Yes, but also no.
Several years ago, I had a housemate who bulk bought his Radox 2-in-1 shower gel. He would wait until it was on offer, and then he would buy one of each different scent they had going. We are talking sea minerals and fennel, mint and tea tree, lemon and tea tree, even watermint and sea minerals. You know, he had the good stuff.
What he didn’t have was stickability. He wouldn’t work his way through the showergel one bottle at a time. No, it seemed like he would use a different scent each day. This meant he would have 3 or 4 bottles on the go at any one time.
That’s made it pretty hard for him to keep track of the levels in each bottle.
So I stole shower gel from him. Not every day, but, you know, a couple of times a week.
This post is going to look at whether being Christian means we have to stop doing morally questionable stuff. Literally any sin could be placed in the title. It could read, ‘Can I be a Christian and continue stealing gnomes from elderly ladies?’ Or, it might read, ‘Can I be a Christian and still lie to my boss about my work hours?’ Or, how about, ‘Can I be a Christian and still cheat on my wife?’
This all comes down to a fundamental question that all people exploring Christianity have to face at some point: ‘Can I be a Christian and keep on sinning?’
The answer can be found in Matthew 3:1-17. These verses tell the story of a prophet called John. He was a little weird, wearing clothes consisting of camel hair, and eating locusts and wild honey. He seems the type who might capture cats and shave random bits of their fur off. Strangeness aside, he was a man who came to prepare people for Jesus. He did so with a simple message, seen in 3:2 (NLT):
Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.
This message was a precursor to the preaching of Jesus, who would say the same thing in the very next chapter.
When the Bible talks about repentance, it is talking about turning our backs on sin. That means actively deciding that we no longer want to do the bad things we have done in the past. We are meant to turn from our sins, or repent, so that we can turn to Jesus.
It can be helpful to think of someone walking somewhere, but who turns and walks in exactly the opposite direction. This is like becoming a Christian. One moment, your life is focused on everything but Jesus, the next it is focused on him.
Unfortunately, you simply can’t face two directions at the same time. You can’t run after evil and run after Jesus, who is totally and utterly good, at the same time. Ultimately, you have to choose one.
Even though our hearts deeply don’t want to stop doing things that we know are wrong, even though I really wanted to use my housemate’s shower gel, there is simply no substitute for repentance. When John was met with the religious leaders of his day, the people who were meant to be an example for all to follow, he told them to repent. Their religious training, their positions of authority, their precious reputations, were no substitute for rejecting sin and following Jesus.
Many of us call ourselves Christians because we were raised a Christians. Some of us were baptised, whether as a child or as an adult, and think that makes us Christian. Many of us go to church each Sunday, trying really hard to follow the things that are preached each week, and think that this is what really counts. Others look to spiritual experience, and believe that, because we had spiritual moments at a big Christian festival over the summer, that means we are Christian.
The Bible disagrees. For someone to be a Christian, they must be a follower of Christ. In order to follow him, they must turn away from the evil things they once did. You can’t face in two directions at once.
I want to add two important caveats to this. Firstly, repentance doesn’t mean that the first step in becoming a Christian is systematically making yourself a perfect person. If you try, you will fail really badly. Seriously, it will be catastrophic. Nope, repentance is knowing, in your heart and your head, that you don’t want any part of that old life anymore. This will result in you going to Jesus and asking for his help and forgiveness.
Likewise, repentance is not a once in a lifetime thing. Once you have gone to Jesus and asked for his help, that doesn’t mean that all will be fine and dandy therein. Once again, thinking this will result in catastrophic disappointment. When you turn and follow Jesus, he forgives you of all the stuff you have done before. The two of you then spend a lifetime building you up, turning you into a better person, and generally sorting you out. That sort of thing doesn’t happen overnight.
That means that repentance will have to become like a second nature to you, for you will spend the rest of your life in a constant turning away from evil. Don’t worry too much though. God will help this. Also, as you turn from evil, you will spend your years falling into the wonderful arms of Christ.
So yeah, I can be a Christian and steal my housemate’s shower gel. But, as I journeyed down the Christian life, I realised that I couldn’t keep doing and truly be following Jesus. I repented.
The jury is still out on toothpaste.
For an informal bibliography, see page 2.