The world divides into two categories: those who divide the world into two categories and those who don’t. I’m one of the first. So the people reading this divide into two broad groups: some are people who have decided that they want to be followers of Jesus, Christians; others are people who are not sure about Christianity. In the second category, you’re probably a spiritual person but you’re not into organized religion (oxymoron though that is). You’re exploring your spirituality but you’re not ready to commit to any one religion. In other words, you’re a normal person.
This article is particularly for the normal people, but others can listen in. What I want to do is to write as clearly as I can about what it means to be a Christian today. Personally, I long for people to become Christians. But I know too that people have to take their time over a big question like their spirituality, to figure out their options. I have no interest in manipulating people into becoming Christians, or disguising what it’s really like to be a Christian. The trouble with people who get rushed or manipulated into becoming Christians is that they wake up one day and think, What on earth have I done? I didn’t mean that at all. Let me out of here! And that’s no good for them or for the Christian religion!
So I want to try to tell it like it is, both the good stuff about Christianity and the difficult stuff. And before we’re done, I hope you will be thinking, “You know, I never knew that Christian faith was like that.
You know, I think maybe I do want to be a Christian after all.” So at the end I will tell you as simply as I know how just how you can become a Christian.
So: seven reasons you should not become a Christian–and one reason you should.
REASONS WHY NOT
1. Because you will be joining an institution which is morally compromised. If you become a Christian, people will be amazed that you choose to identify yourself with such an institution. I promise you, they’ll say: What about the crusades? What about the Inquisition? What about the role of missionaries in the colonial movement of the 19th century? What about the residential schools and pedophile clergy?
There’s a lot your new family has to answer for. And Christians can’t just brush those things off even though we might like to: we have to admit, yes, those things did happen in our family, and we are embarrassed and ashamed of them, not least because they are unworthy of the name of Jesus Christ.
But at the same time, as you get to know the history of your new family, you will discover a less well-known fact, that Christians have done and continue to do some wonderful things in the world in the name of Jesus Christ. Christians started the first hospitals, the first orphanages, many of the first schools. They pioneered such things as the abolition of slavery, industrial reform, prison reform. Even today, they are involved all over the world in working for literacy, development, justice and medical care. They are following Jesus’ teaching:
“You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for that is what I am. . . . I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (John13:13-15)
Even in those areas where Christians have been criticized, the criticisms are not the whole story, though they are often the only part you may hear. Take the role of Christians in the spread of European empires. There is a positive side. It can be a very moving experience to hear African or First Nations leaders say (as I have), Yes, some evil things were done by some. But we are deeply grateful that the missionaries brought us the Christian message.
So there are two sides. But I need to warn you: if you become a Christian, you will hear much more about the failures than about the successes.
2. Because you won’t like every Christian you meet, and some you will dislike very much indeed. I can tell you from personal experience, some Christians are weird (present company excepted, of course). Some of them have poor taste in music and clothes; some have political leanings that are somewhat to the right of Attila the Hun; some have dandruff and bad breath. Frankly, they’re not the people I would choose to hang out with in a million years. Yet I am expected to hang out with them and treat them like family (in the good sense, that is: it’s all too easy to treat them like family in the bad sense).
But then I remind myself what church is all about. It’s not just a place you go once a week to meet with cool, sophisticated, like-minded people, as though it were an art appreciation class or a chess club.
You know what church is at its heart? It’s God saying to people of all shapes and sizes and cultures and ages, who really have nothing in common: Get together, get yourselves organized, and learn to love one another, and show the world what it means to be a beautiful community. Yes, being involved with other Christians can be tough, but what a breathtaking project to be involved in. It’s crazy, so crazy that only God would have thought it up.
Here’s how one early Christian writer summed up God’s plan:
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female: for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
And you know what? Some of those people you would presently try to avoid will turn out to be the most wonderful people you have ever met. And, of course, that’s part of God’s plan.
3. Because I don’t want to become intolerant and condemn other religions. There is a common perception that if you are a Christian, it means you think everybody else is completely wrong and probably going to hell.
I can’t improve on what C. S. Lewis says about this (well, that’s true of most things):
If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth. . . . But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in arithmetic, there is only one right answer to a sum . . . but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others.
Put it another way. The God of Christian spirituality is a God whose light is available to people in every culture and every century. As a result, I want to acknowledge all truth and all love, wherever it’s to be found.
But as a Christian, I also believe that the place where the light of God is most clearly focussed is in the person of Jesus Christ. There is no-one like him among all the religions of the world! So it’s actually a caricature to say Christians think they are 100% right and everybody else is 100% wrong. But it is true that Christians think they have something special: and that something is Jesus.
4. Because people may make fun of you. They may think of you as a religious fanatic or a Jesus freak or a Bible-thumper. You know the kind of thing. One friend of mine says that, before he became a Christian about five years ago, his family sometimes used to make fun of him because he was like Homer Simpson: now, he says, they make fun of him because he’s like Ned Flanders!
People won’t necessarily see the positive side of what’s happened to you; sometimes they won’t want to know. It doesn’t matter to them that you have a greater sense of being yourself than ever before, they may not notice that your laughter is fuller and healthier, it may escape them that you have a sense of stability and satisfaction that wasn’t there before. One friend said recently, “When I opened my life to Jesus, I had a sense of being more fully alive than I had ever been before.”
You will know that you haven’t become a religious freak: to you religion will simply be a means to enjoying God more, not an end in itself. You will know that there’ll be no church in heaven because the building will be complete, and the scaffolding will drop away. But people around you may not know or care.
You will take comfort in Jesus’ words:
“Blessed are you when people revile you or persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” (Matthew 5:11-2)
5. Because it will require sacrifices—in fact, Jesus said that following him would be like heading off to execution.
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
My friend Ken’s parents would not attend his wedding because he was marrying another Christian. In a job interview, Stu was asked if his Christian convictions meant he would not tell a lie for the good of the company. He told them he wouldn’t. He did not get the job.
Or I think of friends of mine who decided to work with youth off the street. Their friends warned them that if they did that, their silver would get stolen and they’d catch hepatitis. They went ahead with their work anyway. What happened? Their silver was stolen and they caught hepatitis. But they did amazing work. And they didn’t complain, because they knew Christians are called to sacrifice.
And it can be much worse than that. In some parts of the world today, followers of Jesus are being persecuted, bombed, imprisoned, discriminated against, and spat on for no other reason except that they are known to be Christians. The freedom Christians presently experience in the west is a historical aberration: it may not last. If you decide to follow Jesus, there will be sacrifices. In Jesus’ own time, some people decided not to follow him because he warned them that it would be tough.
But sometimes we don’t notice the fact that Jesus also said there would be life on the other side of those sacrifices, even in this life.
“Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:29-30)
6. (This may be the toughest of all, and in some ways it’s the key too all the others.) Because it means giving God the leadership of your life, no longer being in charge of your own destiny. That’s radical. Following Jesus may well mean giving up your dreams, or a treasured career, or a wonderful relationship. Quite early in my Christian life, I had to give up a relationship with a girl I cared for very deeply, simply because she was not a serious follower of Jesus and I wanted to be. Another personal example: my family and I are in Canada today because we believed that was what Jesus wanted us to do.
Don’t be insulted if I say we had no interest in coming to Canada, and we only came because we believed our lives were to be spent doing what Jesus wanted, not what we wanted.
Of course, if you are a follower of Jesus, you know that obeying him brings life. Think of it this way. My son Ben is a trumpeter. Some years ago, after several years of trumpet lessons, he began to have lessons with one of Canada’s top trumpeters. At the very first lesson, Mr. Oades said to Ben:
“Ben, your embouchure is totally wrong. You’re going to have to learn a whole new technique. It’ll be tough, but if you’re going to get anywhere with your trumpet, this is what you have to do.”
Do you think Ben did it? He could have said, “No way. You don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ll do what’s comfortable for me. I just gotta be me!”
In fact, he didn’t. Instead, he obeyed. He worked at what Mr. Oades had said until it became second nature and he could move ahead in his playing. Why did he do that? Because Robert Oades is such a great trumpet player and a great teacher. Did it undermine Ben’s individuality and creativity? No way. In fact, it enabled him to develop his individuality and creativity way beyond what would have been possible otherwise.
So why do Christians try to obey Jesus? Because he is a great teacher, The Great Teacher, the one best qualified to teach us what life is all about. Once, when Jesus’ teaching struck his disciples as particularly difficult, he asked if they were thinking of leaving him, and they replied, “Lord, to whom who can we go? You have the words of eternal life!” (John 6:68)
7. Because I don’t think I could keep it up. You may say, “The way you’re describing being a Christian sounds quite attractive but very difficult. You’ve told me people might make fun of me, and I might be persecuted, and I’ve got to do what Jesus wants ahead of what I want, and you think I should do this for the rest of my life. Right?” Right.
Your concern is a perfectly reasonable one. But, you know what? God knows all that, and God has provided sufficient resources to make it possible. What resources are those? There are lots. Let me name just two:
In becoming a Christian you join a family. And what you discover is that they are there for you. For instance, I meet with a bunch of guys every other Saturday morning, in a group called “Saturday Stuff for Guys.” There we share our joys and our sorrows, our questions and our doubts, we study the Bible and we pray for one another. Actually, don’t tell anyone this, but we love one another (being guys, we don’t like to say so). Personally, I would find it 100% more difficult to live the Christian life without them.
Let me tell you about another resource. In the middle of the last century, Archbishop William Temple said something like this:
If I were asked to write plays as good as Shakespeare’s, there’s no way I could ever come close. But if by some miracle the spirit of William Shakespeare could come and inhabit my personality, and influence my mind and fire my imagination, then I could write plays like Shakespeare’s. In the same way, no way could I ever hope to live as a follower of Jesus. Yet if by some miracle the Spirit of Jesus could come and inhabit my personality, and influence my mind and fire my imagination, then it is possible that I could be a follower of Jesus.
And, of course, that is the case: the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of God, is available to us to breathe life into our efforts to follow Jesus. The Spirit keeps us gives us strength when we feel weak, gives us guidance when we are confused, picks us up when we fall. In fact, God himself is committed to helping us make it to the end of the journey. That same early writer, Paul, said:
I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the Day of Jesus Christ. (Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 1:6)
So . . . seven reasons you should not become a Christian. But there is one reason you should, and it is this:
1. Because the God who made you loves you more deeply than you can ever imagine, and that God longs for a friendship with you. More than that, in that friendship you will learn to live as God’s person in God’s world in God’s way. And that is the greatest adventure that can ever befall a human being. It is what human beings were made for.
And how can you know the friendship of God and become the person God longs for you to be? By deciding to become a follower of Jesus. Why Jesus? Because Jesus is this God come in person to our world to rescue us, to guide us, to teach us.
So what do you think? If you are not put off by the seven difficulties, if you are drawn by the awesome potential of the one reason, what should you do? I want to invite you to take a step today. I don’t know you or where you’re at with all of this stuff, so I don’t know what step would be right for you.
It may be that all this is very new to you. Maybe you didn’t know Christian spirituality was like this. So for you, the best thing may be to read one of the very first biographies of Jesus to be written. They are found in a little book called The New Testament, the second part of the Bible. It might actually be helpful for you to join a group of people who are also trying to figure out this Jesus stuff, and work with them till you get some answers.
Or you might be a person who says, “You know, I’ve been thinking about this stuff for some time. I’m kinda sitting on the fence. But I think this is what I want, I think this is what I need.” Maybe for you it’s time to say yes to Jesus, to get down off the fence and start following, with all that involves.
If you are new to all this, but you want to investigate it for yourself, here’s the sort of thing you might like to say to Jesus:
Jesus: I am curious about the things I’ve heard about you, and I want to know if they are true. Please help me learn about you and find out how these things can be true for me. Amen.
And if you want to begin following Jesus now, here’s the sort of thing you might like to say to Jesus:
Jesus: Thank you for inviting me to follow you. Tonight I want to say “YES” to your invitation. Please give me your Spirit so that I can begin to live as your person in your world in your way. Amen.