I practice selective Christianity. And so do you. And so do those who pretend they don’t—acting as if they and God have all the same answers.
When threatened, we easily toss aside Jesus’ teachings that do not fit our fears—as if we were given an exemption card to play at will.
When too many others are getting in line ahead of us for whatever we really desire, we excuse ourselves from the gospel notion that the first become last.
Perhaps one of the most needed confessions among modern American Christians is that we practice a pick-and-choose faith that resembles a food product stuffed with fillers and preservatives but mislabeled as 100 percent pure.
Such confessions keep us from wrongly assuming, and publicly presenting ourselves, to be fully representative of the faith we claim and even seek to live. Then when others see our shortsightedness and shortcomings, they will know we see them too.
Nothing harms the public witness of the Christian faith more than arrogant claims of faithfulness that don’t fully represent the gospel. However, a humble confession of seeking to follow Jesus, while admitting we have miles to go, better represents the available grace we should both experience and extend.
Reduced for personal convenience
The full demands of Jesus are more than I am willing to accept. So it is more constructive to my faith and the faith of others to admit such failings than to suggest the gospel is less than it is—reduced for my personal convenience.
Too often we—especially those given pulpits and amplified voices—believe the unconnected masses are seeking all the right answers when nothing is less attractive than one who thinks he or she (usually he) has all divine truth nicely packaged for easy distribution.
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Grace is unnecessary if we have everything rightly ordered. It is our admission of struggling and failing to follow the high, hard trail of Jesus that will appeal to others who know struggle and failure.
Such confession is not fatalistic, but hopeful—rooted in the honest need for grace for all of us—not just those poor souls unlike us who haven’t figured everything out yet.
In a sermon, I claimed being a faithful Christian is hard, but not complicated. Several people have brought those words back for further, helpful discussion.
Faithfulness is hard
Faithfulness is hard in that Jesus called his followers to do very difficult things—like loving enemies, responding to evil with good, walking second miles and giving away stuff.
Yet it is not complicated in that the call to Christian discipleship can be discerned and explained as modeled by Jesus. It is grace-driven, other-focused, community-rooted and hope-filled. It is not a short course in discipleship or even a long educational experience that ends with a diploma to hang on a wall.
While the Bible can be mined for a lifetime, it really addresses but two subjects—how we relate to God and how we are to relate to others. Although the literature can be complex, the larger messages are rather simple.
The hard part comes from actually loving God with all of our being and our neighbors as ourselves. Too much of our own stuff gets in the way.
Like those whom Jesus challenged, we get sidetracked by fear, personal desires, political agendas, narrow theological confines and a sense of superiority.
When reading the Gospels, I often imagine a scene in which Jesus and the disciples are spending a night in the countryside. After a long day of walking, teaching and caring for the needs of others, they are exhausted.
What in the world was he talking about?
Jesus rolls over with his back to the fire, and the others think he is asleep. One of them—probably Peter—whispers to the others: “What in the world was he talking about when he said …?”
A long discussion ensues about some metaphorical statement or a winding parable that was left unexplained. And I imagine Jesus remaining still and quiet with a big smile on his face—thrilled they are wrestling with such divine ideas with heavy demands.
Reaching conclusions about what Jesus calls his followers to do is a minor challenge compared with faithfully doing some of the hard things he said and did.
Yes, living a faithful Christian life is hard, but it is not complicated. And at best, we do so with great selectivity.
Therefore, one of the most faithful, hopeful acts of a disciple is to confess one’s selectivity and then seek to move a step further down that hard, yet grace-filled, trail.
John Pierce is executive editor of Baptists Today.