For most Christians reading this, being a Christian has been a pleasant experience for us. It has gained us respect, or friends, or community, or a network, or at a minimum a sense that we are moral people. If you can make sense out of Jesus and the Bible, what’s not to love about this?
But this association we have enjoyed is rapidly diminishing around us. It’s becoming ever clearer that being a Christian these days will likely cost you something. Or, at least some versions of Christianity will cost you. While many people confuse it for a political discussion, the reality is that a very spiritual discussion is happening right now about what it fundamentally means to be a Christian. Consider what Franklin Graham (son of Billy Graham) recently wrote on Twitter.
God does tell us to help the stranger and those in need; but God doesn’t tell us to expose our cities, homes, and lives to hostile people.
— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) February 12, 2017
Clearly, there are many who resonate with this line of thinking. Let’s live out our faith up until the point it exposes us. Let’s get what we want accomplished through a majority without getting directly involved. This provides an easy way to distance ourselves from refugees or others in need who might pose a threat to us. While this logic appeals to nearly all of us and makes sense to most people, I’d like to suggest that it’s not actually what Jesus had in mind. You cannot live out the Gospel without exposing yourself in the process.
C.S. Lewis once profoundly observed that “the real problem is not why some pious, humble, believing people suffer, but why some do not.” How should we explain our expressions of Christianity when we find that we aren’t exposed? That we aren’t suffering? That it isn’t actually costing us all that much? Was Jesus simply using hyperbole in Luke 9:23 about us carrying around an instrument of our own death as we follow Him? Or have we failed to experience a key part of the journey?
If you are a Christian, here’s how to find out whether you are trying to live Christianity with benefits. As you see the way things are changing, does it scare you or excite you?
I submit to you that if you are longing for a Christianity with perks then you have much to fear in the years ahead. But (and this is a BIG but), if you are willing to give of yourself for others as you live out your faith then you have much to be excited about in the years ahead. That’s because when the perks of being a Christian start to fade away, so too will the complacency and apathy. Those who choose this type of Christianity must do so with a clear view of Jesus to motivate them forward. Principles and doctrines won’t be enough. Faith by association will dry up quickly. And the reality is that many won’t want this and will be forced to cling to old models of the way things used to be. They will try to mix worldly power and Jesus. And history has shown us the numerous reasons why they don’t mix well. Eventually, they’ll realize that the return on investment just isn’t what is used to be. There will be easier ways to get all the benefits that Christianity once offered.
The rest of us will be left with the same choice that’s before us now. Will we willingly give of ourselves for others? The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once observed (as he watched the German church give its allegiance to Hitler), “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” This wasn’t a theoretical argument for Bonhoeffer. The Nazis later killed him for his defiance of the state.
As Jesus continues Luke 9:23 and our willingness to take up a cross to follow Him, he then adds this: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?”
So be afraid, or be excited, but don’t miss the change happening around us. Jesus’ beautiful love for us displayed in His self-sacrifice on the cross is still as revolutionary today as it was 2000 years ago. His invitation to treat everyone as our neighbor (Luke 10:25-37) and love even our enemies (Matthew 5:43-47) is still the way He plans to use us to bring healing to this world. Will we join Him?