What is being a Christian actually about? Do you qualify as a Christian if, like Paul seems to suggest, you believe a particular set of propositions; ‘right belief’ that ensures you’re saved and will go to heaven after you die? Do you have to sing songs about how marvellous Jesus is and how much you love him? Do you show you’re a Christian by defending God’s ‘standards’, which you know about from a very selective reading of the bible? Does being a Christian entail arguing vociferously that Jesus is God, that he rose from the dead and that the bible is God’s inspired word? Is it insisting, with all the loving aggression you can muster, that non-believers are bound for hell, that homosexuals are disgustingly evil and that these, like every other period in the past two millennia, are the end times?
This is what a modern Christian looks like. He or she does these kinds of things, and a whole lot more, that Jesus, as he’s portrayed in the synoptic gospels, wouldn’t recognise. His idea of a Christian (not that he’d know the term) is a very different animal. Here’s what Jesus expects of one of his followers –
cut themselves off from their family – hate them, in fact – just to follow him (Luke 14.26);
deny everything about themselves (Matthew 16.24-27);
forsake home, job, wealth, status, credibility and comfort to help bring about God’s Kingdom on Earth (Mark 10.29-31 etc);
slave tirelessly in the service of others (Mark 10.43-44; Matthew 23.11 etc);
sell their possessions so that they can give the proceeds to the poor (Matthew 19.21; Luke 14.33);
turn the other cheek, repeatedly go the extra mile and give away the shirt and coat off their back – if they’ve still got them after giving everything away – (Matthew 5.38-40);
welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit those in prison (Matthew 25.35-40);
forgive again and again and again (Matthew 18.21-22);
don’t judge others in case they’re judged in return (Matthew 7.1-3);
love their enemies (Matthew 5.44);
regard persecution and injustices done to them as blessings (Matthew 5.11);
do miracles even more impressive than Jesus’s own (Mark 16.17-18; John 14.12);
heal the sick, raise the dead and cast out demons (Matthew 10.7-8);
are granted whatever they ask for in prayer (Mark 11.24; Matthew 21.22);
don’t subscribe to a magic salvation-formula (found nowhere in the synoptic gospels).
Yes, Jesus was completely insane, demanding all this, and more, of those foolish enough to align themselves with him. But demand he did.
I’m sure there are Christians today who do everything he expected… somewhere, possibly… but I don’t know any. They’re all too busy enjoying their affluent, middle-class lives, singing songs at PraiseFests, judging others and squabbling about doctrine from behind their keyboards. It makes you wonder why they call Jesus their Lord when they don’t do a thing he tells them (Matthew 7.21).