Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? – 2 Cor. 13:5
There have been some things on my heart to write about lately, but I’ve been putting it off, mostly because they are so many. But after some recent encounters and experiences, I think that it’s wrong to postpone. But since it’s quite a bit, we’ll do it in parts.
It seems to me that I encounter more and more Christians who lead problematic lives. And by “problematic”, I don’t mean necessarily sinful or laden with trials and hardships (whose isn’t?). And by “problematic” I mean out of syncwith what they should be – faulty, damaged. Problematic.
I noticed it back when I was still in Greece, and when I came to the “Christian-land” UK, it really set the alarms off. And the only reason I can hear the alarms is because once upon a time they rang for me too. I heard them, but it took me a good four years to respond.
A couple of years ago, I was discussing this with someone who ‘d call himself a Christian, and he said, “Well, it’s hard to be inspired, isn’t it?” And it got me thinking: Inspired? Is that what the Christian life runs on? And yet, it’s the cry and lamentation of most of the Church today, certainly in the West: Why is life so unbearably dull and seemingly pointless? It’s like somone’s painted it over with a grey brush and speckled some black to finish it off.
For the most part, we are bored. Unmotivated. Unenthusiastic. We wallow in apathy, numbness and indifference; so bad that we’ve created our own Christian cynicism to match the world’s: “How are you?” “Y’know, the same. Waiting for God to show me His will”. Or something along those lines. And what’s worse, for many of those wandering souls, God is the last resource they’ll turn to. Cause, deep down, we just don’t believe that old stuff works anymore – if it ever did. Or at least it doesn’t work for us. And today’s wonderfully self-centred, hedonistic and materialistic world won’t exactly argue. It never has.
It’s no secret that two thousand years of abusing the Gospel has resulted in spiritual confusion and death on a genocidal scale. Especially in countries like the UK and the US, people have been so stuffed with the Christian culture, so saturated with Christian paraphernalia (both material and not) and so deceived by fakers, that the whole thing has become to them a laughable, pointless blur. Everyone’s looking for the next big thrill, the next sensation, the next thing to wake them up, to stir them up, to give their foggy life some kind of purpose, of meaning, some fuel to keep them going even if it leads to a head-on collision a couple of miles down the road. And these are people who, if asked, will say that they are Christians.
We live in a culture of more feel and less think. We might know what is right, we might know what the risk is, but still, in the courtroom of our minds, feelings overrule every objection. It seems like everyone’s eager to go up in flames, to just crash and keep going until it’s all gone; it’s a viral nihilism that would scare Zarathustra out of Nietzche. But unfortunately, feelings are like elevators: they go up and down. And any sensible person will tell us that it’s a pretty stupid way to run our life; any wise person will tell us to teach our feelings to follow us and not the other way around.
I hear you: “So what? Everyone feels like that – life’s pretty much the same for all of us.” But here lies the problem: If I am a Christian, I don’t have to go through life like this. I don’t have to spend my days being miserable and confused. My question to you is: just because your tire is flat, do you have to throw the whole car away?
Come on. Bin all that trash that’s clung onto the truth for centuries. You won’t miss it, believe me. Stop telling yourself that all this is somehow normal. It’s no more normal than cancer; the difference is that the cure exists, and it’s right within your grasp.
First, some ground rules:
- This will hurt. A lot. No pain, no gain.
- What follows is all or nothing. Time to start burning.
- If you’re not a Christian, please do read on. I believe God has a way of speaking to everyone.
WHAT’S REALLY A “CHRISTIAN”?
First let’s take a look at what the Bible defines as a “Christian”. In Acts 11:26, we find that the name was first given to the early believers in Antioch. Here’s something interesting: They didn’t call themselves that; it was the non-believers from outside the Church, and it was simply a title for the followers of Jesus Christ.
I like that. Why? Because it reminds me that being a Christian is something that the world around you can actually see and notice. In other words, if you and I call ourselves “Christians” today, that means that we are placing ourselves among those who follow Jesus, and that apparently manifests itself in our lives in a way that is clearly obvious to those around us.
Jesus himself had much to say about those who follow him. First of all, He only saw them as “disciples”, not just “followers”. You don’t believe me? Remember this famous verse:
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… – Matthew 28:19
The Great Commission. Notice how Jesus didn’t send His apostles out to make “believers”, but “disciples”. What’s the difference? Actually, in God’s eyes, none: As far as God is concerned, if you are a “believer”, that automatically makes you a “disciple”. Otherwise, you are not a true believer. How do we know? Because Jesus said “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine;” (John 8:31b), which means, in short, that a true disciple is interested in being obedient to God’s Word. Scary? Bible-bashing? Don’t blame me, I didn’t make it up. But these are God’s standards; this is what God calls a “Christian”.
Now you tell me how far away from this has our thinking fallen. There are so many people out there today who call themselves “Christians”, and they couldn’t care less about anything that God has to say. Well, this is something they should care about. It’s not like Jesus didn’t warn them:
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Mat. 7:13-14)
In other words, being a Christian – a true disciple of Jesus Christ – is not an easy, casual and automatic thing. It’s not something that you just are because your parents say you are, or because you grew up in a “Christian” environment, or because a hundred years ago you accepted Jesus. It goes far beyond that; it is something that happened once and continues always. It cannot leave your life unaffected – the marks of true, saving faith will show up in your life, in your character and in your personality because the first thing that will change when you are truly saved is your life’s focus: from yourself, to God.
Why is this so important to grasp? Because a lot of the problems that seem to plague Christians today have to do with a wrong understanding of what it means to bear that title. A Christian is meant to live and want to live for God. That’s what we were made for. And when, as Christians, we lose sight of that, when we start living for ourselves again, that is when we will feel dissatisfied, discontent, miserable and cynical.
I’ll close this first part of The Basics with some words that sum it up so clearly:
And He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. – 2 Cor. 5:15