In light of the comments some time back by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Romans 13 and the plight of people seeking asylum, I have been reminded to think about what it means to be Christian.
Recently I listened to a sermon by God's Squad founder, John Smith, in which he talked about the evidence of a follower of Jesus. In the sermon, Smith makes the provocative statement that the devil is orthodox. What Smith means by this is that the devil believes the same things that Christians believe, but is just in rebellion against them.
The point Smith is making is that most Christians, particularly those of the evangelical persuasion, see being Christian as adherence to a particular set of beliefs, and that if you have those right beliefs in place, you have booked for yourself a place in the afterlife.
The problem is that the whole New Testament goes against such teaching. As a result, we think that once we have made a particular "decision for Christ", everything is finished and our job is now to convince the rest of the world of the same beliefs. We therefore go through our lives thinking evangelism is more important than loving our neighbour. In practical terms, this often results in vilifying other religions, particularly Islam, and people, particularly refugees in the current context, most of whom we think are adherents of Islam and therefore potential terrorists. Fear has us over a barrel.
How can it be that calling ourselves Christian so often results in us being less Christlike than many people who don't proclaim faith in Christ? Why is it that adherence to a set of beliefs is seen as the standard when determining whether one is Christian or not?
The real Gospel of Jesus
There are numerous reasons, most of which centre around the fact that I don't believe we have heard the real Gospel of Jesus. We have focused on what we call The Great Commission in Matthew 28 and have taken that to mean we must evangelise the world. What that passage actually says though is to go and make disciples, teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded us.
The most important thing Jesus commanded us to do was to love God and our neighbour. It was so important he said, that it actually sums up the whole Law and the Prophets; everything that framed the way of life of the people of God.
Being Christian is less about adherence to a set of beliefs than it is to following Jesus in our individual and corporate lives. But when you talk to some Christians about this, they see it as heresy.
All this is not to say that it doesn't matter what we believe. I believe it is important to believe the right things. And that is actually the point I am trying to make here. If we believe for example that being a Christian is about getting our ticket to heaven and then trying to evangelise the rest of the world, we will see that as a priority over caring for the outcast and oppressed.
Those latter things might be good, but they will pale in comparison to the "eternal" work of saving souls. On the other hand, if we believe that being a Christian is ultimately about following Jesus, trusting him and seeking to become more Christlike, and working with God to renew this world and that heaven is ultimately coming here, we will see evangelism as important, but no more important than seeking justice and an end to poverty and everything that demeans and degrades the human person, and indeed the whole of creation. Our entire worldview will be changed.
If being Christian makes us less like Christ, that is, less likely to love our enemy, less likely to feed the hungry, to work for the end of poverty and injustice; and if it makes us more fearful of refugees, more judgmental of other religions, and more likely to scapegoat the poor and outcast, then we need to question whether or not we are really Christian.
I believe that Jesus told us to love our enemies because he knew we would have them. When our enemies are the poor, the outcast, the refugee, and the Muslim, we can be almost certain we are not being Christian. However, when our enemies are the powerful, the arrogant, the rich and the oppressor, we can be much more confident that we are on the side of Jesus.
Who are your enemies? What is your priority as a Christian? What is my priority? Am I becoming more like Christ or not? It is a question we must all constantly ask ourselves.
This article was originally published in Christian Today Australia and is re-published here with permission