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. Maybe I do want to be a Christian after all. What do I do now?” 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. The Church is morally compromised
. . . 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 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. But at the same time, as you get to know the history of your new family, you will discover a less well-known fact: 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, and 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. (John 13:13-15)
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. Surprisingly, 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. 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. Christians aren’t always nice
. . . 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—to be blunt—weird. 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, 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. (Paul’s Letter to the 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. Won’t you have to condemn other religions?
. . . Because you 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 many 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.1
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 focused is in the person of Jesus Christ. There is no-one like him among all the religions of the world!2 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. People may make fun of you
. . . Because they may think of you as a religious fanatic or a Jesus freak or a Bible-thumper. You know the kind of thing. Wesley So is a world-class chess player and a Christian. He writes about his experience:
“On the small planet where elite chess players dwell, very few people worship Jesus Christ. If anyone discovers that you’re one of those “superstitious,” “narrow-minded idiots,” you’re likely to see nasty comments accumulate on your Facebook fan page. On a regular basis, I receive emails from strangers lecturing me about the dangers of following Jesus. Out of pity or disgust, they wonder how I, the world’s second-ranked chess player, can be so “weak-minded.”3
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 lawyer friend put it this way: “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. It will require sacrifices
. . . Because Jesus said that following him would be in some ways (not all!) like choosing death. His words are very sobering, especially when you think that his original hearers would have seen people literally “taking up their cross” and heading off to execution—by crucifixion:
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.
It can be much worse than that, of course. 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 self-identified 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.4
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)
This next reason may be the toughest of all, and in some ways it’s the key too all the others:
6. It means handing the leadership of your life over to God
. . . Because, if you’re a follower of Jesus, you are no longer 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. If you are a Canadian, 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. When he was a teenager, 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 was 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 (among many things) 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)
That’s why most followers of Jesus persevere. His words bring true life.
7. You don’t think you could keep it up
. . . Because 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 instead 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—also known as the church. A church that takes seriously its responsibility to be a community of followers of Jesus will also help you personally to follow Jesus. Its worship will help you be refreshed in the presence of God. Its teaching will help you work out your faith in daily life. And the friends you make there will listen to you, support you, and pray for you.
For years, I met with a bunch of guys every other Saturday morning, in a group called “Saturday Stuff for Guys.” There we shared our joys and our sorrows, our insights and our doubts, we studied the Bible and we prayed for one another. Actually, don’t tell anyone this, but we loved one another (being guys, we don’t like to say so). Personally, I would have found it 100% more difficult to live the Christian life without them. Fellowship with other Christians is crucial.
Let me tell you about another resource. In the middle of the twentieth century, a church leader called Archbishop William Temple said something like this:
It’s no good giving me a play like Hamlet or King Lear and telling me to write a play like that. Shakespeare could do it; I can’t. And it is no good showing me a life like the life of Jesus and telling me to live a life like that. Jesus could do it; I can’t. But if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like his. And if the Spirit of Jesus could come and live in me, then I could live a life like his.5
And, of course, that is the case: the Spirit of Jesus, who is the Spirit of God, is available to us, to breathe life and energy into our efforts to follow Jesus. The Spirit gives us strength when we feel weak, gives us guidance when we are confused, and picks us up when we fall. In fact, the God of the Universe is personally committed to helping us make it to the end of the journey. Paul, one of the earliest Christian teachers, wrote:
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 (drumroll, please!):
This is what life is all about!
. . . 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 you will discover the part God designed you to fulfil in God’s plan to redeem the world from evil, suffering and dysfunction. And that is the greatest adventure that can ever befall a human being. In fact, it is what human beings were made for.
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. Once again, let me divide my readers into two groups:
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. If this describes you—it’s new to you, 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.
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 this is you, 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. Right now, 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.
The end of the beginning
If you have followed me this far, you will realize that getting to this point is not the end of your search, but the beginning of a whole new life. In some ways, it’s like an engagement: you and Jesus privately making a lifelong commitment to each other—or—better—you saying yes to Jesus’ invitation to new life with him!
But engagements are normally followed by marriage, where the promises made in private are made again, this time publicly, in front of a community of family and friends. In the Christian faith, this public ceremony is known as baptism. You can tell how significant this is because, in countries where Christians are persecuted, it is often after baptism that the persecution begins, because then the new believer’s faith is no longer secret but is known to everyone.
So, if you are serious about this new life—and why would you not be?—you need to think about getting baptized.6 Perhaps you are already involved in a Christian community—a church. If so, they will know what to do! If you have a Christian friend, they will probably introduce you to their church, who will also know how to help you. 7
If you would like to discuss any of what I’ve written here, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you! And if you find it difficult to find a copy of the New Testament, I’d be happy to send you one free of charge.
There are more articles on this website on this kind of topic. You should check out Becoming a Christian: A Practical Guide to the Why and the How; and The School of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to Living as a Christian.
_______________________________________1 “The Rival Conceptions of God” in Mere Christianity. 2 For a historical analysis of this topic, see Professor Edwin Yamauchi’s article, “What’s So Special About Jesus?” at http://institute.wycliffecollege.ca/1999/03/whats-so-special-about-jesus-compared-with-buddha-muhammad-socrates-and-zoroaster/. 3 Wesley So, “I’m a Rare Breed: An Elite Chess Player Who’s Open About His Faith,” Christianity Today, August 18, 2017. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/september/im-rare-breed-elite-chess-player-whos-open-about-his-faith.html. 4 John 6:66 5 Paraphrased in John R. W. Stott, The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of our Calling (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 37. I have not been able to find the primary source of Temple’s words. 6 If you have already been baptised, perhaps as a baby, there is no need to do it again. Most churches make provision for circumstances like yours, by giving space for “Renewal of Baptismal Vows” and similar ceremonies. 7 If you have neither a church nor a friend, and don’t know where to begin, email me.
This article was originally published on this website in 2002 and was updated by the author in 2018.
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