I know God is real.
It’s a simple thing to say. Harder to hear, harder still to believe.
Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
My pastor sings that sometimes when he is being coy about the simplicity and inconceivability that is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is, you know: Simple. Inconceivable. Good News.
Trust me. I’m a Christian … right?
Hmm. So much for simple.
Over the ages, nothing has dissuaded people from belief in a loving God quite like Christians, en masse. Why? Because we are so often unable to live up to the example of Jesus and too proud of our salvation to remember how badly we needed saving.
There’s at least one person reading this and nodding your head in agreement as you mentally scroll through all the other Christians this calls to mind. I do, too.
But sadly, you and I also shoulder this blame (along with all those other Christians).
Christians rightly serve as the flawed, broken, fledgling fragments of humanity whose moral debt was paid in spite of them by a God who didn’t need them, but loved them anyway. In the words of Abigail Van Buren, “Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”
That sounds critical, but it’s the truth – at least part of the truth. We can’t help it. We are sinners, flawed, regardless of our labels. We hurt each other. We hurt ourselves. We’re selfish, weak at times. Proud, afraid.
We forget that Jesus had very little tolerance for the career religious groups of his own day. He spent his time with people who wanted and needed someone to believe in, less with the people who thought they already knew it all. The destitute and desolate. The blind, the lame, the lepers. Prostitutes and tax collectors. The very people a lot of Christian people today would cross the street to avoid. These were the people Jesus sought. In fact, the religious folk who believed themselves to be so high and mighty were the ones who conspired to have him killed.
That doesn’t mean Christians are any worse – or any better – than anyone else. But the shame is real. For years, I skirted the issue of my personal beliefs because I thought I was too much of an embarrassment to God. And because I suffered my own brutal disillusionment about my fellow Christians – and my own self-righteous motives – as a teenager. Even now, social media preserves in living color the hypocrisy, cruelty and madness Christians are capable of.
Christians can too often make the mistake of invoking the name of Jesus to enforce standards of behavior and morality when what we should be doing is introducing people to the grace afforded by God through Jesus, and let Him do the rest. I’ve made this mistake, too. One time in particular, I caused someone dear to me a great deal of pain as a result. I was wrong, and I have to own it because I can’t take it back. As the Apostle Paul said, What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church (I Corinthians 5:12)? Instead, he says, Are you not to judge those inside?
I’m learning to be more open about my faith now, not because I’m “new and improved,” but because it’s not about me. It’s about a God who is available to each and every human being willing to believe in Him and admit their need for him.
God is the reason for my hope and for everything good in me.
Hear me: God is the reason for my hope. Not Christians. God. No matter how you slice it, pretty much every Christian you’ll meet is, has been, or will be a jerk. We will let you down. We are each a work in progress. So don’t base your understanding of eternity on someone who’s never been there and could never earn their own way in.
Every good and perfect gift is from above and comes down from the father of lights, James says. That includes salvation. In fact, that’s the one primary distinction between Christianity and every other world religion: instead of demanding impossible standards of us in exchange for the slim hope of eternity, God does all the work through the redemptive work of his Son, Jesus Christ. We couldn’t earn our way in if we tried.
Christianity is based on a belief that an all-powerful, all-knowing, unchanging, personal God created us in his image, to enjoy companionship with us. He loved us enough not to force our compliance but instead, to give us free will. Then, knowing we’d be unable to manage it well, offered us His perfect son – Jesus — as a sacrifice to pay the debt for the wrong we do.
It’s a story that’s been playing out for thousands of years, and it’s not quite finished yet. That’s what I symbolize as a Christian: somebody who needed saving, who hungers for meaning and answers I can’t find on my own. Somebody who screws up in spite of my best efforts. Somebody who God is growing and teaching, a little at a time, even when it’s not obvious to you or even to me.
Make no mistake: someone who truly believes in and has accepted Jesus as his or savior will bear the fruit of that. But while salvation is immediate, the fruit of the Spirit doesn’t ripen overnight. It begins with a change of mind and a change of heart, and progresses to changes that are more easily observed, culminating in that “something different” people see in you but can’t quite explain. It’s a little like weight loss – if it happens overnight, it’s not real, and no one really notices until you’ve lost at least 20 pounds. Moral “crash diets” are usually based on our bootstrap obedience rather than the inside-out change of heart that comes from Christ. Real growth in Christ and of every sort happens little by little.
So I’ll paraphrase the late Ruth Bell Graham in admitting that I – and every other Christian you’ll meet — am still under construction. Thank you for your patience.
Christians are called to a higher standard, to which we can never live up this side of heaven. But please don’t let the missteps in my journey – or any other Christian’s – stop you from taking the first step toward Christ.
Maybe you don’t see in yourself a need for saving. That’s ok. That’s between you and God, and it’s not up to me. But if you are lucky enough to be in a place in your life where you realize it’s going to take someone or something bigger than you to give you hope and future, then I have some good news … simple, inconceivable … Good News.
Jesus loves you, this I know, for the Bible tells you so.
You’re right where you need to be for God to open your eyes to the truth of Him. You just have to look.