Summary: Three errors today’s Christians make: 1. Seeing salvation merely as a legal transaction. 2. Believing that being right is more important than treating other people right. 3. Living out of fear rather than faith.
Walking as Children of the Light
In the Scripture today we have one example of many where the disciples simply do not “get it.” Jesus has just expressed what is facing him, and is more vulnerable than at any other time of his life. But the disciples can only think of themselves. Unbelievable. But then it is unbelievable how often we do not “get it” as well.
A couple of years ago I was driving to the Adirondack Mountains where I would spend a week in the Whitney Wilderness area. My canoe was on top of the car, my backpack was in the back and I was set for the long trip to upper state New York. It was Sunday, so there was a lot of religious programming on the radio which always turns out to be interesting. One program came on where a preacher was answering questions that had been sent in by listeners. The first question was about a difficult passage in the Old Testament, and the preacher emphatically made the point: “Unless the text says otherwise, we should always take the Bible literally.” Fine and well, but the next question was from someone who asked: “What do you think of Jesus’ statement about turning the other cheek and going the second mile?” My jaw dropped as the preacher said, “Well, I hardly think that Jesus meant for us to actually turn the other cheek after someone strikes us. That would be totally impractical.” What happened to taking the Bible literally? Then he told a story about an Irishman who was hit by someone, turned the other cheek and was hit again, so then got up and whaled the tar out of the person who had hit him. But I was really stunned when the preacher went on to say, “Well, you see, that was from the Sermon on the Mount, and the things Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount are not to be taken literally. They do not work here and now. The principles Jesus talked about in the Sermon on the Mount were meant for when he comes and sets up the millennial kingdom. They are certainly not for today.”
I laughed as the thoughts went racing through my head: “Who are these people who, in the millennial kingdom, are going to be striking us so that we have to turn the other cheek?” Isn’t this the time and place of which Isaiah spoke of when he said: “The wolf will live with the lamb” (Isaiah 11:6)? If the millennial kingdom is anything it is a kingdom of peace. If the Sermon on the Mount was only for the millennial kingdom, why would Jesus say something like, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:20-21). I thought the millennial kingdom was a place of prosperity. You mean there will be people who are poor, hungry and weeping in Christ’s future kingdom? It was obviously just a way of explaining away something you don’t like in the Bible, and many of us do this one way or another. We often talk about liberals compromising the Bible, but fundamentalists do it at least as much.
I used to pray that God would help me not to be brainwashed by the world. I realized that there were ways that I was being indoctrinated by the secular culture in which I lived that I was not even aware of. What I did not realize was that I was sometimes being brainwashed by the popular Christian culture of which I was a part — an Americanized form of Christianity that is often very far from the real thing. There were many things that I had accepted without really thinking much about them, because it was assumed these were the things that Bible-believing Christians were supposed to believe. What rescued me was that I had a practice of reading through the entire Bible each year, and over time I began to see that many of the things I had come to accept as fact were not really in the Bible. So when I preached one Sunday on Jesus turning the water into wine, and said that it was real wine, I had some people strongly react. A red-faced man had his finger in my face at the end of the service, and the next day I got a 45 minute lecture on the evils of drinking from another. For some people drinking, even in moderation, is the worst kind of sin, but other things like racism, judgmentalism, and an unloving, critical spirit are overlooked.
I began to see that there are many other errors we make in the name of Christianity. It seems as if we have forgotten the words of Jesus, or merely pass them off as pious platitudes and nice stories, not to be taken seriously. We claim to follow the Savior, but we don’t take very seriously the things he said about love and mercy, justice, nonviolence, openness to others, forgiveness, compassion and concern for the poor. We are in danger of becoming shallow, hypocritical and missing the depth of the life Christ has called us to live.