Monday, April 7, 2014

Christianity Lite or Christianity Light?

The 2014 Winter Olympic Games have recently concluded.  There were more than a few surprises during the games, but sadly, it was no surprise that controversy erupted over the judging of the figure skating events.   International figure skating competition has been marred in recent years by accusations of fixed judging, and indeed, documented instances of judges “selling” their power have surfaced.  This is nothing short of a crisis for the international skating federation, the governing body in charge of judging international skating competitions.  The sport depends on honest, unbiased judging because the world is watching.

The Bible echoes this sentiment.  Jesus teaches that His people are lights on a hill; our purpose is to be shining so that those who look—the world—can see our Lord and Master.  The Apostle Paul exhorts us to be beyond reproach, again so that we may make the grace and truth of Jesus Christ visible, tangible, and attractive to those who do not know Him.  The world is watching. 

Many Christians take this concept seriously, but some of us, and perhaps most of us at times, get seriously off track by focusing on appearances.  Knowing that the world is watching, we want to look good.  And given that we live in a culture that confuses success with appearance of success, it is very easy to buy the lie that being a “good” Christian witness means that we carefully maintain a smiling, calm, put-together look. 

What does success look like for a Christian?  I think we need to look a little deeper than appearances.  Genuine Christianity, the kind of Christianity that draws people to Christ, is more than smile deep.  Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches.  We are able to bear fruit, to live a fruitful life, only as we abide in Him, as we consistently and persistently follow our Lord and Master.  And not only is Jesus our Master, He is our Model.  We are told that Jesus was not handsome, not much to look at.  When we examine the countless interactions between Jesus and the disciples, Jesus and the Jewish authorities, and Jesus and the general public, we see anything and everything except Christianity Lite.  Jesus struggled and suffered so that He could relate to us and we to Him.  He was accompanied by a rag-tag group of disciples who would never be accepted by traditional rabbis.  Jesus and His disciples were not credentialed or polished.  Jesus often made those He encountered uncomfortable.  Nowhere do we see Jesus trying to impress anyone.

Proclaiming Christ—in what we say and do, what choices we make—is about looking good.  It is far more about being good.  The pretense of an ideal, put-together Christian life only goes so far.  Jesus taught that we are not defiled by what we put into our mouths, but rather by what comes out.  Our words are a manifestation of what is in our hearts.  When all is said and done, our actions manifest who we are, inside.  The hard truth is that looking good is not good enough.  Our Lord wants nothing short of a deep holiness in us resulting in genuine spiritual integrity.  The world is watching.

How do we achieve such holiness and spiritual integrity?  We could simply try harder: pray more fervently, focus more intently on Bible study, memorize more verses, serve on more committees.  Those activities may not be bad, but they will get us to holiness and spiritual integrity only if in the attempt we realize that we can’t do it, and that it is only by faith that we can be holy.   Our own efforts can achieve only the appearance of goodness.  If we want the “real deal” of holiness, we must depend on the work of Christ, on our behalf, in us, and through us. 

So how do we proclaim Christ to the world?  I would suggest that we worry less about how we appear and focus more on abiding in the Vine, trotting alongside our Master, and taking our cues from our Model.  There is nothing better in this life, and nothing more important.  The world is watching.