I am often struck by how demanding it is to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Being a “professing Christian” can be relatively easy. Not to make light of the places in the world where one is in very real danger of being oppressed, persecuted or killed by taking the name of Christ on his or her lips, but in our context, to say, “I believe in Jesus Christ as Lord” is not so taxing a thing. But to live as a Jesus follower; to actually put into practice the things that Jesus teaches his followers to do, is costly, sacrificial and often reminds us that we follow in the steps of One who “took up his cross” and laid down his life.
The current sermon series examining 5 Burning Questions of faith points us to the cognitive element of discipleship. There is an intellectual task involved in the discipleship endeavor. Following Jesus encompasses more than just using our minds; it involves our hands, our hearts, our emotions, our words, etc. – but doing the hard work of logical reflection and scriptural inquiry is a must for anyone who desires to “obey everything” Jesus commands us (Matthew 28:20). As we work with these ideological objections to faith and criticisms of Christianity, we are pushed into deeper places of faith and come to understand what we believe and why we believe it in more profound ways.
On Sunday morning we examined the oft-made criticism that the failings of the church in history, and the moral faults of self-proclaimed Christians, make the claims of Christianity implausible. If you missed the message on Sunday, you can listen to it here.
Many people have wondered aloud or in the quietness of their hearts whether they could truly have faith in a God whose believers often live less moral lives than their non-believing peers, if Christianity is the truth, why has the institutional church supported war, injustice, and violence, over the years of history, and why they would want to be a part of a group with so many smug, self-righteous, dangerous fanatics. The behavior of “Christians” and the church must be addressed before some are ever willing to take a look at the person and teachings of Jesus Christ.
As I mentioned in the message on Sunday, the answer to the very fair and devastating criticisms of the record of the Christian church, is to move to a fuller and deeper grasp of what Christianity is. It is important to affirm to the critic of the history of the church that this criticism is one that Jesus himself makes. That God is a God of freedom, and those who claim to believe in Jesus have the freedom to either put into practice Jesus’ teachings or to ignore them. That the name “Christian” does not mean authentic Christianity, but we find Authentic Christianity only where we find people putting into practice the teachings of Jesus Christ, living as his apprentices, and showing his radical love and justice.
Jesus conducts a major critique of religion. The well-known Sermon on the Mount does not criticize irreligious people, but rather religious ones. In Jesus’ teaching, the people he criticizes pray, they seek to live according to the Laws of God, and they participate in the community of faith. Yet Jesus continually says to those religious folks; “The prostitutes and tax collectors enter the Kingdom of Heaven before you.” He condemns them for their legalism, self-righteousness, bigotry, love of wealth, neglect of the poor, and apathy towards justice.
Being a Christian is way more demanding than holding a set of professed beliefs. It involves bringing our lives into alignment with God’s desires and intentions for us and relating to our neighbors and the world with the same sort of love that God has for our neighbors and our world. When we live this way with our heads, hearts, hands, and words, we truly demonstrate to the world what the Church of Jesus Christ is.
Grateful to be working alongside you to be the church God desires us to be,