Question for you. What does it mean to be a Christian? Does it mean to believe something about Jesus? Yes it does, but only as a starting point. Because we believe something about Jesus, we begin to follow him. But ultimately, to be a Christian means to embark on a life of imitating Jesus. But I’m afraid that we have defined being a Christian as only something we believe about Jesus. We believe something about Jesus, this alters our afterlife expectation so that now we are going to heaven and not hell when we die, and therefore we are a Christian. Right?
NO!!! To be a Christian means you have intentionally embarked upon a life of imitating Jesus. He has become your mentor, your teacher, your rabbi, your professor, you master. You are the disciple. You are the student, the learner, you are the pupil, you are the one who is following his way of life. That’s what it means to be a Christian.
Anything short of that is short of being a Christian. Just saying I believe something about Jesus that changes my afterlife, this does not make you a Christian. What makes you a Christian is deliberately, intentionally embarking upon a life of imitating the way Jesus lived his life. This makes you a Christ-like one, a Christ-ian, a disciple of Jesus.
Human beings have lost our way. I am serious. We don’t know how to be human. Cats know how to be cats, dogs know how to be dogs, but humans have lost the way of being human. We think that the way to be human is to fight, kill, keep score, get even, and paybacks. This is what Cain did when he refused to see his brother as his brother. He kills his brother, lies to himself and God about it, and goes off and starts civilization. That’s the beginning of Genesis chapter 4. At the end of Genesis 4, seven generations later, we come to Lamech, who says “…I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.”” Genesis 4:23-24 ESV. What does this do? It puts the world on a completely destructive course leading to the deadly days of Noah and the flood that nearly destroys humanity. What happens is that Christ has to come much later and give us a whole new meaning of seventy times seven.
Cain says “If my brother is in my way I’m going to kill him. My vengeance will be seven-fold.” Lamech says “it’s going to be seventy times seven for me.” And the world is out of control, baptized in violence, under the flood of judgement nearly destroying the human race.
When Jesus comes, he comes as the word, the logos, the logic of God made human flesh. You want to know what God thinks? Want to know what God’s opinion is? Want to know how God looks at things? Up until Christ we have hints, we have prophets, we have guesses, ideas, psalms, we have stories, but when we get to Christ we have the logic of God made flesh so that we can actually look at him and say “that’s what God is like.” The apostle Paul tells us “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God…” Colossians 1:15 NLT. He is the image, greek word icon, of the invisible God. God is invisible so that we are guessing, we are wondering, we are speculating what God is like. Some get it right, some get it kinda right, some get it wrong, some get it a lot wrong.
But when Jesus comes the mystery begins to be solved. We can look at the icon of Christ, who is the flesh and blood manifestation of the logic of God. We begin to know what God is like when we look at Jesus.
But Jesus is not just the icon of God, but also the icon of what the apostle Paul calls in Ephesians 2:15 the new humanity. Things go wrong with Adam and Eve. Things go wrong with Cain and Abel. Things go very wrong with Lamech. We’ve lost our way. We don’t know how to be human. Jesus comes not only as the icon of the invisible God, but also the icon of what human beings are to be like. Jesus gives us a new way to be human.
Jesus doesn’t just do things for us that requires only a response of passive faith. Jesus blazes a trail for us to follow. Too often we think “Jesus came, did all this for us, and I just believe, so everything is good.” No. Jesus came, blazed a trail, then said come on, follow me! When Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John on the Sea of Galilee, follow me, it’s a call to all of humanity. It’s a call to you, too. Jesus is not just doing something for us so that we can sit by passively. “Yes I believe Jesus did that. Hallelujah. It’s going to be a great afterlife. Let’s sing a hymn and go home.”
No. Jesus comes, blazes a trail, and calls to the human race, this way! Follow me. Do it the way I do. I’m going to show you how to live life right. You have forgotten how to be human. You have forgotten how to bear the image of God. You have forgotten to be what you were supposed to be. I’m going to show you again. Follow me.
Jesus did not live and die and rise again just to save us from afterlife consequences. Jesus lived his life to show us as human beings how to live our lives. He did not just die on the cross for you, he calls out pick up your cross and follow me!!
What Jesus did on the cross is the defining moment of his life. It was inevitable and right that the Roman cross would become the symbol of the Christian faith. If we want to pick a single moment, from his birth, his miracles, his life, his teaching, and message, if we want to pick a defining moment from the life of Jesus Christ, you will find none better than Christ upon the cross, arms outstretched in offered embrace, saying father forgive them, for they know not what they do.
In that moment, we find the clearest picture of what God is like. We also find the new picture of who we are to be like. We see our model. We find the cruciform standard for true beauty. Being disguised under the disfigurement of an ugly crucifixion and death, Christ upon the cross is paradoxically the truest revelation of who God is.
Another question. Does the dominant expression of public Christianity in America look like Christ on the cross loving and forgiving his enemies. What if we surveyed the “man on the street”, asking them if the dominant form of Christianity in America, expressed as modern evangelicalism, publicly expressed in this land, does it remind you of Christ upon the cross forgiving his enemies? How is the dominant form of public Christianity in America identified? Does it remind you of Christ upon the cross forgiving his enemies?
If the answer is no, then we should be alarmed. We should be deeply troubled. We should be seeking to repent and change things. But enough of the small talk. I’ll get to the point. If we have to express public contempt and thinly veiled hate for liberals, gays and Muslims in order to prove what good Christians we are, we have invented a false religion that takes the name of Christ in vain. I understand it feels right, but it’s wrong. It looks nothing like Jesus.
I don’t want those dark eyes anymore. I don’t want a dark soul. I don’t want a soul made dark because I spend my life looking at others through the squinty eyes of judgement. I want to look at others with the wide eyes of love and wonder knowing that they, too, are loved by God. I will not play the us vs them game.
We have a public expression of Christian faith that has been almost entirely defined by a quest for power. As Dr Russell Moore, a leading theologian among the southern baptists, said a few years ago “For far too long, American Christianity has been a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it.” What a disaster.
“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,”. Colossians 1:15 NLT
“by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace,” Ephesians 2:15 NIV