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Christianity: It’s Not What You Think It Is

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried. ~ G.K. Chesterton; What’s Wrong with the World

To be fair, I have not yet read any complete work of Chesterton’s, so I cannot speak to the context of this quote that is often used in the spiritual formation circles of this day. However, taking it at face value, as far as Christianity in America goes, it is quite off-base.


The Christian ideal HAS been tried and found wanting.


And it also has been found difficult. Difficult to embody (obey), difficult to share, difficult to hold onto in hard times. How many Christians do you know have struggled with their faith?


Hence the rise of the deconstruction of one’s faith. As well as the flood of young people leaving the church after finishing high school and gaining independence.


And while any concern around “leaving the church” may seem to point to a concern for church as an organization or even a mission, the reality is that these people are walking away from any connection to God and his intentions for them individually or the world as a whole. And that’s heart-breaking.


Because the truth is that the “Christian ideal” as most Western Christians know it, is WRONG.


Okay. Wrong might be a little harsh. But at best, it’s incomplete.


The Christianity I grew up with was this: believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins so that you can go to heaven when you die. God “wants your heart” … which could be translated as allegiance, most certainly as obedience, and at best, perhaps, it’d be a personal relationship with God.


Which, while perhaps not clearly stated as such, the implication of this would be that God would help one through this life, smoothing the bumps and dips in the road, providing his protection and provision along the way. How many Scriptures are there to that effect, anyway? A LOT.


So, what happens when life goes sideways? When things don’t go as planned: divorce, the loss of a loved one, the death of a dream, betrayal, chronic pain or illness, loss of physical capability, singleness, infertility, financial insecurity or devastation, rejection…. the list can go on forever.


When our Christian ideal doesn’t align with reality, deconstruction, drifting away, or even hostility toward God and “his people” are natural outcomes.


But again, the “Christian ideal” as we know it today is not the invitation that Jesus proclaimed when he walked this earth. And that is the problem. We must return to the true, full gospel, the good news that Jesus offered, that was so enticing it started a movement that, despite its shortcomings, is alive and well today.


Because life with Jesus is the greatest opportunity you’ll ever have.


So what is the invitation? How should we understand the “Christian ideal”? In John 3:16, Jesus tells us what he and God are up to: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life.”


The idea that this verse has to do with life after death, rather than the life you’re actually living right this moment is a gross misinterpretation.


Paraphrased, the verse might read like this:


God’s care for humanity was so great that he sent his unique Son among us, so that those who count on him might not live a futile and failing existence but would have the undying life of God himself. *

We are talking about a quality of life that you can enter into right now.


So what might that look like? In John 10:10 Jesus states his purpose (after a reminder about what the enemy is up to, as well):


  • The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. (NLT)

  • The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (NIV)

  • The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (ESV)

  • A thief has only one thing in mind—he wants to steal, slaughter,  and destroy. But I have come to give you everything in abundance,  more than you expect —life in its fullness until you overflow! (TPT)


Notice that every one of these translations phrases the enemy’s purpose with the same exact words…the outcome of which is loss, death and destruction. If your life is bearing that kind of fruit…it is not from God. But Jesus' invitation is to a rich, satisfying, abundant life.


However, it's of utmost importance to understand that Jesus’ invitation is not to a “prosperity gospel.” In John 16:33 he explains, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”


The offer of a rich, satisfying, abundant life-to-the-full has everything to do with the condition of your person…your inner being, your soul…it encompasses your heart, mind, emotions, thoughts…. It’s all of you. Love, joy, peace, hope…and all the related conditions such as patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control…are markers of this kind of life. (Galatians 5:22-23).


And it doesn’t depend on your circumstance.


One of the Apostle Paul’s infamous lines is Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” But this declaration is usually taken out of context. It doesn’t mean that you could fly to the moon if you just recognized Jesus’s strength empowering you. Paul has just explained that he has learned how to be content in every circumstance, (verse 11) and that it is Christ Jesus who enables him to do that. (And keep in mind the countless trials the man experienced or refer to 2 Corinthians 11 for more detail…he did not have an easy life.)


So…having grown up in the conservative Christian church, what have we been missing all this time? Why are people leaving the church, rejecting God…or simply living a life bearing the name of Christ without manifesting the fruit of his Spirit?


Key to discovering and embodying the good life that Jesus has on offer is understanding these truths:


WHO YOU ARE

You are an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe.* You are a spiritual being having a human experience.


This does not mean our physicality is bad, it just means that there is much more to it than what we can see, touch, feel…both now and forever. This is key to understanding your identity, and to being able to live content despite the circumstances, because you know that our physical circumstance isn’t all that there is. (2 Cor. 4, Phil. 4)


WHY YOU’RE HERE

You’re here to become the kind of person God created you to be…so that he can empower you to do what you want, as you rule and reign with Jesus…forever. “Training for reigning” as it has been said.*


This is key to understanding your purpose.


We’re developing character, which cannot be developed without free will and the ability to choose other than God. Character is necessary to fulfill the commands and promises from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. This life is a training ground!


WHAT ABOUT PAIN & EVIL? 

Well for one, as previously mentioned, Jesus did tell us that in this life we’d have trouble and sorrows (John 16:33). 


  • God allows kingdoms that conflict with his (including our own) for now, because a world with the possibility of pain and evil develops creatures of the highest caliber.* If you never set your child free to learn and grow, they would not be able to do so. They’d be helpless, robotic, peons. There’s nothing fulfilling in a robot loving you when you created or forced them to do so. You must give choice and causality.


  • God’s sovereignty doesn’t come in the form of inflicting evil actions and bad things on people or preventing them. It comes in his capacity to bring things out for good no matter what happens. (Romans 8:28) That is the promise we can hold onto! It’s not really that hard for me to stop you from burning the cookies. It would be incredible if I could take your burned cookies and somehow make a delicious treat from them.


At its simplest, these are three key points to understanding the Christian ideal. There’s more goodness to elaborate on, (see posts linked below) but for now, let me end with this story.


One winter, my young son and I were talking about life with God while staying at a cabin in the Idaho mountains. The scenario that came to me then is still the best I can articulate. It’s not perfect. But try this on…


The cabin was on a very steep hill that you had to climb. Imagine hiking the hill, pulling a wagon with your stuff in it, all by yourself. You could probably do it. It’d be exhausting. You might fall. You might even slip and slide back down the hill. You could even twist or break an ankle!


But what if a friend was there to walk beside you and pull the wagon with you? A friend who was an outdoor enthusiast and had hiked the mountain countless times.  It wouldn’t be as exhausting, sharing the load. You probably wouldn’t fall as often.


And if you did, your friend would probably help you back up. He might even pull you up the hill for a bit! And it’d be so much more fun, chatting with your pal along the way. He’d give you some tips on how to navigate the terrain, would share the delightful moments you notice along the way, and would cry with you over the things that go horribly wrong. Either way, you’ve got to get to the top. Are you going to do it alone? Or are you going to let your friend help you along the way?



That is the great invitation that is available to all who trust Jesus….the man. The Son of God. Not something he did, on the cross. He is alive and well, living among us, the most brilliant person and teacher that ever walked the earth.


The invitation is to trust Jesus to teach you the way to live a rich, abundant, satisfying life…and to help you carry your load along the way. And in doing so, you can become the kind of person, fully and gloriously alive, that he created you to be, full of love, joy, hope and peace, ready to live and reign with him in the unending, grand adventure of life.





*REFERENCES:

Essentially all of the above (especially the * items) has roots in Dallas Willard's vision of the gospel as taught by Jesus; including but not limited to: The Divine Conspiracy, The Allure of Gentleness; Renovation of the Heart, Knowing Christ Today; or watch/listen to his teachings here.


For more on the goodness of life with God:

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