The 21st Century Christian
I want to ask you a question. And I want you to answer. In the comments below, answer this question. Do you believe in Jesus?
I’m inviting you all to answer that question. And I know I’ll get a mixed response; some people will answer “yes,” others “no.” There may be some hostility in some people’s respective answers- it can be a tense subject for people on both sides of it- and I’ll ask you not to respond too harshly, either to the question or to others’ responses. But let’s come back to that question in a minute.
I want you to watch this video I saw today, from magician Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller). And I want to preface this video with a statement: Penn Jillette is an Atheist. He does not believe in Christ. He does not believe in God. But, as a Christian, his words struck me, and he made a very important point. Go ahead and watch:
Brennan Manning once said, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
What Penn Jillette and Brennan Manning are both talking about is the same thing: if you answered “yes” to the above question, but people cannot see it in your life, in your actions, in your choices, what’s the point? Go back and listen to that quote from Penn:
“I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe there is a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward… How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate someone to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”
Think about this; Penn is an Atheist- he says so in the video, and the man who is the subject of this video may not have changed that- but Penn was moved enough by this gesture to stop and talk about it and share it with everyone.
And it made me think, why aren’t we all doing this?
Why aren’t more Christians, all Christians, stepping out of their houses on a daily basis and talking to their neighbors, their co-workers, their friends and families, about Christ? I mean, if we believe Christ died for our sins, why aren’t we telling everyone we meet? Is this some big secret we are supposed to take to our grave?
I see so many Christians spending so much of their time condemning, and judging, and blaming. I see so much hate pouring out of so many who claim to follow Christ’s teachings.
Well, show me in the Bible where Christ said to judge your neighbors, or to condemn those who sin. Show me in the Bible where Christ said to keep to yourselves and not spread the Word to the masses. Show me in the Bible where Christ chose to be with other believers instead of sinners. Show me in the Bible where Christ gave up on others. You can’t, can you?
So why do we do it? Why do we judge our neighbors and condemn those who sin, when Christ said “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven”? Why do we keep to ourselves, keep quiet, when Christ said “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature”? Why do we choose to surround ourselves with other followers and shun non-believers and sinners when Christ said “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”? Why do we give up on others, when Christ begged for the forgiveness of those who were literally crucifying him as he prayed?
More importantly, why can’t we see that we aren’t following our Teacher’s most basic instructions? Why does it take an Atheist like Penn Jillette to point this out to us?
I’m not condemning Penn Jillette for his Atheism. I’ve long been a fan of Penn & Teller, and his beliefs aren’t going to change that. And I shouldn’t condemn him for it; neither should you. I’ll pray for him, pray that he kept that pocket New Testament that he was given, and that one day he will be drawn to read it. And that’s the point. We shouldn’t condemn non-believers, we shouldn’t condemn sinners. Jesus said, “let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”
We should seek them out. We should want to help them. And when they say, as Penn Jillette has said numerous times, that they don’t believe in God, we shouldn’t judge them, or condemn them. We should pray for them, and forgive them.
We, as Christians, should be examples of Jesus Christ’s love; we shouldn’t ever be spreading hate.
I asked you at the beginning of this article whether or not you believe in Jesus. If the answer was “no,” that’s alright. That’s fine. If the answer was “yes,” however, I have some follow-up questions: can the people in your life, especially the ones who don’t go to church with you, see it in you? Do you take the time talk to them about Jesus? Do you tell strangers about Jesus? Do you forgive your neighbor for believing something different than you, for acting different than you, for being a sinner, even if they haven’t asked?
If the answer to the first question was “yes,” but the follow-ups were “no,” then I have one final question: why not?
Matthews 6:12, which is part of the Lord’s Prayer, says we should ask Jesus to “…forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” Jesus doesn’t say that people have to ask us for forgiveness for us to forgive them. In Luke 23:24, Jesus begged of God, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” He asked for the forgiveness of men who hadn’t asked for it, men who were killing him.
All around my city, I keep finding postcards that say “Jesus saves,” tucked away here and there. At the gas stations, on the shelves in the stores. I once saw a man in the Wal-Mart parking lot, talking to a homeless man. He was praying with him. He was telling him, a stranger, about Jesus. We should be doing the same.
It might be socially awkward, as Penn suggested, but we are talking about eternal life. We are talking about the love and forgiveness of our Savior. How badly must we hate someone for us not to tell them about it?
I’m no scholar; I don’t study the Bible. I don’t even read it half as often as I should. I am a constant and consistent sinner, and I don’t talk to God in the ways I know I should, or as often as I should. And it bugs me, it really does. I need a resurgence. I need something to jump-start my spirituality.
Because, reader, the faith is there. I one hundred percent believe in Jesus Christ, I believe He died for my sins, and I believe that, no matter how vile I am, He will always forgive me, if only I ask. I believe there is salvation for me, and I believe there can be salvation for anyone.
Yesterday, I sat in a church for the first time in a long time. It was brief, but I sat there and I asked for guidance. Today, I sinned. I’m telling you this because it isn’t enough to believe, to accept Christ into your heart once and move along with your life. It is a daily battle, fighting against your own sins, your own demons. And that goes for our outward appearance as Christians. We can’t spend one day a week praising him and then go about our lives. It has to be a daily practice. You have to exercise your faith, get it pumping through you.
We are here to be an example. We are here to live as Christ lived, to forgive as Christ forgave. We are here not to push someone in the mud, but to help them back up.
Look at what so many churches are preaching these days. They are telling us that certain groups of people are sinners and should be treated as sinners. But what would Jesus do? Yes, I’m quoting those old wristbands. WWJD? Would Jesus tell you to condemn your neighbor for his or her choices? Or would He tell you to embrace them, and love them, in spite of their failings? Isn’t that what Jesus has done for all of us?
Like I said, I’m a sinner. Constantly, and consistently. I have my demons, and I don’t do enough to fight them. I have my addictions, I have my darkness. But Jesus loves me, in spite of all that. I know it. And I know that, no matter how many times I may stumble and fall, He will be there to help me back up.
So why aren’t we doing that for the world? Why aren’t we, as Christians, being that example for everyone else? Why are we telling others that they are less than us, that they don’t deserve us, when we don’t deserve Christ? Why aren’t we embracing those who would fight us, who would kill us, and telling them that we forgive them anyway? That’s what Jesus did.
We are here to be an example of Christ, to show Him through us. So why aren’t we?
In many ways, the 21st century holds an unfair fight for Christ. There’s so much working against Him these days. There’s a certain stigma with the term “Christian,” one given by churches and pastors that don’t follow their own teachings, and instead spread judgement and condemnation instead of the love of Jesus, or preach giving when they won’t give anything themselves. I think Christians, as a whole, are viewed as bigots, as a people who don’t practice what they preach. Christians who “acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle.” But Jesus can handle it. And we can handle it. “Greater is He who is in you.” There’s no problem too big for Jesus. There’s no army to strong for Jesus. There’s nothing in this world or out of it that Jesus cannot handle.
And that means your personal problems, too. There’s no point in your life where you’ve gone too far to be forgiven. There’s no sin that He can’t wash away. There’s no grievance that He won’t shrug off.
If you answered the first question “no,” just remember that. You may not be ready to accept Christ today, but know that there is never a point in your life where you’ve gone too far for Jesus to forgive you. He will always love you. If you answered “no,” I’ll pray for you. And if you want to talk more about it, let me know. If I don’t have the answer (and I definitely don’t have all of them), I’ll find you someone who does.
If you answered “yes,” I want you to think about this: If you can’t see Christ in your life, then others can’t either. Ask yourself if you were to meet Penn Jillette tomorrow, would he be able to tell you were a Christian? Would he respect you? Would Brennan Manning say that you deny Jesus with your lifestyle? Would Jesus, if you were with him tomorrow, say that you had lived by His example?