Christianity’s Unhealthy Obsession with Measuring Behavior

By Graham Glover

Sometimes I wonder if being a Christian is only and exclusively about how one acts. It’s not that the Scriptures testify to this. The Church does not properly teach it. But every time I turn around these days, I find fellow believers telling me or suggesting to me that one’s Christian faith is a measurable thing – specifically, that our behavior is the clearest mark of what we believe, and the truest test as to whether one actually is a believer at all.

This asinine idea that our behavior is the means by which we measure our Christian faith is not only an unhealthy obsession, it is a lie. In fact, it is the greatest of lies. And during this most holy of weeks, we Christians are obligated to turn away from its falsehoods and reject its embrace. Instead we are to confess that our faith is first and always about the profound reality that Christ Jesus has died and risen from the dead!

My point is not to belabor the ever-popular topic of the use and purpose of God’s Law. My Jagged Word colleague, Caleb Keith, aptly addressed this last week. My point is simply to proclaim that being a Christian is about what Christ has done for us. It’s all about Jesus.

Jesus Blessing a Disciple

Christianity is about Jesus. Passion Week is about Jesus. Our faith is about Jesus.

So why is it that we Christians are obsessed with measuring our behavior? Why do we continue to fall victim to the temptation of looking to our behavior as the means by which we define who is and what it means to be a Christian?

No group of Christians are immune to this unhealthy obsession. Some are more obvious than others. I see this often in my current vocation, especially among peers who seem more concerned with telling others what must be done to earn God’s favor, rather than proclaiming the love and forgiveness of our Savior. Some are a little subtler in their obsession about behavior. They’ll talk about the grace of Christ. They many mention that Jesus came to forgive. But this is but a stepping stone to what they really want to talk about – that is, what we Christians should do to become worthy recipients of this grace. Just last week I got into a “discussion” with a fellow Christian clergyman about the point of preaching. He said our sermons are about changing behavior. I said they are about proclaiming and giving our hearers Christ. His response, “If there is no change in behavior, what purpose does our proclamation serve?”

Lest I be accused of coming across as perfectly righteous in avoiding this obsession, I too am just as guilty. When my fellow Lutherans don’t worship in a manner in which I understand to be proper worship, I am all too eager to pounce on their lack of authentic Lutheranism, implying of course, that their faith isn’t as refined or proper as mine. More often than I’d like to admit, I look not for the goodness in the sermons I hear or the articles I read, instead focusing on the errors contained in each. In my convoluted and sinful mind, I have an idea of what right looks like, and am quick to measure the actions and words of my brothers and sisters in the faith if they do not meet my definition of orthodox and confessional.

It is easy to dismiss this tendency of ours by pointing out that we live in a hyper critical, evaluative, and competitive world. Everything we do is measured. Our grades. Our work. Our income. Our status. (Even our blog posts are measured!)

But this is not the way of Christ. He came not to measure our behavior. He came to die for it. Our faith in Him is not about how well we measure up. It is about what He did on the cross and in the empty tomb.

Christianity is about Jesus. Passion Week is about Jesus. Our faith is about Jesus. It’s not ever been, nor will it ever be about our behavior.

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8 thoughts on “Christianity’s Unhealthy Obsession with Measuring Behavior

  1. Going back pre-Reformation, the Church taught that baptism erased original sin and left the individual to deal with committed sins, actual or omitted, through acts of penance. In the counter-Reformation, Rome affirmed the notion that good works, refraining from actual sin, the performance of certain actions serve as means of grace to the faithful. In the East, they call it theosis. We were using Philip Yancey’s book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” for an evening Bible study and he is wrestling with the evangelical tendency to fall back on morality and legalism as the source of fitness and proof of faith. While not falling back on Word and Sacrament (he is an evangelical, after all), he does point out the need to simply accept and proclaim free grace. Seems we still want to be like God, taking responsibility for our fall and our salvation. In other words, not really needing Him. Nothing new. Pharisaism and theology of glory permeates the Church. Thank God, we are forgiven for even this weakness.

    Thank God for the Reformation and our confessions. Instead of inserting ourselves, we can say only what we’ve been given to say and be reminded:

    “For the church does not live by morals, by the knowledge and observance of God’s law nor does it live by religion, by lofty experiences of the divine and an awareness of the mysteries of God. It lives solely by the forgiveness of sins.” (Hermann Sasse)

    Wishing you a blessed Holy Week!

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  2. I hate to see you lament such things (I do too, though). I’m afraid we remain sinners, even with Christ’s blood upon us. I suppose that is even the point of walking this road, since if we stop struggling with our sin (with the Holy Spirit directing the battle), we have entirely missed the point, too. Christ is our salvation, he is our faith, and he is our life. All! Rather than Sasse, though, I’d prefer to quote Scripture (this is all over the place there): The righteous shall live by faith. I think that covers more inclusive ground. Peace, Graham.

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    1. “Rather than Sasse, though, I’d prefer to quote Scripture”

      Agree Don. I like this one too:

      “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Gal 2:21)

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  3. “So why is it that we Christians are obsessed with measuring our behavior?”

    Graham, we picked up that bad habit from our first father.

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