A few weeks back I was writing on the patio of my favorite coffee shop when one of the baristas popped out for a quick smoke break. He noticed a book lying by my computer with "GOD" written in huge letters on the cover and asked about it, which led to a short chitchat about religion and politics — the two things my dad taught me never to talk about with people I barely know (didn't listen, as usual)!
He told me he has studied a wide variety of religions and they all, more or less, teach the same thing.
"But yeah, dude," he continued, "I'm a Christian, too. I ain't gonna hate on anyone who chooses differently, but for me, Jesus is the ultimate role model — strong, resilient, and fearless — and I want to follow in his footsteps and make something of my life."
As we talked a bit longer, I realized "make something of my life" meant fulfilling his vocational aspirations and making a chunk of change while he's at it.
Say, what? All religions teach the same thing? Was your "research" limited to the top three hits of your Google search? And Christianity is your pick of the litter because Jesus is a good role model — really?
All these things and more sat anxiously on the tip of my tongue, but I kept my mouth shut.
I naturally tend toward combativeness, so if I feel that rising up in me at all I try to reign it in before I start saying things in a way I will regret. And there is a time and place for gently confronting the false perspectives people hold about the Christian faith, but I don't think it's in the first conversation you have with a guy while he is on a ten minute smoke break. So in an attempt to not be a jerk and preserve the opportunity for future conversations, I sat and listened respectfully to his reasoning — even agreeing with him that Jesus is strong, resilient, and fearless. Because, I mean . . . he is.
But what I will sooner-rather-than-later share with my new barista friend is that he seems to be missing the point. He acknowledges Jesus is real and that he's one heck of a role model — which is great. Gotta start somewhere. But his understanding of who Jesus is, what Jesus has done, and what Jesus expects of the world is severely malnourished. He seems to think Jesus' sole mission in his life, death, and resurrection was to set a good example and give us the tools we need to succeed in all our endeavors.
Yeah, sure — Christianity does involve imitating Jesus' character and living by biblical principles that might enhance our quality of life. But these things are not the crux of the Christian faith.
Jesus didn't walk around like, "I'm here to make you the best you that you can be, so you can land that job or that wife or that six figure income that you want!"
Jesus' message was a God-centered gospel of redemption, submission, and relationship.
Redemption. "I lay down my life for the sheep." – John 10:15.
The biggest dilemma you and I have isn't our low self-esteem or inability to make all our dreams come true. Our biggest dilemma is that apart from Christ, we are rebels against an all-powerful God and utterly unable to escape the condemnation that rests over us. But Jesus came to turn the tables . . . at his own expense. Rather than letting all of humanity suffer for their refusal to love and obey God, Jesus loaded our sin upon himself and let his Father crush him.
"He who knew no sin became sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in him."- 2 Corinthians 5:21.
Submission. "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." – Luke 11:23.
The New Testament writers didn't view Christians as "strong, resilient, and fearless" people who Jesus helps succeed in all their self-centered endeavors — but rather as slaves of Christ.
The word "slave" carries with it a negative connotation in our day but I think what the very capable (and inspired!) writers were trying to get at is this: Every fiber of the Christian's being is indebted to Jesus. He gives his followers everything — existence, forgiveness, eternal life — and in return, they bow the knee. They lay down their selfish interests and gospel-less ambitions to live a life of joyful service to him (Acts 20:24).
Relationship. "You are my friends if you do what I command you." – John 15:14.
All throughout the gospels, we see Jesus demonstrating the relationship-dynamic he came to restore between God and man. Though he is perfect and holy, he didn't distance himself from people who fall infinitely short of his glory. He ate with them. He talked with them. He even told them they are his friends if they do what he commands them! Christ isn't some standoffish entity who wants us to admire him from afar; he is relational, accessible, and wants us to enjoy fellowship with him.
If you're like my new barista friend and view Jesus merely as a good role model who can give you some solid tips on how to live a successful life, please hear me out: the Jesus of the Scriptures is not down with you imitating select parts of his character you find attractive, nor is he interested in you using him to further your own agendas. He does not want to be your Gandhi or your genie in a bottle.
Jesus is God — a good God who rescues sinners, rules over sinners, and loves sinners. He wants you to turn away from your self-worship and godless ambitions and embrace him as your greatest passion and treasure. He wants you to experience the unmatchable joy of living the God-centered life he created you to live.
The only proper way to respond to Jesus Christ is in gratitude, submission, love, and worship. Nothing less.
Originally posted at moorematt.org.