What is going to have significant impact for Christians in the lives of non-believers is not that they ‘justify’ themselves before them by stating that they are ‘being sanctified’, and that their sinning is only temporary, and that reproach against Christians on the basis that they have wronged someone negates the truth of their religion but that Christians are those marked as ones who, upon committing a sin, return themselves to Christ and repentance.
Christians often want to qualify themselves before non-believers. For instance: I was in a conversation with a non-believer over winter break and he said it’s hard to believe christians when they say you need to be perfect and then are themselves always screwing up. My response was that I would hope that he would see that becoming perfect is a process and that it doesn’t happen overnight. At the time, my primary focus was to help him see that Christians aren’t perfect in action but are becoming perfect. Though this is true and should be understood, the problem with this thinking is twofold. It 1) leaves Christ out, and 2) it sets up a legalistic mindset under which Christianity operates. If the primary focus in Christianity were to be perfect simply for perfection’s sake then it is worthless. Demanded perfection is fools talk if it does not produce something worthwhile. But more important is that this mindset does not call attention to the satisfactory nature of Christ’s propitiation. If our perfection is consummated by our own efforts, it then substitutes Christ’s blood, and then the propitiation of Christ is then not all satisfying in the eyes of God nor man. Our goal in representation before man is not primarily that we appear morally or behaviorally perfect but that we constantly call attention to the cross of Christ. We cannot justify ourselves before men by qualifying our sinful actions by saying “I am on my way to perfection; I’m not there yet” – this statement is self-centered, legalistic and ultimately will lead to one bringing glory to himself once he reaches a morally or behaviorally ‘perfect state’. We cannot justify ourselves before men, for they are not God, nor are they Judge. The only thing that we can do before men when our sinfulness lays open to their apprehension is to point to Jesus Christ and “lay hold of Christ because he has lain hold of me” (Phil 3:12). Our end result must not be to win their approval – for the approval of man is fleeting and worthless in the end. Our end result must be to magnify Christ in all that we do, and if we sin and non-believers (and believers alike) see this and point it out and say we are hypocrites, the way we remain not hypocrites is not to eliminate that sin out of our lives, but instead we repent and look to Christ, for He is our righteousness, for we cannot provide a right standing for ourselves on our own efforts. We must read passages like 1 John 2:1 “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
And this is the way we will have an impact in the lives of non-believers. They will see our awareness of our sin does not drive us away from Christ, but exactly the opposite, that our awareness of our sin drives us closer and closer to Christ. They will necessarily be impacted because they will see that Christ is sufficient and what He has done as necessary to remove a guilty conscience and condemnation. They will see that you are not looking to them for the approval of your ‘religion’ but instead, they will see that you are looking away from their approval to approval by God, which then is only found through Jesus Christ.