It is ever so subtle. It can be a hair breadth of a shift, but suddenly we have turned Christianity into a religion. In an instant the breath of life is replaced by the tolling bell of overwhelming burden. We make the shift in evangelism, and we make it in discipleship. We offer it to others, and we pressure ourselves with it.
I think it was Glen who put his finger on it in this year’s Delighted by God conference. He said something about how we tell unbelievers they should believe in Jesus, rather than speaking of Jesus so that they might believe in him. Spot the difference? Do we present information and facts and then call on people to decide for Jesus, or do we present Jesus so that they are drawn to him?
We do the same in discipleship. I was speaking with an old friend today. We were talking of how easy it is to think in a certain way. Namely, that I know Jesus is trustworthy and faithful and good and so on, and that I need to trust Him more. I need to try harder to trust in this Jesus in decisions I am making as a believer. The focus in this situation is my trust, my faith, my effort, my choice. But in reality, if my heart is straying toward other things, then I need to get a clearer view of Jesus so that my heart responds.
I thought out loud about my marriage. Imagine if someone had come to me with lots of facts about Melanie, before I even met her, and told me to live in light of that. I would be striving in my own effort to live for someone I didn’t know. No matter how wonderful the facts, I would be living in my own strength. But the reality of living in a dynamic relationship with someone real is that I am drawn to her, and when I see her heart clearly, then no sacrifice on my part really feels like one.
It is my observation that there is too much in Christianity that is really focused in the wrong direction. Decide for Christ. Believe in Christ. Be committed to Christ. But while the term “Christ” may appear in every statement, the real common factor is me. Too much of what is presented leaves Christ as an impersonal set of facts held at arms’ length, either in heaven or in a theological library.
I don’t want to be throwing stones and critiquing others. My sense is that I want to know Him more and offer Him more to others. If I spend more time with Him and get to know Him more intimately, then surely my ministry will reflect the difference.
But I know the problem isn’t easily solved. Just like everyone else, I easily turn things back toward myself. My flesh is as prone as anyone else’s to taking charge, taking credit, taking the focus and taking the prerogative for my own life and ministry. At its core the issue is the same issue that has been the bane of human experience. It is the Genesis 3 impulse. I can be like God. This doesn’t just manifest itself in rebellious overt sin, but also in self-righteousness and religiosity.
CS Lewis wrote that God has not come to torment our natural self, but to kill it.
One glimpse of the grace of God in Christ and my heart cries out for Him to finish the job! We try to imagine what it will be like to see our Lord face to face. Will we fall prone before Him? Will we sing or dance? Will we embrace Him? Will we worship like we’ve never worshipped before? Of course. Will we have a whole new perspective on life and sin and self? Indeed.
And that is the point. As I preach to myself, or as I preach to others; as I disciple my children, or as I disciple others; the real issue is not their commitment, their strength of resolve, their responsibility to be good, do better, try harder. The real issue is whether I know Christ well enough to genuinely introduce Him to them. Because if they just caught a glimpse . . .