In Christian jargon, all of us are sinners

Bishop of Portsmouth the Rt Rev Christopher Foster, admits that even he sins
Bishop of Portsmouth the Rt Rev Christopher Foster, admits that even he sins
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The Rt Rev Christopher Foster, Bishop of Portsmouth, admits that, like all of us, he sins most days

ONE of the biggest misunderstandings that I come across is the idea that Christians are somehow good people.

Many people think that Christianity is all about trying to do good things to get you into heaven.

Their impression is God weighs up our good deeds against our bad deeds at the heavenly gates and calculates if we deserve entry.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

This misconception means it is very easy for people to call churchgoers hypocrites, because they can see Christians saying or doing things wrong.

So I hope it helps if I make things a bit clearer.

Christians do not claim to be ‘good’ people.

They are – like everyone else – capable of doing some really kind things and some really selfish things.

The only thing Christians do differently is that they recognise that they are constantly getting it wrong, and ask God for forgiveness.

This can be seen clearly in the Roman Catholic practice of regular confession.

Mostly we do it differently in the Church of England, but a time for us to confess what we’ve done wrong is hard-wired into our church services. Yes, we do then try not to be so selfish and to put others first.

But we know that we will never be perfect, and that trying to do the right thing is not enough in itself.

In Christian jargon, all of us are still sinners.

Being a bishop doesn’t stop me from doing or saying the wrong thing.

Those close to me could probably give you a comprehensive list of my failures most days!

Thank God then (literally) for Jesus.

We can only be forgiven and wipe the slate clean each time because Jesus died out of love for us.

Without his sacrifice, we wouldn’t even dare to pray to a God who knows all about the times we’ve let down our friends, our families and our neighbours.

And thank God (again, literally) that he loves us anyway, despite knowing all about our selfishness.

Just like your spouse or parent carries on loving you, despite knowing all about your bad habits, God carries on loving us, even though he knows we will continue to let him down.

That is the amazing and unique part of our Christian faith, and the bit we need to shout from the rooftops.

So this Sunday, like Christians every week, I’ll be on my knees saying sorry for all the ways I’ve let God and others down.

I’ll also be saying thank you to him for finding a way – through Jesus – to help me start again each time I fail.