The I’m Okay Syndrome

I wanted to post my article here.  It reflects some of the material that I’m working on for a future book on 2nd Generation Christians:

Growing up in a Christian school, I loved having a few bad kids around. Not because I hung out with them or did what they did. I was too spiritual for that.

I loved the bad kids, because they made me look good by comparison. When someone get’s caught smoking, watching a forbidden movie, or getting too close to his girlfriend, it was a great opportunity for me to stick out my chest a little further and engage in good, old-fashioned gossip.

Of course Christian good kids don’t call it gossip, because talking about somebody who is in sin is never gossip. It’s “concern.” And the really good ones convert gossip into “prayer requests.” So while the bad kid was on trial, the good kids would engage in a bit of punditry, discussing the possible ramifications, and why we were so enlightened as to not fall into those terribly sinful traps.

This is really nothing new. In fact, there was a group of religious good people in Jesus’ day. And like us, they treasured their status as the good guys. And they had a ready list of bad guys, people who violated their man-centered system of laws. They brandished that list anytime their own spirituality was questioned.

So, Jesus told a story. It’s one we’ve heard quite a few times. It’s the story of the prodigal son. At first the Pharisees liked this story. A son who dishonors his father and spoils his inheritance and gets a job, of all jobs, feeding unkosher pigs? At this point in the story, they are just loving Jesus’ narrative skills. They had a new person to not be.

But Jesus wrapped the story in a way they didn’t exactly like. The Father didn’t Pharisee his son when he came back. He loved him, with grace. This is a vivid picture of the grace of God. God the Father eagerly awaits those who come home, broken and humbled by their sin.

Then Jesus gets really personal. He mentions the older brother. This was the good guy, who didn’t run away, didn’t spoil an inheritance, and didn’t do anything but what he was supposed to do. In other words, He was the protypical Pharisee. In my school, he would have been me, the good kid.

Except there is sometimes a problem with being the good kid. Like the Pharisees, we live the “I’m okay” life. We are good just so people notice. We flaunt our goodness and revel in the badness of others. We like having those rebellious cats around, so we can remind people that we are not like them.

But there is a danger in, what my friend Jon Acuff calls, “the at-least life.” There is no introspection, no genuine heart-change, and no life-giving relationship with God the Father.

The Apostle John spoke to this when he penned one of his final letters. He spoke to a generation of Christians that had grown up in the church and whose faith had grown cold. HE reminded the Ephesians that if they thought they had no sin, they were living in a world of self-deception, a world that declares God’s Word a lie.

Here’s the challenge. Let’s not live the “I’m okay” life. Let’s not measure our spirituality by what others are doing and not doing. Because in my life, God isn’t concerned with what my wife did, my kids did, what that jerk down the street did. God’s concerned with me and the areas where I’ve allowed sin to reign.

In fact, God may actually be telling this proud, good kid that he’s not as good as he thinks. Actually, he might be, gasp, a bad kid.

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