In my world, here in the Bible belt, a Christian is a moral man who takes his family to Sunday School every week. He says a prayer of thanks before meals, even in a busy restaurant. He gives 10% off the top, serves on committees at church, and is overall a good man.
He might drive a current year model SUV with a nav system and a back up camera, or he might drive a 20-year-old Mercury with a tattered KJV Bible on the dash and a Honk if you love Jesus bumper sticker on the back.
He might be Baptist, Church of God, Catholic, or Pentecostal Holiness. For the most part, his brand is incidental. It usually only differentiates him from others like him on Sunday for several minutes. Oh, by the way, this generic Christian is taught by his spiritual mentors to avoid sinners. And he is taught that good people go to heaven and bad people don’t. Be careful that you avoid strong drink, look at a beautiful woman with only a quick glance, be honest in your business dealings, and don’t miss church.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, the one where hurting people are waiting to be loved, there is a remnant of Christians who are different. Yes, they do fit the template described above, but they also are bigger than the template, or much smaller. They are learning discipline, becoming disciples of Jesus, becoming familiar with the cross. They are saying NO to self interests in order to serve others. They are not as interested in what the folks in the church community think about them as the first group. They are loving sinful, ungodly people, on purpose. They are engaging the world about them with acts of kindness, sacrifice, and unconditional love. They are world changers.
There is a watching and waiting world assessing those who are self-described Christians. They are somewhat able to sort out those who know about Jesus from those who actually know Jesus. Even when they are treated badly they keep on loving, they only ignore harsh words or crass humor at their expense. They are not imitating Jesus, they are living His life day by day. They are salt and light. They are content with whatever life, or lifestyle, God gives. They are faith followers of Jesus.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. (Matt 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23)
Deny himself? A cross? Lord I prefer a bumper sticker, or a sign of the fish emblem, or a Bible on my dash. I do pray in public you know. Deny himself? Oh, you didn’t mean that literally did you? ….Really? A cross? What does that mean? I have this prolonged illness… People at work don’t like me because I am not a drinker and don’t appreciate their filthy talk. That’s what you mean, right?
Those who want to save their lives must lose them. The way up is down in the Kingdom of God. Deny self means put other’s interests ahead of your own. And, a cross is never more nor less than an instrument of death. The cross of Jesus is a daily reminder that I must live as a dead man. That is I must live as one who is dead to bigger barns, fat bank accounts, personal recognition, and all the trappings of worldly success.
What does God want from you? The answer is quite simple. Surrender. That’s right, just give up. Stop trying to act like a Christian. Stop trying to imitate Jesus. Put self in the dust and allow the Holy Spirit to live the life of Jesus out of you to others. Love wins every time. Love them and tell them. Don’t promote you, or your brand of church, just give them Jesus and his story. And keep loving in His stead for His glory.
It all works out when He comes. Life isn’t fair, but He is.