Summary: Part 10 and final in series, The Company We Keep, this message answers the question, “Can you be a Christian without spiritual practices?”
Being a Christian Without Following Jesus
The Company We Keep, prt. 10
Wildwind Community Church
July 18, 2009
We’ve talked a lot about spiritual formation the last few weeks – how it is that you and I can begin to be formed into the image of Jesus, so that fear, anger, jealousy, pride, and a whole host of other negative emotions simply begin to subside. Tonight I want to address those of you who might be thinking, “Do I have to do this stuff in order to be a Christian?” I want to answer that question with another question. Can we be a Christian without being a disciple (student) of Jesus? Can we claim that the God of light is in our lives when we continue stumbling around year after year in the same old darkness?
Now let’s make sure we are perfectly clear here. I am not saying that unless you practice spiritual disciplines you are going to hell. We never make statements about who is and is not going to hell. That’s not up to us, thank God, or I’m sure quite a few people would have sentenced me to hell by now. Perhaps by the end of this sermon, some of you will have done exactly that.
Can you be a Christian without employing spiritual disciplines in your life? The answer is yes, you can be a Christian without employing spiritual disciplines. Christianity is just a religion and you can be any religion you want to be. What you cannot and will not do without spiritual disciplines is know God. This is truth that is rooted deeply in what the Christian gospel actually IS. The Christian gospel is not the news that you can avoid hell after you die. Go read the gospels this week – look at the actual teachings of Jesus. You will not see him preaching a gospel where you say some prayer of repentance and confession, invite Jesus to forgive your sins, and then start going to church. It’s simply not in there. This is a creation of the Christian religious community. The truth is that Jesus wantonly forgave sins. He’d heal somebody and then as they were walking off he’d go, “Your sins are forgiven.” I mean, to a person who didn’t even ASK!! He’d say to people who came to him for physical healing, “Your sins are forgiven.” Jesus lavished forgiveness on people. He certainly did not wait for them to learn the right code for asking, or to assume a certain position, or even to say they were sorry. He just forgave them and told them to stop sinning. In the story of the prodigal son, intended to convey God the Father’s love for each of us, the father didn’t even listen to the son’s apology speech when he returned home. Sure, the son had prepared one, but the Father didn’t listen and didn’t even seem to care.
Can we take our religious blinders off long enough to grasp the infinite and unconditional love of the Father for each of us? Can we try to get our arms around the price Jesus paid for our freedom? Man, we are stuck in the whole thing about people needing to say a sinner’s prayer and ask forgiveness and come to an altar and cry. (Of course if people do that we can count it on our weekly reports.) But do we think that God just cannot save us until we figure out and say the spiritual open sesame, using the terminology of the Christian religion, and preferably coming from the background of the correct denomination? Until that time, do we think God’s sitting up there going, “Man, Jesus wants to save you – now say the magic words. Just say it already. SAY IT! You’re tying my hands here!” What if we changed our understanding from that view (never promoted by Jesus), to the idea that God is determined to save every last one of us. Jesus is saving you over his dead body and he is going to go wherever he has to go and do whatever he has to do to make sure that, one way or another, you end up safely with him.
Some of us find that threatening, don’t we? I mean, what if we get to heaven and Gandhi is there? Can you imagine with me how Gandhi might feel, having to answer the question, coming at him from a billion Christians, “What are YOU doing here?” To which Jesus might well answer, “I said the most important commandment is Love God, and Love Others. Gandhi actually did that as best he knew how. Did you? By the way, the judgment is tomorrow. I’m going to ask you the same question you asked Gandhi – what are you doing here? What will YOUR answer be?” I think on that day, perhaps we’re going to need more than, “I said a prayer at an altar during camp meeting thirty years ago,” or “I went to church every week.”