Holier Than Thou?

Christians have been accused of a “holier-than-thou” since the beginning of time. _The Octavius_, an early Christian debate, portrays a Roman pagan saying …

Yes, that’s another thing. Christians think of themselves as good, and they promise to themselves a blessed and perpetual life after death, but to others, since they are unrighteous, eternal punishment.

Today, we would be quick to say we are not better than others. In fact, when Christian History magazine did a reenactment of the debate, they changed Octavius’ answer to the accusation to our modern one. Here, however, is the early Christian accusation to being better than those who live in the world …

Only a profane man would hesitate to believe that those who do not know God are tormented deservedly, because it is no less wicked to be ignorant of the Parent of all than to offend him.
   And if you wish to compare Christians with yourselves, then even if in some things our discipline is inferior, yet we shall be found much better than you.
   You forbid, yet commit, adulteries; we are born men only for our own wives. You punish crimes when committed; with us, even to think of crimes is to sin. You are afraid of those who are aware of what you do; we are afraid even of our own consciences, without which we cannot exist.
   Finally, from your numbers the prisons boil over, but there is no Christian there unless he is accused on account of his religion or has deserted it.

Is that us? Is that me?

Octavius boasted that “we” are afraid even of our consciences. Am I afraid of my own conscience, or do I cut corners on a regular basis?

Do I—do we—believe that we can live as described above?

And if we do, if we really live holier than the world in such a marked way, dare we answer the world the way Octavius did?

I submit to you that we can. Are we not telling the world, when we preach the Gospel to them, that our Lord Jesus can make them better? In fact, he can transform them into a new creature that is a child of God, partaking in the divine nature. At least, that’s what we say we believe.

If that is true, then Jesus makes us better. We say it because we want those who see our lives and hear our Gospel to believe that they can be better. Do we risk insulting our Lord and the power of his Gospel when we say that we are not better?

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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