Editors’ note: We received the following question from a reader:
How do I help my friend who says, “I understand you need to accept Jesus to be saved, but I’m struggling to do so because I lack proof that God can change someone, that God makes people better. Why does God leave his own people such a mess? Why doesn’t he just intervene and fix everything? And if there’s no proof God changes people, isn’t it just blind faith?”
There are several layers to this excellent question, but the fundamental objection is rooted in your friend’s observation of other people who claim to be Christians. The primary issue for every sinner, however, is not other sinners—how they live, how they behave, or what they profess to believe.
The foundational issue for your friend—and for every human being—is the sin that holds captive his own heart, manifesting itself in myriad ways from pride and envy to discontentment and anxiety to bitterness and anger to lust and covetousness to arrogance and self-centeredness. The supreme question each of us must ask, then, is simple: Who will pay for my sins, and how can I be reconciled to a holy God? Our problem is the lack of righteousness in ourselves in light of the perfect righteousness of God—the only standard by which we’ll each be judged on the last day.
Why Do Christians Act Like That?
As for hypocrisy among Christians, it’s true there are many counterfeit Christians in the world just as there are many counterfeit dollars. This is a tragic reality, and it’s easy to see why it’s so off-putting to those outside the church, including your friend.
But there is another way to look at it: those counterfeits prove the existence of the genuine. Jesus himself anticipated the presence of false confessors among true believers, promising that “weeds” will grow among the healthy plants (Matt. 13:24–30). Again, the emphasis must fall on our own hearts and lives, not on those of others. Each of us will stand before our Maker to give account for one life: our own. Love compels us to honesty and clarity on this point, for it is of massive importance.
If a person claims to follow Christ, we should certainly expect to see gradual transformation in behavior. But it’s a widespread misunderstanding of the Christian faith to assume that those who follow Jesus will suddenly stop sinning. Scripture makes clear that believers will be transformed incrementally, often imperceptibly. They’ll even experience fits and starts as they wrestle with indwelling sin.
So don’t mistake slow change for no change. Living things—plants, animals, humans—grow, yes, but they grow slowly. If you’re looking at days and weeks, growth will seem imperceptible. But if you zoom out to look at years and decades, it can be surprising to see how much change occurs in the life of a genuine Christian.
History is filled with lives that have been transformed, powerfully and obviously, through ongoing faith in Christ. And this faith is not blind. God does change people—profoundly so—which is why testimonies like this and this and this abound. Not every Christian’s story is dramatic, but every one is miraculous. The good news is that no sin is too big, too heinous, too prevalent that God cannot forgive it when we cast ourselves on him, humbly confessing, “I am a great sinner, but Christ is a great Savior.”
Why Doesn’t God Make Them Perfect?
So why can God’s people be such a mess? There’s good news here, too: God doesn’t save people who have it together. If he did, there would be no one to save. He sent Jesus to transform morally messy people. God’s Son got it together in our place.
Our so-called goodness merely damns us; it does nothing to redeem us. In fact, our own perceived goodness can be a barrier to faith. Jesus said the rotten tax collector went home forgiven, while the self-righteous religious leader went home lost, since the latter was blind to his spiritual bankruptcy (Luke 18:9–14). Jesus had hard words for those who see themselves as righteous. Self-righteousness doesn’t offend your friend more than it offended Jesus.
Jesus lived the life we’ve failed to live, died the death we deserve to die, and rose to conquer the enemy we couldn’t conquer. He was punished for our mess, our inconsistency, our sin. The fact we’re saved by his grace—not our behavior—is not just glorious truth for your friend; it’s glorious truth for us all.
Do I Need Big Faith?
Best of all, your friend doesn’t have to muster up great faith in order to become a Christian. Jesus talked about mustard seeds to show that the smallest faith can save the greatest sinner. What matters most, then, isn’t the intensity of your friend’s faith, but the object. Weak faith in Jesus is infinitely greater than strong faith in anything else.
God isn’t calling your friend to believe in Christians; he’s calling him to believe in Christ. The most urgent question facing your friend, then, is not whether God can really change people but whether a certain Middle Eastern tomb is empty. The resurrection of Jesus stares at us all, demanding a decision.
On the last day, in the courtroom of heaven, it won’t matter whether God transformed others to our satisfaction. But it will matter whether we’ve confessed with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believed in our hearts that God raised him from the dead (Rom. 10:9–10).