“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
A Radical Message
Over the past few days I’ve been reading the book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt and only have a few dozen pages to go. I’ve enjoyed the book, but frankly many pages I’ve read clinching my teeth and trying to keep myself from getting pissed off. You see, the main theme of the book is how Christians in the west have completely lost sight of the Gospel message and how our greed and self-seeking is keeping us from Christ. It is a book that really convicts you of areas of the Bible that you know are true but you hate. It’s a topic I’ve tried to explain away or forget about, not because it’s wrong, but because I know I’m guilty. I have wrestled with this for awhile and even wrote about it briefly in an earlier post “Showing the Gospel – Love One Another”.
Are You Following the Real Jesus?
We like to believe that as long as we treat the people we know decent, go to church, and even read our Bible that we’re doing the will of God. We like to think because we’re not as bad as “those” people and that we try to be good that God is pleased with us. But is he really? In our culture, Jesus is depicted as a friendly, lovable guy that even non-Christians look to for moral teaching. But is he really? Yes and no. We tend to latch on to the friendly character who makes no demands on us and wants to fix all our problems, but what about Jesus the missionary? What about Jesus the leader who demands that you “follow” him regardless of what is keeping you back? What about the Jesus who interacts with the worst sinners, who dwells with the sick, the blind, the homeless, and lame? And what about Jesus who requires you to die to yourself? You’ve probably been spending a whole lot less time with that Jesus than the friendly, lovable one. I know I have.
But isn’t that what initially attracts us to Jesus? He is like no one we’ve ever seen or will ever see. We’re dazzled by his relentless humility and his relentless desire to heal the suffering. We love how Jesus puts the Pharisees in their place, attacking them for knowing the law but adding or taking away from it or using it to keep them from helping people. Hmm…sounds about like the overwhelming majority of Christians, myself included. It is entertaining to watch Jesus humble other people on paper, but when he plays upon our hearts, it’s not so funny anymore. Because to follow him, he is calling us to relentlessly abandon ourselves too. And that’s much easier said than done, especially in our society.
Following Christ vs Believing in Christ
Christianity is steadily declining in the west, but growing rapidly in the poorest parts of the world. The common assumption is that educated societies are ruling God out of the equation or using rational thought to explain away our need for him. But I don’t think that has much to do with it at all. For some, maybe. But the majority, no. The reason Christianity is dying out in the west is because it has turned into a philosophy that only exists in thought. Christianity was never meant to be something to think about. It is something you do! Following Christ means actually following him and doing the things that he did. It means reaching out to the poor, healing the sick, and helping the less fortunate. Jesus even says “by this” people will know who you are. Would a stranger be able to tell if I am a Christian by what I do?
Faith Without Works Is Dead
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)
Sounds an awful lot like the situation that America is in right now, doesn’t it? We try to defend attacks on Christianity from atheists and non-religious people with debates and evidence. But we’ll never win. When faced with two options on paper, are most going to choose option A, which says that you are your own God, that you can do whatever you feel good doing or option B, which says there is an authority over you, you must not do your own will, and you must sacrifice for the good of others? That’s not even a debate. Without God already in your life, human nature is going to pick option A every time unless option B is proven fact, which it never will be. The people that feel the need to tear down religion at all costs will never change their minds by a simple debate. Faith is not something that can be proved on paper. It can’t be or freewill would not exist. I’m not saying that the Gospel doesn’t have power on its own, but the majority of the time, the person hearing it has to be open to it for it to change them. But seeing the Gospel is a completely different story.
The Neglected Evidence
The strongest argument we have for Christianity is the one we’re neglecting the most. If we lived it out the way Jesus calls us to do, it would tip the scales in our favor. There is no other system of religion or non-religion that even comes close to giving people the power of love as Christianity does. Atheists may say they care about people, but they’ll never help people the way Christians can. If there is no God who humbled himself in human form, helped the less fortunate and who demands that we do the same, who is going to help the needy? Now there may be a few people who will, but not enough to ever make an impact. We like to believe that human beings naturally care and want to help others, but let’s stop dreaming. If this life is all there is, why in the world would people put themselves in danger or sacrifice their lives to help someone starving out in the world? They wouldn’t. That’s just human nature. And the majority of Eastern religions teach that this world is not real and the way to enlightenment is to be detached from it. That’s not going to do much for global suffering either. But Christianity says that each and every life matters and that we all have a responsibility to help those below us. Not only does the Gospel say that every life matters, but that every life should matter more than our own.
Imagine if every Christian in the world followed Jesus with the same force as the original disciples. Imagine if they were all desperately trying to end hunger, sickness, violence, and suffering. Imagine the revolutionary power that that kind of love has. Who could watch Christians without being moved by them? Who could watch without wrestling inside, wanting that kind of love? Who could see the relentless humility and not see the face of Jesus? Who could not wonder where this love is coming from? You see, that kind of love is what is going to win debates. That is what is going to open people’s hearts and move them to seek Jesus.
The Cost of Discipleship
Love is our greatest weapon against a world of nihilism, against a world of me-ism. Because without it, non-believers have many valid points. They call us hypocrites and judgmental and maybe that’s a title we’ve rightfully earned. Reading Radical this past week sure showed me I have a lot to think about in those areas. We would rather discuss theology, argue with other denominations, or judge other people than actually do what Jesus commands us. It’s a lot easier isn’t it? The Jesus that demands that we follow him is not one we love. If we’re really honest, it’s one we hate. Don’t we feel it’s a bit extreme when Jesus tells the rich man to give away all his possessions, warns that his followers will me forced to go to places without shelter, won’t let a son bury his father, or let someone say goodbye to their loved ones (Luke 9:57-62;18:18-30)? So we kind of shove those verses to the side and pretend we didn’t hear that or convince ourselves that Jesus didn’t really mean that. But if we’re recreating Jesus to fit our way of life, who is it that we are really serving? Ourselves. Jesus’ commandment is to love one another and that includes enemies and the less fortunate. Imagine what the world would be like if more of us started actually following Jesus and stopped demanding he follow us.