There is a trend among progressive Christianity to decry religion as a general concept, and religious people specifically. In most cases, I’m not convinced that the aim is to promote the abandonment of organized faiths or to condone hedonistic and worldly lifestyles. But on the other hand, disavowing religion (and whatever the hearer might associate with it) makes it a lot easier to talk to people without being seen as “one of those horrible religious nuts.”
You may feel that your side has been unfairly singled out. Everyone’s blaming you and “people like you” for all this trouble. You see both sides of the aisle acting like spoiled children, and you don’t understand why all the self-appointed parents seem to be pointing their finger at you, and not at the brother or sister that clearly started this whole mess.
You and I need to get over it.
Today is Election Day. Can you imagine the feeling for those who believe that their happiness, their well-being, their fulfillment somehow rests on this outcome? I don’t know about you, but if my hope were in this government fixing my problems and making this world better, I would be, as Paul says, “of all men, most to be pitied.”
Or maybe that’s how you’re feeling this morning?
Today, we are faced with the choice of picking one horrible option over another, and many have so invested themselves in the process that they’ve convinced themselves that one of those two actually is worthy of support. Even Christians!
Maybe it’s because we like taking sides and competing. Maybe it’s because deep down, we’re still convinced that the “American Way” is somehow tied to our relationship in Christ, and that the government has been put in place by God because it’s righteous, but that THIS candidate will be the one that finally makes it UN-righteous..
Or maybe we’ve forgotten where our home really is.
I think we often misunderstand scripture when it discusses the role of civil government:
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” — Romans 13:1-4
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” — 1 Peter 2:13-17
Both Paul and Peter instruct us as Christians to submit to human rule, pointing out that God has put those power in place for a reason. But I think we misunderstand that purpose: it’s not so that Christians can have a world where the government supports them and helps them to build a righteous community. That’s never worked — even when God wrote the law, gave it to the people of Israel and literally chose a king to rule over them!
Think about the time during which the apostles wrote those letters. The “God-instituted” government of that day was in the process of slaughtering Christians, forcing them to renounce Jesus or face unspeakable torture. Do you think that government cared anything about “family values” or “protecting our children from bad influences?”
Christians have been trying since almost the beginning of the Lord’s church to co-opt the government as its right arm. But when Paul talked about the Roman government being in place to avenge wrongdoing, do we really think Paul meant that the Roman government was punishing sinners? Or maybe they were just creating a stable system of law and order, wherein a person who murdered or stole would be punished?
God calls His children to live “peaceful, quite lives” (1 Timothy 2:2), and you have to have civil order to do that. You have to live in a society where — at least for the most part — the government is working to maintain some semblance of a structured and orderly community with a code of conduct by which everyone has to live. I would submit to you that if that changes this week, it won’t be because of either of these candidates.
It will be because we chose chaos over peace. We chose conflict over kindness. We cared more about imposing our will on the world around us than we did about submitting our will to our one king, Jesus Christ.
Do we really believe that we’re citizens of the kingdom? Do we really believe, as Peter writes, that we’re submitting to the government of this world because God told us to do it, as opposed to believing we belong here? Have we forgotten who we are?
Let’s act like children of the kingdom today. And moving forward. No matter who wins this election, that new president won’t make any of our lives any better, and he/she certainly won’t be dedicated to doing God’s will. This election won’t further the cause of Christ one bit.
But if we let it, it could cost us our souls.
When we think about Jesus, we often depict him as the warm and welcoming savior, waiting with open arms for any and all who want to follow after him. And that’s a good thing, because that’s exactly who Jesus is.
But sometimes, I think that the religious world’s view of the Gospel invitation misses one vital fact: that invitation is on Jesus’ terms. Not ours.
In fact, one of the extraordinary aspects of our Lord’s work on earth is all the time he spent discouraging people from following him! I don’t mean that he told some that they were unwelcome, or that he didn’t want them as disciples. But Jesus was very clear that becoming a follower isn’t a casual decision, and it should never be done lightly or without a clear understanding of the cost.
How much do we want to follow Jesus?
In Luke 14, Jesus makes a remarkable statement — one we need to include in our own teachings to the world. He has just attended a dinner with one of the religious leaders in Jerusalem (Jesus would eat with anyone!) where he told the Parable of the Great Banquet. In the story, a man invited his friends and neighbors to a feast, only to be met with excuse after excuse listing all the things that they deemed more important than this particular event. The master decided to seek out other guests, noting that “none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.”
Luke then skips ahead to a discussion that he seems to relate to this same topic. Jesus is walking along with a throng of people following him, which seemed to be the case everywhere he went. For some reason, Jesus then turns around and addresses the crowd:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
Are we lowering the bar?
When was the last time you heard someone talk to a person seeking to become a Christian and saying: “Listen, are you sure about this? Because there’s no turning back, and this is going to be a lot harder and cost you a lot more than you probably realize?” Our emphasis tends to be about getting someone “in the door” first and foremost. The maturity and growth and commitment will come later; right now, we’re just trying to get the papers signed, as it were.
That’s how you sell timeshares. It’s not how you bring people to Christ.
Jesus demands nothing less than commitment, and despite how we often use that word today, there’s no such thing as “partial commitment.” We’re either in, or we’re out. That doesn’t mean we won’t have weak days — that we won’t sin or stumble or question why we’re putting ourselves through this from time to time. But it does mean realizing that Jesus is, in fact, the “exacting man” of the Parable of the Talents (Luke 19:23).
He demands a lot of us. In many cases, it’s more than we’re willing to give.
If we don’t come to Christ expecting to give up many — maybe all — the things we hold dear in this life, we’ve missed the message of the Gospel. In Luke 9, as people came to Jesus and told him of their intentions to follow “wherever you go,” Jesus repeatedly warned them that their priorities might not allow them to give the sort of devotion needed to be a disciple. And he finishes with what seems to be a harsh and unbending statement: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
What does discipleship really mean?
Often, when we look at the idea of Christianity today, we think of it a lot like we might think of a political party. I can be a Democrat or a Republican just by claiming that identity for myself. Sure, I may have to register as one or the other, but no one’s going to tell me “Wait a second… you haven’t voted Republican in 10 years, so you can’t call yourself a Republican!” I am affiliated with a party because I say I am.
Too many believe that Christianity means picking a church, coming in from time to time and preventing a pew from floating up into the air for about an hour, and then going out into the world with the intent of not physically hurting anyone. We may give a few dollars, we may forego an hour’s sleep or so on Sunday morning, and we might even go so far as to participate in the worship service. I might attend a Bible study during the week if I or the kids don’t have something else scheduled.
And we believe that makes us disciples of Jesus.
Vines Dictionary defines the word disciple (mathetes, in Greek) this way:
Literally, “a learner”, in contrast to didaskalos, “a teacher”; hence it denotes “one who follows one’s teaching,” as the “disciples” of John, Matt. 9:14; of the Pharisees, Matt. 22:16; of Moses, John 9:28; it is used of the “disciples” of Jesus (a) in a wide sense, of Jews who became His adherents, John 6:66; Luke 6:17, some being secretly so, John 19:38; (b) especially of the twelve apostles, Matt. 10:1; Luke 22:11, e. g.; (c) of all who manifest that they are His “disciples” by abiding in His Word, John 8:31, cf. 13:35; 15:8; (d) in the Acts, of those who believed upon Him and confessed Him, 6:1- 2, 7; 14:20, 22, 28; 15:10; 19:1, etc.
A “disciple” was not only a pupil, but an adherent; hence they are spoken of as imitators of their teacher; cf. John 8:31; 15:8.
Jesus does not call everyone to literally give up everything for the sake of giving everything up; we know this because of the number of Christians in the Bible who not only were landowners or professional tradespeople or had some sort of secular life, but were in some cases quite successful and wealthy. But he did require some to make that sacrifice if they were really serious about following him in the literal sense of the word. (We follow Jesus in a more figurative way today, but it’s no less meaningful and often no less demanding.) And he — along with the apostles whom he inspired — made it abundantly clear that whatever we do in this life, it’s secondary to serving God.
Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ. it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Does that sound like a relationship that we can pursue casually or in our spare time?
Are we really disciples of Christ? Or are we people whose will occasionally overlaps with Jesus’ will, causing us to follow him as long as he’s already going in our direction?
Let’s be the true disciples that Jesus desires. Our Redeemer deserves nothing less, and he will accept nothing less.