I used to think Christianity was a religion full of rules and regulations, all designed to determine if you were a Good Christian or a Bad Christian. But all of that is wrong; none of it is in the Bible. All of that “do good, get good” stuff is mere religiosity, cannibalized Christianity.
The truth I am now embracing is revolutionary and, most importantly, is real: Christianity is not defined by how much I know but by how much I know I need Jesus Christ. I learned this strange and beautiful truth in the most unlikely of places: my church.
When I first accepted Jesus into the shipwreck of my life and into the shadows of my rebellious heart, I was told it might be a good idea to attend church services weekly.
I hated this idea. I despised the thought of becoming a regular church member, sitting in my cushioned pew while the preacher proclaimed “101 Ways to Miss Out on God’s Perfect Will.”
I felt like I was part of some crazy social experiment. Every week I would move to the choreography of the congregation: sit and stand and praise and pray — with the same familiar strangers all around me.
I smiled and made a good show of it at church, but all I really wanted to do was escape.
I figured that accepting Jesus as my Savior meant a whole lifetime of working to keep my salvation. Do good, and I’ll get good. Do bad, and I’m out. That sounded tiring to me, familiar as the ways of the world, and hardly worthy of worship.
Playing it safe
I always thought being a Christian meant playing it safe so that you could avoid the Lake of Fire and live forever with Jesus. It seemed like pretty basic math to me: Faith in Jesus = no hell. Sounds good — sign me up for Faith in Jesus, please.
The problem with this kind of thinking is that it reduces Jesus to an equation, a formula, a little god in a music box. Playing it safe is fine if you’re working toward an agenda of approval with someone. If you’re in a religion, playing it safe is ideal. If you’re in a relationship, playing it safe is an obstacle.
The biggest problem with this approach is that Jesus himself never played it safe.
Time and time again, Jesus got himself into trouble with the religious legalists and the ultra-superficial spiritual people of the time, the Pharisees. Usually He challenged them to demonstrate the love they professed — not just assent to it verbally but live it out as a reality.
Sometimes after Jesus spoke, people picked up rocks to throw at Him. He angered the ruling religious establishment so much that they nailed Him to a cross for His insistence on proclaiming the gospel of grace.
Jesus was not a wimp. He was revolutionary. He was a rebel. He was real. He wants me to be real too.
Even still, it took months before I made peace with my church. I felt incredibly uncomfortable being asked to stand up for a particular song or to close my eyes on command and pray or turn to the person next to me and shake hands as I introduced myself.
As I sat and listened to the weekend messages, I always ended up with more questions than answers. Did my inner turmoil show on the outside? Why did I feel so out of place, so disjointed and awkward as I walked with the body of Christ?
What would people think if they knew the real me? Could God still love me with all these doubts and fears? I worried that I wasn’t being the Good Christian I was supposed to be.
Revelation in Romans
Then, last week, my pastor preached on Romans 8. This chapter was there to remind me . . .
In Christ Jesus
My God has freed me
His Spirit in me
And nothing now
Can separate me
From the love
In Christ Jesus.
How amazing is His grace?
Well, according to these words, Jesus actually loves me (forever). Jesus has actually forgiven me (forever). And nothing can separate me from His love (forever).
This leads me to a beautiful freedom I never knew apart from Him: The more time I spend kneeling in awe before the mercy of God, the less time I spend judging those around me.
Hands raised, arms outstretched, singing sitting standing praying, I am surrounded by a sea of family, some confused like me, some worried like me, some desperate like me, all loved like me.
This is the truth I am now embracing: Christianity is not defined by how much I know, but by how much I know I need Jesus Christ.