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Q&A: Christianity and Change

Question: If I am a Christian, and if the gospel is about us being given new hearts, why does my heart still seem hard and why am I still characterised by sin and selfishness at heart?

Christianity and Change

Your first problem seems to be that you are human. What you’ve written reflects a wrestling that is going on in you, and I think it’s great that you are being honest with yourself about struggles with sin and doubt and frustration. It is essential that people get to this point (probably on a regular basis). Self-deceit is by far the bigger problem and it is a massive obstacle to genuine faith. It’s the problem of the Pharisee (and lest we forget, the Pharisees are always the most willing and exemplary church members).

On one hand, I want to encourage you to keep working through these things, but on the other hand, I’d also encourage you to give yourself a break. Discipleship is about being on a road. A long road. You are selfish and proud and sinful because that is the human condition and you won’t be free of it in this life. Don’t expect yourself to be further along the road than you are (and the same goes for the expectations you have of others in the Christian community). And perhaps more to the point, don’t ever expect yourself to arrive at the destination—the road of discipleship is lifelong. We are called to fight our sin and weakness, not to become something other than human.

Secondly, don’t be afraid of doubt. Doubt is normal and doubt of a certain kind is even good. Such doubt is actually the counterpart of genuine faith. Think of it this way: if true faith is learning dependence on God and learning to trust God even when things are dark and he seems absent, then what is doubt except the acknowledgement of the uncertainty and darkness, and the expression of our struggle to trust God in the midst of it? Doubt is the feeling that we are alone and unsure and perhaps even in danger. To have faith is not to be happily unaware of the darkness, absence, and threat—it is to choose to trust God nevertheless. Doubt, therefore, is normal and always present, and it is the place from which we choose to express faith. The crucial thing is to do one of the things that you have done in your email, which is to acknowledge your doubts and deal with them. The thing you should absolutely not do (which you hinted at in your email) is to cut yourself off from those people and environments (such as church) in which you are given the equipment and encouragement to choose to keep walking.

In summary, your doubt and sinfulness are normal. These things are part of what it means to belong to fallen humanity and they will never fully leave you. Faith means choosing to receive forgiveness and choosing to express trust. You seem to be allowing these things to oppress you, as if their presence in your life is a challenge to the reality of your faith. This oppression is actually the thing that threatens your faith (not the sin and doubt), because it is telling you to stop walking.

The gospel means freedom; not freedom from human weakness, but freedom to recover the better part of what it means to have been created human. The gospel illuminates the road to your restoration. Keep walking as best you can in that light.