By Evan Pyle

"What then? Are we better than they?"
(Romans 3:9)


Do you think Christians are better than unbelievers? Do you think Christians are better people than Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews or atheists? When asked such a direct question I imagine most of us would answer with a "no." Yet I have observed, first in me, as well as in other Christian believers, the contrary attitude, that we are better than they. "Of course I am better than that (insert your false religion of choice)! He is lost."

I know how it feels to be treated as a "poor lost soul." Although the person treating me this way is usually well-intentioned, I still feel very put down. The attitude that I am a "poor lost soul" makes me feel that I am worse than nothing to this person. Yet, how many times have we observed fellow Christians doing this very thing? How many times have we acted this way ourselves? When I reflect on how I have acted towards others at times, I understand how arrogant and smug I appeared to the "poor lost soul" I was trying to rescue.

Romans 3:9:
What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;

The truth is that we are not better than they. "No, in no wise" means "no, not in any way." In no way are we better than the unbelievers. Why? Because all of us, Jew or Gentile, Christian or not, have sinned. Man’s fallen condition is the great equalizer. "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)

The apostle Peter was a Jew. The tradition of his fathers taught him that he must remain separated from the Gentiles. In fact, it was unlawful for a Jew to keep company with one of another nation. (Acts 10:28) It took a dramatic vision from the Lord to change Peter’s way of thinking. "God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean." (Acts 10:28) To that group of Gentiles gathered with Cornelius to hear the gospel message, he said, "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.." (Acts 10:34–35)

The question of Jews and Gentiles belonging to different categories became a burning issue for the early church. A council of church leaders was convened in Jerusalem to consider the matter. During the deliberations Peter referred to his experience with Cornelius and his household.

Acts 15:7, 9 (emphasis added):
And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.

9 And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.

If God puts no difference between people, why must we? Perhaps it is man’s insecurity about his fallen state. He wants to establish his own righteousness, his own sense of importance in the world. Too often, he does this by imagining that his group, religion, race, nation, community, team, denomination, or club, is better than all the others and makes him a better person than those outside his group. When Christians adopt this attitude, they fail to live by the admonition: "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves." (Philippians 2:3) Rather than seeing a humble, loving saint of God, others see a haughty, proud, "better-than-you" person. No wonder people react badly to those professing Christianity. God Himself hates a proud, haughty attitude.

Proverbs 6:16–17a (emphasis added):
These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:

17 A proud look

The truth is, we are not Christians because we are better people; we are Christians because we are chosen. We were chosen in Christ long before we could make our own choice. In fact, God chose us before the world was created.

Ephesians 1:4:
According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:

We did not receive new life in Christ because we are somehow better people than those who are not made alive in Him. We received new life in Christ when we were yet dead in sins. Dead people are not better people. Dead people are dead, incapable of doing anything to better themselves.

Ephesians 2:5:
Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)

We are indeed saved by grace, chosen in Christ before the world began and made alive in Him while we were yet dead in our sins. If salvation is by grace alone, then it is a gift given at God’s discretion. We are unable to boast that we are somehow better, because we had nothing to do with the giving of God’s gift. We received the gift by grace through faith in Christ. Salvation by grace eliminates any possibility of proud boasting.

1 Corinthians 4:6,7:
And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.
7 For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?

The worst "us versus them" attitudes are on display among Christian brothers and sisters. Some disdain all who think differently or are from a different denomination as if they are the enemy. Some boast endlessly about their group and pastor. When our attitudes are aligned with truth, the only boasting that remains is to glory in the Lord:

Romans 3:27:
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.

1 Corinthians 1:27–31:
But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:
29 That no flesh should glory in his presence.
30 But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:
31 That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.

We are to esteem others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3), and we are to treat others without partiality, not preferring one above another (I Timothy 5:21).

If Christians are "no better than they," what is the point of being a Christian and living as a believer? Is there no advantage to being in Christ? Is there no blessing to drinking from the fountain of living waters? There is something better! Though we are not better, Christ is better. We have a better Savior (Hebrews 1:4; 7:7), a better covenant (Hebrews 7:22) which was established on better promises (Hebrews 8:6), and a better hope in heaven (Hebrews 7:19), where we have a better and enduring substance (Hebrews 10:34).

When I was an atheist, without Christ, and as lost as last year’s Easter eggs, I encountered a friend who captured my attention because of her countenance and manner. I could see that she had undergone a radical change and I couldn’t begin to imagine what had caused such a change. When she preached Christ to me, it was not to "fix that poor, lost soul," but because the love of Christ alive in her heart compelled her to do so. A child of God exhibiting a humble and charitable spirit is attractive and winsome to others. No self-righteous effort, no matter how strenuous, can successfully mimic the simple beauty of Christ glowing in the life of a humble, submitted believer.



From the February 2010 issue of The Vine & Branches