In yesterday’s post I was writing about how there’s a problem in the church that is evident in the statistical data which shows that divorce and other moral problems are occurring in the lives of Christians at the same rate as in those who are not Christians.
I think the cause of this is deeper than most people would imagine. It starts with an almost gospel. For most Christians, this is a belief such as, “Jesus died on the cross so I can go to heaven when I die.” This is not all that accurate, because when Jesus spoke of eternal life, he was always referring to eternal life that begins now on this earth while we are still living, and that carries with it a freedom and a lightness. But if one believes that Jesus came and lived and died only (or even mostly) to bring eternal life after one dies, then he will seek to convert others to this belief as well. This belief and way of living almost doesn’t require Jesus at all. Jesus is the guy who stamps your hand with the heaven stamp when you say the sinner’s prayer, but in this belief there is nothing all that substantive about the way he actually lived (I’m not speaking of what he taught, but the way he lived and structured his life) that we need to apply to our lives in the present day.
Reality of course is that Jesus came to bring freedom, lightness, and abundant life, all which concern our life right now, in this world. We should be experiencing increasing freedom from fear, from vices, from the paralyzing cares of life, and we should be doing so in a way that feels like we’re not really trying. This freedom will come from living the way Jesus lived, and depending on God the way he depended on God.
Now real freedom is being able to do difficult things easily, not with a great deal of strain. I am not currently free to bench 300 lbs. But one day, perhaps, I might be. And I can even envision a day when I could potentially do so with ease. The easier is is for me to do this, the freer I am in doing it, as it requires less and less of me! So spiritual freedom will mean having increasing power to live free from the things that separate and alienate us from God, and finding that it does not require teeth-gritting and exhaustion to do so.
This is how Jesus spoke about why he came and what he offered to the world. It concerns our life now – the way we actually live. Not just what we do, but how we structure our lives and spend our time in order to make obedience to God possible. (Many well-intentioned people desire to obey God but live such hectic lives that they cannot do so. Finding God is not an event, but a way of life.)
So the “Give your life to Jesus so you will go to heaven when you die” thing is simply not the gospel of freedom Jesus came to give us. It is not the message Jesus communicated to us, and thus does not have the power to bring real transformation to human life. No matter how much you believe it, and how many others you convert to it, it still will not be real.
Now is there an eternal life-after-death component of Jesus’ message? Of course. Eternal life is eternal — it goes on forever. But the evidence that most Christians don’t really understand how this works lies in how many Christians still fear going to hell. If you understand that eternal life begins now and stretches out into eternity from here, then it no more makes sense to worry about entering God’s kingdom now and winding up in hell than it would make sense to jump on I-75 south and worry about winding up in Poland. You can’t get there from here.
But once one embraces this almost-gospel, it has a hypnotic quality to it. What a bargain! Jesus died for my sins and now I’m going to live forever? And grace is there to cover me when I screw up? Sweet. Then I’m sure I’ll be screwing up for the rest of my life. While no doubt true to some extent, this doesn’t even consider the very real rest Jesus called us to, and the very real transformation we will experience as we learn to enter into and live in that rest.