A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with a acquaintance of mine. Before I say anything else, let me say this: I like her. I genuinely do. She is an amazing person with an engaging personality. Those who know her like her.
Anyway, as we talked, she brought up a recent sermon she had heard. She told me how her pastor had challenged her the previous Sunday when he informed the congregation that the reason the church didn’t have any power was because the church was just too much like the world. As she talked, I began to get a clearer picture of what he meant… or at least, her interpretation of what he meant. In the course of the next twenty minutes or so, she outlined the evils of drinking alcohol, watching R rated movies, and other activities which were, according to her, making the church too much like the world.
I shared with her that almost twenty years ago, I read a book by John Fischer titled Real Christians
Don’t Dance. I told her how this book had challenged me when it confronted me with the fact that I had traded the truth of the Bible for a lie. Instead of accepting the truth of the gospel, I had traded the misconceptions of the Pharisees in Jesus’s time for a modern version of them… more man-made rules for living.
I don’t remember my exact words, but I remember saying something I recalled from the beginning of John’s book. “Think about how many ways you have heard this sentence finished, ‘Real Christians don’t _______.’ Fill in the blank… dance, drink, smoke, play cards…. I’ve heard it all. The problem is, most of these aren’t in the Bible. Rather than accept the instructions for righteous living that are in the Bible… and they are in there… we have exchanged the real instructions for some that are easier, that are self-attainable, and are quicker to get us noticed.”
I continued, “Think about it. Which is easier? ‘Real Christians don’t drink,’ or ‘Real Christians love their neighbor’? Which one is self-attainable… ‘Real Christians don’t go to R-rated movies,’ or ‘Real Christians don’t lust’?”
I agreed with her that as Christians, we are called to be radically different, but I told her I think she and I see that radical difference…. well, differently. I see a radical love for others, loving those we almost find unloveable… a radical grace for people, giving of ourselves when it isn’t convenient… a radical mercy, forgiving when we want to cry out for justice… and a radical justice, standing up for others when it is easier not to.
She agreed with me, and then told me that she struggles with some of those things. Not being unkind, I laughed and told her, “Me, too. I know what I believe… I just have a hard time fleshing it out. I can love those like me, I can be gracious to those who are gracious with me, and I am merciful… to those who need it least. I am getting better, though… some days.”
My pastor challenged me yesterday. He reminded me of John 13:34-35, which reads “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”
I don’t think the problem is that Christians are too much like the world.
The real problem is we aren’t enough like Jesus.
The problem with legalism is that it tempts us to compare ourselves with an imperfect standard — each other — instead of Christ. Well said.