Being a Christian…or Being Christlike?

Is the goal to become a Christian or to become Christlike?

Short answer:  Become Christlike.

Long answer:  See below.

Some people think that only Christians can become Christlike.  Therefore, they see becoming a Christian as a preliminary step to becoming Christlike.  However, in the wake of the coming of the kingdom of God, a human being seeking to belong to Christ is like the state of Missouri seeking to become part of the Louisiana Purchase.  It was being part of the Louisiana territory that was purchased by the United States from France in 1803 that enabled Missouri to become a state in 1821.  Jesus paid for you with His blood so that He’d have the right to make you more like Himself.  You cannot become more accepted by Christ than you already are – but you can become more acceptable.

It’s obvious, moreover, that there are in this world some non-Christians who are more Christlike than some Christians.  Becoming a Christian, therefore, cannot be a prerequisite to becoming more Christlike.  Otherwise, no non-Christian could ever be more like Christ than the worst-behaving Christian.  Being a Christian, therefore, must not be a prerequisite to becoming more like Christ.

The terms “Christian” and “non-Christian” are just a social labels – categories into which we slot others and ourselves.  Yet God is not limited by the “name tags” we pin on others and ourselves.  He sees human hearts…and He does not need or use our social labels.

Jesus Christ bought and paid for the whole world long before you and I were born.  Therefore, we are wasting time trying to get Him to regard us as His.  What we should be spending our time doing instead is letting Him instruct us on how to live.  If we did this, we’d become more Christlike – which would bless His heart and honor His name.  People might then call us “Christian,” but it would be because we reminded them of Him – not because we self-identified as Christian with insufficient corroborating evidence.

The People of God…or Godly People?

What shall we seek?  Shall we seek to be the people of God or shall we seek to be more godly people?

Seeking to become the people of God is waste of time.  Moreover, it is a distraction that leads us into judgmentalism and hypocrisy.  All people are the people of God.  There are no people whom God has not created.  Neither are there any people for whom He did not die.  Remember:  “For God so loved the world…”  It is not as though Christians are His people and others are not.  Jesus Christ offered Himself to His fellow Jews in His first coming, but He adopted the whole world in His second coming, which was the coming of the kingdom of God.  Therefore, every person now belongs to Christ; the ransom He paid was enough to cover the entire human race.  Jesus is Lord of all!  Trying to become a part of the people of God would be like the state of Missouri trying to become a part of the Louisiana Purchase.

Seeking to be more godly is where we should instead focus – getting the logs out of our own eyes so that we can see clearly to remove specks in the eyes of others.

The goal is not to become a Christian, but rather to become more like Christ – who is watching us and hoping that this is where we will focus our attention.  He came to teach sinners His ways…so that all the people of God can become more like Him and cease being so ungodly.

Summarizing the Simplicity of True Christianity

Thirty days ago, I started a series of posts on the subject of true Christianity’s simplicity.  To lay a foundation for what I was going to write, I led with this scripture from the apostle Paul:

But I am afraid that,
as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness,
your minds will be led astray
the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.
–  2 Corinthians 11:3

Over the last month, I have given you a daily meditation on some aspect of that simple devotion – devotion to Christ, which is the only concept that could qualify as true Christianity.  To refresh your memory, here’s a listing of those thirty posts in the order in which they were published.

I have studied Christ, off and on, for years.  I say “off and on” because I should acknowledge the weakness and waywardness of my faith in Him.  That acknowledged this, I can say that I have learned much from Him over the years and what I have learned from Him has become more and more personal – and has simultaneously become simpler and deeper.

I say “simpler and deeper” because learning about Christ includes unlearning a lot of things – that is, removing false ideas and unnecessary complexities.  As someone has said, our problem is not the things we do not know, our problem is the things we think we know that just aren’t true.  Our understanding of Christ becomes simpler and deeper as we discard ideas that we thought were necessary to Christianity, but really are distractions to His central importance.  Much of what is presented as Christianity today is bloated by man-made additions that were nowhere in Jesus’ mind when He said “I am the way and the truth and the life.”

Christianity as it is practiced by many people today bears only the faintest resemblance to what Jesus actually taught.  For most Christians, “devotion to Christ” has become devotion to church.  By this conception, Jesus traded in synagogues for churches, and Saturday’s for Sunday’s.  Are churches so much better than synagogues, or are Sunday’s so much better than Saturday’s that it was worth His dying on a cross to achieve such a bargain?  No, no, and a thousand times no!

God became Christ in order to achieve and enjoy a personal and loving relationship with each and every human being – just as He had with Adam in the very beginning.  This relationship can only be consummated as human beings become more righteous, for it is not possible for God to become less righteous.  The divine-human relationship that was broken with Adam was restored in Jesus of Nazareth; Adam sinned, but Jesus did not.  Moreover, Jesus forgave sin and gave grace that leads to righteousness.  What Adam lost, Jesus restored.

There are details in true Christianity which support its central idea of a restored divine-human relationship based on righteousness…but there are none that draw attention away from that central idea.  True Christianity is simple: Christ above all, Christ for all, and Christ in you.  In other words, true Christianity is Christ, Christ, Christ.  Let that simplicity sink deeper.

Abide in Christ and His Words in You

To live the life we should be living, to experience the peace and joy God wants us to have, to please Him in all respects and be a blessing to those around us, there are two things we must do: 1) abide in Christ, and 2) let His words abide in us.

To abide in Christ is to acknowledge His presence as universal and as necessary as the air we breathe.  We acknowledge the presence of other people – shouldn’t we acknowledge the presence of God?  True, He is invisible and they are not.  True, He is always present and they are not.  Notwithstanding these two differences, does our Creator not deserve to be acknowledged?

Abiding in Christ is a worldview, a mindset, a perspective, an outlook, a point of view, a way of experiencing life.  Everyone has a worldview – it’s simply the way you think from one minute to the next.  A reasonable person wants his worldview to be based in reality  not fantasy or error.  To abide in Christ is to accept Him as the fundamental reality in all that you are perceiving. To not abide in Christ is to deny that He is real…or that He is real but not relevant to what you’re currently experiencing in life.  The majority of American Christians today claim that Christ is real but show no sign that they consider Him relevant to all that they do.  They act as if He is only relevant to “spiritual” activities.  If, however, a human being is the union of spirit and body, aren’t all human activities, by definition, spiritual?

To abide in Christ is the first and foremost requirement that He lays upon us.  The second is equally important.  It is that we keep His words abiding in us.

When Christ’s words are abiding in us, He is abiding in us.  Conversely, we cannot have Christ abiding in us if His words are not abiding in us.  It does no good to believe that Christ is if we are not living according to what He says.  And we can’t very well live according to what He has said if we’re not remembering what He has said.

You do not have to remember everything Christ has ever said.  Depending on your spiritual maturity, you may know very much of what He has said…or very little.  Christ expects no more of you than that of which you are capable.  Therefore, it is not a matter of how many of His words you remember, but rather of how well you keep His words that you do remember.  If all you remember is His command to love, then He’s judging your performance that day on how well you’re loving.

If you abide in Christ but do not keep His word, you displease Him.  If, on the other hand, you attempt to keep His word without abiding in His presence, you will not have the strength to please Him.  Both practices are necessary, and each is dependent on the other.

Abiding in Christ and keeping His word are indeed practices.  And practices must be practiced.  I assure you that if make these two simple practices habitual, you will live the life He died to give you, you will experience the peace and joy He wants you to have, you will please Him in all respects, and you will be a consistent blessing to those around you – your family most of all.

Devotion to Self or Devotion to Christ?

The choice between autonomy and authority is the choice between being devoted to yourself or being devoted to Christ.

Every one of us is a slave; the only difference is our master.  We are either enslaved to self or we are enslaved to Christ.  If we are enslaved to self, then we are enslaved to our lusts, our sins.  We’re not really doing what we want; we’re doing what they want.  On the other hand, if we’re enslaved to Christ, we’re doing what He wants.

What Christ wants is righteousness.  Righteousness simply means “what is right” or “what is good.”  Through the life and teachings of Jesus we learn that “what is right” and “what is good” amounts to “love” – the kind of love that seeks the good of others.

If I am devoted to self then I am seeking what’s good for me.  If I am devoted to Christ then I am seeking what’s good for others in His sight.  The “in His sight” part is important because others do not always focus on what is for their own good.  In fact, if they are devoted to self they will seek to make us serve their lusts and sins.  Jesus did not always do what people wanted.  He did, however, always do what was in their best interests.  There is a world of difference between being a people-pleaser and living a life of service to others.  A world of difference.

Through daily prayer, we strengthen the connection of our conscience to Christ.  By this means, He restores our soul.  By faithful adherence to a redeemed conscience throughout the day, we please Him with our lives…until it’s time to pray again and verify our connection to Him and His purposes.  This daily prayer does not have to be long, but it does have to be sincere.  And it does have to be something private that you share only with Him and with no one else.  If you find peace at the end of such a prayer, you are doing well.

In this life, you are either devoted to Christ or you are not.  There is no third option.  If you are devoted to Christ, you will not be devoted to self.  If, however, you are devoted to self, you cannot be devoted to Christ.  As Jesus Himself said, “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24), and “He who is not with Me is against Me” (Matthew 12:30).

Give up the lie of autonomy, which is in actuality devotion to self, and devote yourself instead to Christ – your Creator, your Sustainer, and your Redeemer.  Enslavement to Him brings freedom that enslavement to self can never find.

Autonomy or Authority?

The most important aspect of relating to Christ – that is, the most important aspect of relating to God – is to embrace His authority over you.  This is why the most fundamental and important truth communicated by the apostles was, and is, the simple truth “Jesus is Lord.”

To call Jesus “Lord” is to say that He is the authority in life.  Every human being is either living in autonomy or under authority.  Many people celebrate their autonomy, but any creature living autonomously is, by definition, a monster.  Think about it.  Isn’t this what made the story of Dr. Frankenstein such a horror?

To reject the authority of your Creator and live in autonomy is to make yourself “Lord.”  Therefore, the question of living under authority or in autonomy is a question of acknowledging the One who is your Lord…or being your own Lord.  If “a man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client,” then what shall we say about “a man who is his own Lord”?

There is more to being under authority than merely paying lip service to the idea.  The world has an abundance of people who claim Jesus is Lord but who demonstrate little behavioral evidence for this claim. Jesus Himself told us that to call Him “Lord” without doing what He says is absurd and self-destructive.  Therefore, embracing the authority of Jesus doesn’t merely mean acknowledging His title; it also means subordinating your will to His.  This must be a daily, not a periodic or occasional, practice.

Certainly, the conformity of our lives to His desires is a progression – we cannot seek to imitate Him today and be His spitting image tomorrow.  Such a quest takes time.  But every day should show some progress toward the goal.  And if you’re not making progress, you should know it.

It is not always easy to live under authority if you are used to living in autonomy – but there is no meaningful relationship with Christ if it is not established on this foundation.  He is Lord…and we are not.  Denial of this simple fact leads to monstrous mistakes in life.

Christ Is God

Christ is God.  Nothing could be simpler.

God was.  Then He laid aside His privileges and responsibilities as God and became a man.  After His life, death, and resurrection as a man, He resumed His privileges and responsibilities as God.  We should be amazed by this, but we should not think of it as complicated.  It is the simplicity of God’s round-trip journey that makes His actions on our behalf comprehensible.

God has now seen our situation from both sides – from heaven and from earth.  No one can complain to Him, “But You don’t know what it’s like down here!”  When you pray to God, you are speaking to someone who has actually walked a mile in our shoes.  (And who has actually gone the extra mile!)  He knows what it’s like to be tempted by sin.  Most importantly, He knows what it’s like to succeed at resisting temptation…and He’s willing and able to teach us how to do the same.

God became like us so that we could become like Him.  He’s the one good apple that heals the whole rotten bunch.  He came to call sinners, not saints.  Yet He did not come to leave sinners as sinners; rather He came to make them into saints.  We were unsuitable to walk with Him, but He joined our ranks in order to make us suitable. And He’s in it for the long haul.  That is, He momentarily visited us so that we might live forever with Him.

If you think that God is someone other than Christ, you are missing the ultimate point of His visit to earth.  You are forgetting what He wants you most to remember: the revelation of Himself in the person of Jesus.  There are no more persons to God than that.  God came to reveal Himself to us, not to make Himself more obscure.

Do not complicate what God has made simple.  And do not outsource your conception of God to theologians.  Engage with God directly, and engage with Him as the One who revealed Himself to us as Jesus of Nazareth.

God did not become one of us so He could be more confusing to us, but so that He could be less so.  Keep it simple, sinner.

The Adequacy of Christ

When I wrote yesterday about the necessity of Christ, it was primarily about the necessity of His being a man – one of us.  Today I want to write about the adequacy of Christ, and this will be primarily about His adequacy as God.

In choosing to come into the world as one of us, God was choosing also to establish a new order in the world.  This new order would redeem the creation from sin – the sin of our first parents, and the sins committed by all the rest of us since.  Sin was corrupting the goodness of the world God had made…and a remedy was needed.  God Himself would be that remedy.

Do you recognize that it is sin that is spoiling your life?  Do you see that it is sin that cripples your family and keeps it from the goodness it can be and do?  Sin is the worm in the apple.

How does God in Christ address this problem?  First, He lives a perfect life – demonstrating love in action.  His death on the cross then shows that God loves to the end, and His resurrection shows that His love is an undying love.  His eternal offer of forgiveness overcomes any and every sin, and leads us back to Him.

God is spirit, and a spirit cannot be seen.  So He became a man who could be seen.  But once raised from the dead and returned to heaven, He became unseen once again.  This time, however, there is the history of how He lived on earth before He resumed His invisibility.  God can therefore now be perceived in a concrete way that He could not be perceived before.  Through His life as a human being, God has removed a great deal of mystery about His motivations and intentions.  We can know and understand Him with a clarity that would never have been possible before.

Having returned to His throne in heaven, should we consider Christ any less able as God than He was before?  No!  He now exercises all the divine power that He exercised before.  It’s just that we have a record, a history, a chronicle of how He behaved in human form that gives us precious insight into how He is behaving as God.

Just as we should notice that Christ did not act as God on earth, we should notice that He does not act as man in heaven.  He is no longer limited by a body and mind of flesh as we still are.  Therefore, when we call on Christ, we should not regard Him as limited by His humanity, but rather regard Him in His full capacity as God – Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer of the universe.  Christ is adequate as God – more than adequate.

The Necessity of Christ

Whether we say “Jesus Christ” or we say “Jesus Messiah,” we are saying the same thing.  That is, the term “Christ” comes from the Greek language, and the term “Messiah” comes from the Hebrew language – but they both mean the same thing.  Therefore, to say “Jesus is the Messiah” is equivalent to saying “Jesus is the Christ.”

What both words mean is “anointed.”  To “anoint” means to smear, rub, or pour oil on someone’s head.  This was the way the ancient Jews designated their king.  The English may crown their kings, but the Jews anointed theirs.  When a Jewish priest anointed a particular man as king, it was a sign that this man was being made king in the sight of God and the people.

When God chose to personalize Himself to the human race, He came to earth as Jesus of Nazareth.  That is, He took upon Himself the identity of a humble carpenter’s son.  He was anointed not with oil, but with the Holy Spirit; this enabled Him as a man to perform the miracles that He did.  This unique anointing was therefore a sign that this man was being elevated above all other human beings.  The unparalleled elevation continued when He was raised from the dead and seated in heaven.  Jesus of Nazareth was being designated as king of all humanity and all creation.

God is our Creator and therefore has always been the rightful authority over all mankind and all creation – the king of all.  Yet we were estranged from Him in the very beginning through the sin of the first humans.  Only by coming to earth as one of us was He able to make things right.  We could not restore Him to ourselves; He had to restore us to Himself.  Therefore, through Jesus Christ – and only through Jesus Christ – God was able to be restored to His rightful place as king of all.

Only through Jesus Christ can we know God as intimately as He wants to be known.  Jesus of Nazareth revealed the gentleness and humility of God’s character in a way that could never be grasped by our pondering the greatness of God’s creative power.  Apart from the forgiving posture He maintained even as He was hanging from a cruel and painful cross, how else could we know the depth of God’s love for us?  Looking at the creation in which we dwell – mountains, oceans, even delicate flowers – enables us to perceive God’s power and wisdom, but only by looking at the life of Mary’s and Joseph’s son can we begin to grasp God’s death-defying love for us.

Jesus Christ had to be.  In Adam and Eve, the link between God and mankind was broken; in Jesus Christ, that link was restored.  It could not have been restored in any other way, for there was no other human being capable of restoring it.  What we could not do for ourselves, God did for us…by becoming one of us.

Having become one of us, He would forever be one with us.  And having become one with us, He could resume His role as king of all creation…never to be estranged from us again.  He’s as close as the air we breathe.

The Personalization of God

God had to personalize Himself so that we could properly relate to Him.  That’s why He came to earth.

Jesus is God made flesh.  Jesus is God becoming a human being so that we could know His character, His nature, His true essence.

Stripped of all His glory as God, what does God look like?  What’s in His heart?  What motivates Him?  What does He think about most of the time?  Jesus of Nazareth is the answer to these questions.

God is so grand, so great, so “way beyond us” that a reasonable human being would have difficulty relating to Him.  Can your dog understand you?  Only in limited ways.  But what if you could become a dog – wouldn’t that give your dog an opportunity to experience you in a less threatening and far more intimate way?  God became one of us so that we might relate to Him in the most personal way possible.

While on earth, Jesus did not present Himself as God.  That would have defeated the purpose of the mission.  For the same reason, if you became a dog to better explain yourself to him you would not bark at him that you were his master.  Rather, you would wait until after your life as a dog was over and then say to him, “Hey, remember that dog you barked at, bit, and clawed but he kept on wagging his tail whenever he saw you?  That was me!”

It is the profoundest mystery of all creation that God could – and would – become a human being.  Profound and mysterious, but simple nonetheless.