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Friday, April 15, 2011

Weekly Snippet: Saving Face and Sharing Faith

I spoke earlier this week about what saving face is, and how it can't really relate to the Gospel message.  Those who know God and have chosen to associate themselves with Him have decided to sacrifice their public esteem for a greater prize, the salvation of their souls.  The truth is so much more important than a bit of popularity.

Lately I've been hearing a new teaching that says that people hearing the Gospel will not accept it, or remain with it, if it appears it will cause too much hardship, or damage their rep (reputation).  The solution, this new teaching says, is to make becoming a Christian an easier transition by putting fewer demands on the new converts.  The problem that is holding back conversion numbers, or so we must deduce, is that Christianity is too confrontational, "legalistic," or demanding.

Well, is Christianity confrontational?  Does it contain rules?  Does God expect something new from His followers?  I say, yes to all of that.  Jesus Himself said,
"“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
"Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it." (Matthew 10: 34-39 NIV 2010)

 What Jesus was saying here is that the decision to follow Christ is a divisive one.  If you want to become a Christian, you have to be prepared to lose everything else, including the love and support of those closest to you.  It might even result in having violence done to you (thus the mention of a sword).  All of that comes because Christianity doesn't allow for compromise or duality.  You can't follow God and anything else, and you can't raise anything else in life to a level equal to, or higher than, the importance of obeying God.

This kind of uncompromising belief draws enemies, especially those who feel guilty when they realize that you are right, or that you are succeeding in your obedience.

Conclusion:  Christianity demands a lot.  In fact, Christianity demands everything. 
Should all of this scary talk about the hard-hitting seriousness of the Gospel make us run from it?  Absolutely not, but too often it does.  The problem is not that these things are not true statements; it's just that this is not the focus of Christianity.  If Christianity was only about what we stand to lose, of course we ought to flee from it.  It's just that this is not what Christianity is about.  We become Christians because of what we gain.

Perhaps the breakdown is not in the hearing, but in the message.

What do we gain?  We gain a Friend who not only hears our problems but takes action against them (Exodus 3: 6-8).  We gain an Advocate who is on our side, negotiating the best outcome in every situation (Job 16: 19-21).  We gain a Teacher who warns us of danger we may not even see ahead of us, and instructs us on how to escape it (Proverbs 2).  We gain a Buddy who personally sympathizes with our troubles instead of telling us our tears are meaningless, and who challenges us to higher things (Hebrews 4: 14-16).  Finally, we gain eternal freedom and new life--a fresh beginning!--which we didn't earn and couldn't buy--a priceless, unmerited gift that no one can steal from us (Romans 5: 6-10; Romans 8: 38-39)!

When I became a Christian, I was young, and perhaps I had less to lose than some who come to follow Jesus.  I didn't want to give up my so-called "inalienable rights" to sass my parents, to take what I wanted, to slip unnoticed from one rotten deed to the next, or to defend belligerently what I reasoned was fair and right against all comers.  Still, there was something that attracted me to Jesus.  It wasn't a promise that my life would be easier--only that it would be completely secure.  Nothing I had done before had any foundation to it;  there were people who had more power than me, and people who had less.  This made the whole outcome of everything I did pretty much random, and even after I gained something, it could be taken away from me.

What a comfort it was to know that those who cling to God are holding on to a foundation that doesn't move!  No one will overpower us and completely destroy us, because no one could overpower God, and He is our defense.  No one could rise up and take what we really value (our souls, our integrity, our hope) because no one can take us from God, and no one can do anything outside of God's notice.  Those who hurt us can bring us sorrow, but never doubt; no lie can deceive us once we have known the truth.  Heaven and earth fall away in unimportance when we've found this, which we know we need, and have reached for it.

When we become Christians, the whole world we have known, falls away from us like something dead.  We don't look back, because who would want to go back?  Instead, our focus is on the life ahead of us; seen and tasted in part here on earth, and known fully in Heaven.  Paul wrote:
I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3: 10-14 NIV 2010)
When will we share the real message with the world--not the death of our lives, but the resurrection of the dead?