In the first part of this article, we learned (or were reminded) that following Jesus – accepting His perfect and willing sacrifice to pay for the debt that our sins required – does not make someone superior to fellow human beings. (For that matter, being able to eat black licorice doesn’t make anyone superior to other people either, but that was just a footnote to the main point.)
So, let’s ask a couple of quick, and possibly rhetorical, questions to evaluate this concept further:
When people follow Jesus, how much better are their actions, compared to people who do not?
To be fair, part of the process of following Jesus is a choice. The principle of “repentance”, which is a turning away from evil and towards good, is expected of those who follow Jesus:
Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”
Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Acts of the Apostles 2:37-38 NLT
Still, trying to live a better life isn’t limited to Christians. Many principles of right and wrong are built into our understanding of the universe, and most decent human beings see the difference and try to at least generally do the right thing. Like Christians, they sometimes succeed, and sometimes fail, despite their best efforts.
However, there are unfortunately those in our world – some who profess to follow Jesus, and some who do not – who really don’t even try. Worse yet are the occasional sociopaths, who actively seek out and practice evil.
So, a Christian should be trying to live according to God’s ideal, but until our fallen natures are replaced (or overwhelmed by God’s glory) in Heaven, trying doesn’t necessarily result in perfection. (Sorry, Yoda, sometimes there is a “try”, I guess.)
In addition, Christians are imparted with the company of the Holy Spirit, who provides direction and guidance, reminding us what Jesus taught.
But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.
John 14:26 NLT
(See also Luke 12:11-12.)
This doesn’t necessarily mean that Christians always follow the Holy Spirit’s direction, though. Having a desire to do the right thing, and enjoying promptings for the best choice at a given time, are both good things. However, as gym memberships and traffic laws illustrate, people sometimes still choose to make the easy, comfortable, or self-serving decisions. (If you’re in that situation, struggling as you try to listen to and obey the Holy Spirit, I encourage you to read and memorize Romans 6:20-23. You’re not alone, but together we can strive to improve our surrender to God.)
So, to answer the question above, followers of Jesus – thanks to their choice and God’s help – might live closer to the ideal for which we have each been created. However, the difference is expected to be:
- Not entirely of their own volition (since they have help through the Holy Spirit).
- An incremental improvement (since even Christians can still sin).
- Nothing that justifies pride in themselves, nor condemnation of others (since salvation continues to be a gift from God, and not something earned).
Don’t get me wrong: Christians should stand out because of their actions – their love, grace, mercy, and self-sacrifice should absolutely tend to mirror that of Jesus Christ, especially when His followers humble themselves and follow His leading. However, if we are looking at regular human beings to show us the perfection of God, we’re going to be disappointed if we look to anyone but Jesus.
Does this make followers of Jesus morally superior than their fellow human being, or more worthy of getting to Heaven?
In a word, no.
Followers of Jesus still make mistakes. They still sin. When they listen to their own sinful nature, rather than to the Holy Spirit, they don’t always choose the right thing.
And, whether or not someone is a follower of Jesus when doing the right thing, there’s no redemptive benefit in doing the right thing. After all, that’s what we are all expected to do in the first place.
On the other hand, while having accepted Jesus’ willing sacrifice (in exchange for the sins we have committed) relieves His followers of the eternal consequences, this does not come because of any righteousness on the part of fallen human beings. It is only a result of Jesus’ righteousness and generous gift.
But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners.
Romans 4:5 NLT
As a result, if you have found the cure – the solution to the penalty of sin – remember that you too were once afflicted, and that you neither invented the solution nor hold exclusive rights to it. Share the cure with others, so they don’t have to continue to live with the condition of sin.
So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:20-21 NLT
And, if you are still suffering from the looming cost of sin (a debt that yet remains to be paid in your life), I hope that you will seek the simple solution and accept Jesus’ payment for what you’ve done. Let me know if you have any questions about following Jesus, and we – or others who can articulate this well – can talk.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.