Does Jesus really make people “better”?

I remember being a new Christian and looking down on classmates who also claimed to share my faith, but lived “alternative lifestyles”: ie, drank a lot, had premarital sex, etc. True faith, per the teachings of Campus Crusade for Christ, began in someone’s heart and flowed outward in their actions. You’d know Christians by the way they stood out, especially on a wild, liberal campus like Kent State.

Then you have people like Robert Lewis Dear who shoot up Planned Parenthood clinics and claim they’re doing the work of God. And once again social media blows up (er, pun unintended) with #NotAllChristians posts before you can finish saying the word “hypocrisy.”

Jesus is supposed to sanctify people and enable them to become more like him. So how do you explain, then, the justification of violence by people like Dear? Is he not a real Christian? He thinks he is…and Twitter is full of posts from other self-professed Christians supporting his homicidal religious rhetoric.

Who, exactly, are the real Christians here? Is it really the same Jesus telling people like Mother Theresa to live among the poor while telling others to wage war against people who don’t adhere to their principles? One of these groups has to be wrong, but which one? They all use Scripture to justify their actions, and that’s the biggest problem with the No True Christian line of thinking.

What’s a believer to do when real-world experience doesn’t line up with what Scripture says to expect?

I’ve watched this madness unfold from behind my computer screen, resisting every temptation to share my opinion (which wouldn’t be that original anyway). The more angry tweets I read, the more comfortable I become in the knowledge that no one – not John Piper, not Pat Robertson, not Ken Ham, or any other prominent icon in the theological realm – knows for certain if they’re “doing faith” correctly. Mind you, it’s taken me years to arrive at this still-uncertain place of humility, because I’m just as likely as anyone to get defensive if someone tells me I’m wrong. But I could be – and so could you. With two thousand years distancing us from the early Christians and 40,000 Protestant denominations since, the odds that any of us in the 21st century has it “right” are likely not in our favor.

Some would say that this is the beauty of the body of Christ, that we all have different things to teach and learn from each other. That’s optimistic; I wish I could agree. In my experience, Christianity is not a monolithic thing no matter how much I wish it were, and the “brand” that I practice is the one that speaks the most truth to me. And the Robert Dears of the world will continue to embrace the brand that makes sense to them, even if I and many others believe they’re batnuts crazy.

That is why I no longer feel threatened when “one of my own” does something horrible like this. I no longer feel like I have to apologize for his actions and worry about him making me look bad because I don’t think Robert Dear and I follow the same Jesus, even though it’s his right to call himself Christian. If the Holy Spirit’s job is to sanctify, then I’d say Dear has been thoroughly sanctified in the denomination he embraces: the kind that measures holiness in acts of extremism. And thankfully, it’s not my job to judge if that kind of Christianity is the “true” kind.


11 thoughts on “Does Jesus really make people “better”?”

  1. At some point the behaviour of Christians historically has to be taken into account. Like the Jews who built shrines to the prophets that their forefathers killed, Christians have such a short memory when it comes to toxic Christianity. We repeat our past mistakes because we do not “own” them. Just a few years ago I was completely oblivious to the similarities between slavery, segregation and the present culture war over SSM and Gays in general. I was still in the “Evangelical bubble.” Like the South demanding States Rights to own slaves, today Christians want the right to discriminate. American Evangelicalism has become so insular, developing its own sub-culture that it is in danger of becoming totally irrelevant.

    This is breeding a Christian culture that deems itself superior to all other religions and even other Christian belief sets. It is a dominant trait of American individualism, the brash egotistical exceptionalism that causes Europeans to find us so offensive.

    But I don’t think we’ve answered the question, does Jesus make people better? If we are talking about a deep abiding relationship with Christ, a concern for others based on Christ’s love, then yes, Jesus can make a person much better, even, gasp!, Evangelicals. But one needs to jettison the “us vs them” mentality so prevelant among Evangelicals. Enemy love is a dominant theme in the Gospels. When it is ignored you have wackos that hurt others in Christ’s name. Or even Christians that seek to discriminate through harmful, hateful legeslation targeting others they don’t understand.

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  2. Something really bothers me when I hear someone say, “I don’t know if they’re really saved”.

    We are saved by Jesus. He is our Savior. We believe this to be true and we ought to live our lives in obedience to God. But not all who believe Jesus is the Savior choose to do good 24/7.

    The “Lord, Lord” crowd were not rejected by Jesus for a lack of ‘good works’ (how many GW are enough?), but rather for a lack of trust in Him.

    Personally… sin is a daily battle. I have to reckon myself dead to it daily.

    The Pharisees were masters in the art of white washing.

    The looked clean as a whistle.

    Jesus called them dead.


  3. Well said. I struggle with this question just sitting in Sunday school some mornings, when the prayer requests go up for aunts/uncles/neighbors/coworkers/whomever, who are Lutheran/Methodist/Catholic/whatever, so “I don’t know if they’re really saved.” I get to a point sometimes where I commiserate more with unbelievers than with believers, because it seems sometimes that Christ’s followers are so busy knocking each other down that they don’t have time or energy to “be Christ” to the world around them.

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  4. Hi Beth

    Sadly , every religion and none has fanatics. Imagine how my Muslim Kurdish friend feels when people think all Muslims are ISIS , when her people are on the battlefield against these monsters? The issue is how should and how does whatever community (Christian, Jewish, Muslim , Hindu, etc), speak out against the more fanatical elements within ? And more controversially by what standard and how does one define “fanatical”?


    1. “By what standard and how does one define “fanatical”?”
      Great question. I would say when a person’s beliefs infringe upon other people’s basic rights, or in this case, escalate into violence. But that’s far from a universal opinion.


  5. I have no problem, myself, saying that Mother Theresa is more in line with Jesus than Robert Lewis Dear. What gets on my nerves is when conservative Christians trash all of Islam on the basis of its extremists, and, when one points out to them that Christians have done their share of atrocities, they come back with, “Oh, well, they’re not true Christians.” How convenient. It’s not that I want to hold those conservative Christians responsible for every bad thing that Christians have done. I do wish, though, that they would not generalize Muslims, or that at least they would recognize that they themselves are far from perfect.

    Liked by 2 people

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