of all of that, you may finally conclude that they think they are “better” than everyone else.
May I suggest that you please not be too hard on them? One could say they come by their attitude as a result of what they are taught from the Bible itself. With Biblical instructions to “Be perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) they are exhorted to aspire to greatness – even perfection. The problem here, of course, is that none of them ever achieve perfection – nor could they. You see, Christians are imperfect, broken people; “sinners” just like everyone else!
Then there is “ Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) This is one of the many passages of the Bible that tell Christians that they should see themselves as (and be) different from the culture around them. It suggests that much of what goes on around them, in fact even much of what they themselves used (and sometimes continue) to do is not good (even wicked) and that, as Christians, God has given them a “renewed mind” that should see this and, as such, should desire to be different; separate; “holy”.
A related verse says, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14) While the immediate context of this verse deals with the idea that Christians should not marry nor join their bodies to unbelievers, the broader context also puts forth that Christians should, at some level, separate themselves from non-believers. Sadly, at its worst, this can sometimes appear as exclusive snobbery. And, to be truthful, this verse does say that being Christian is better (righteousness and light) than not being Christian (wickedness and darkness); but “better” in what way? Is the Christian better because he or she does things that are better in God’s eyes than the non-Christian? Not necessarily, as has been pointed out above, since the Christian is no more perfect and no less a sinner than the non-Christian.
Not “conforming to the world” and not being “yoked together” with non-Christians is not at all about what Christians do for God as it is about what God does for and to them. A Christian is “better” than a non-Christian in the sense that he or she is “better off”. The Christian is “better off” because he or she has been brought out of the “wickedness and darkness” of sin and death and into the “righteousness and light” of Life in Christ by God. It is God, and not the sinful Christian who has made that Christian thus “holy”. The very definition of “holy” is “separate from evil” … and it is only God, not the Christian, who makes one holy. Therefore, Christians do well to continue as such and detach themselves from “darkness” and any desire of things of “darkness”.
Of course, detaching from a desire for the things of “darkness” does not excuse Christians from loving and caring about those still in darkness. While Christians are not to be “of” the sinful and broken culture around them (the world), the are to love and care for those in “the world” around them as much as they are to care for and love each other.
So Christians have a lot on their plate. They are to aspire to God-like perfection. They are to conform to the will of God, and not to the desires of the flesh and the world. They are to be “holy”, “righteous”, and “light” amongst people who are “wicked” and in “darkness”, while at the same time loving and caring about these same people. Yet there isn’t a Christian alive (or who has lived or ever will live) who can say with arrogance, “Yes I have done this. I am truly “Holier than Thou!”
What Christians can say is, “I was lost, but now am found; was blind but now I see.” They can say, “I have sinned and fallen short of the glory God intended for me, but He has forgiven me and restored me to His holiness, light, and life in Jesus Christ.” The Christian can admit, “While God has redeemed me and made me holy, I still struggle with sin . . . which He has already forgiven.” And a Christian can rejoice that “Even as I have this new desire for His perfection, which I, by my very sinful nature, cannot achieve on my own, Christ has achieved it for me. Even as I want (but often fail) to conform to His will and avoid evil, He has not abandoned me, but walks with me and empowers me to success in Him. Even though I may find it hard to love those different than me, He is with me to remind me how much He has loved me … and ‘them’.”
Can I, as a Christian, say with arrogance that I am “holier than thou”? I think not. Your holiness is between you and God. What I can say is, “ I am holier than I used to be (thanks be to God … and only to God) and I look forward to the day I will be able to enjoy the perfect holiness that He desires and has already accomplished for me.
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
(1 John 3:2)
Rev. Nick Wirtz is pastor of Faith Lutheran Church at 2750 Mogollon Dr. in Overgaard, AZ and can be reached at (323) 717-4390. Pastor Nick resides in Overgaard with his wife Patricia. He has spent over 20 plus years as a pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod with most of that time spent in bi-lingual (English-Spanish) ministry. He also serves on the board of the local Salvation Army as an advisor, as Chaplain for Post 86 American Legion Riders, and as a Board member of the Overgaard CERT. He’s also known to be seen pickin’ a little guitar around town from time to time.