catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 22 :: 2010.12.03 — 2010.12.16


For sale: Jesus

You hear it all the time: “Repeat after me and together we will spend eternity in Heaven.” Stadiums filled to capacity with the phlegmatic lips of today’s youth. On the stage, we see a salesman “winning souls” for Jesus and making a very special prayer disturbingly impersonal. From the time we are children until the day that we die, we are invited to meditate on the beauty of heaven and religiously warned of the ultimate penalty, hell. But what if being a Christian is more than just considering the rewards and punishments of the afterlife?

Today, we print Jesus on t-shirts, capture him in stained-glass windows and slap him on the backs of our cars. We have fashioned for our Savior a brand of his own and we are out to make a deal. While I like to believe that most of this is done with the best intentions, the “bobble-head Jesus” has brought to life a temperament that is complacent at best. The lifelong journey of following Christ has been vacuum-packed into a single prayer. The “fruit of the Spirit” has been reduced to word selection and church attendance. And a blessed life is often measured by the value of estates. Ladies and gentlemen, we have forgotten how big our God is dreaming. 

Don’t get me wrong; I am pumped to spend eternity in heaven. In the words of Shane Claiborne, “We’ll party like there’s no tomorrow, and there won’t be.” But there is so much more to our walk with God than the promise of a better future. This theme is readily apparent in the Lord’s prayer: “…on earth as it is in heaven.” These words explicitly suggest that there is to be a change in our lives right now. In other words, God isn’t just waiting to show up when we die. He is among us. He wants to bring heaven down to earth.

Countless times I have heard the words smugly spoken at church gatherings: “and I was able to lead him to Jesus.” Usually these moments are followed by a giant uproar of celebration; but for me, they have always been bittersweet. I strongly desire for everyone to go to Heaven. I desperately want the Church to grow and I long for others to experience the love of Jesus. But who are we to seek praise for the work of God? We are not the dealers of faith (Rom. 12:3), so why do we act like our evangelism skills or our irresistible charm is what makes the difference to an unbeliever considering conversion? In order for one to follow Christ there must be a change of the heart, an internal change, a change that no one can make for anyone else. While we must encourage outsiders with our words and capture their attention by leading fascinating and biblically correct lives, I don’t think that begging others to accept Jesus as their savior or “winning them to the Lord” is what God has in mind.

In fact, there are several instances in the Bible when men who desperately wanted to follow Jesus were turned away due to their lack of sacrifice. Mark 10:17-29 speaks of a rich man whom Jesus loved, but because he would not sell all of his possessions for Christ, he was dubbed unfit to follow him. Again in Matthew 8:18-22, “another disciple said to him, ’Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Notice Jesus doesn’t say, “Sounds great, you just take your time. I am after all, only the Son of God.” Instead he says “Follow me” and then finishes the statement with a required call to untimely ancestral desertion. We may  cringe at his insensitivity, but this was Jesus’ evangelism at its best, not exactly the “no strings attached” method that we like to use today.  

Jesus wasn’t popular. And I can’t help but think that maybe there was a reason for that. He hung out with a rough crowd of sinners — thieves, prostitutes, murderers and tax collectors. He drank wine, healed the sick and boldly claimed, “The first will be last.” But in church today, we don’t learn about that Jesus. We learn about the polite Jesus. We learn about the Jesus who is okay with everything that we do and the way we are doing it. This Jesus wants us to be comfortable. This Jesus only shows up on Sunday morning. This Jesus votes Republican. This Jesus hates gays. This Jesus thinks that the poor should get a job. This Jesus encourages redemptive violence. This Jesus is one we have made for ourselves. But this is not the Jesus that I know and follow. This is not the Jesus of the Bible. 

I have an agnostic friend who told me his story about a broken past in the Church. He said it’s hard for him to spend time around Christians because he feels like a project rather than a person, destined to end up in the mental portfolio of a church-goer. Upon hearing this, my heart broke for him. I realized that he was fully aware of what Christianity is, but didn’t desire to be a part of it. I apologized for the relentless and insensitive persistence that the church sometimes demonstrates, and I told them if he didn’t truly believe that Jesus was the Son of God, I didn’t want him to be a Christian either. We have enough professing Christ-followers who don’t care. What good is one more going to do?

By no means am I suggesting that Christians should give up all efforts of evangelism, but rather that we would bring our “get saved super sales” to a close. It’s time to be honest about what taking up your cross is really like. It’s time to stop putting discounts on Jesus. While the gift of salvation is completely free we must always remember (and teach) that following Christ comes at a cost. I would rather see one person convert to Christianity with the full knowledge of the sacrifice at hand, than see 100 people convert to a pseudo-Christianity that is easy to accept and live, but inconsistent with the Bible. It is not our job to convince, persuade, brainwash or prove to others that our God is good. It should be something that is exhibited. In the words of St. Francis, “Preach the Gospel always; if necessary, use words.”

Oh, and about my friend — I’ve been keeping him in prayer. He thanked me for my response and understanding (apparently people appreciate not being condemned for honest decisions). At the end of a message I recently received from him, he wrote, “I believe in heaven. I’ve walked through hell, and I still trust that there is something bigger out there than all of us.” I hope that someday he will come to know God. Sadly, I can’t change his heart. Good thing I know someone who can and when he does, I plan on giving all of the glory to him.  

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