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Today we have substituted doctrinal belief for personal belief, and that is why so many people are devoted to causes and so few are devoted to Jesus Christ. People do not really want to be devoted to Jesus, but only to the cause He started. Jesus Christ is deeply offensive to the educated minds of today, to those who only want Him to be their Friend, and who are unwilling to accept Him in any other way. Our Lord’s primary obedience was to the will of His Father, not to the needs of people—the saving of people was the natural outcome of His obedience to the Father.

Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (19 June)

Recently thinking about how we tend to make historical figures into icons of ideals. Hitler, for example, is a cultural icon for evil—even some of the most relativistic among us draw the line of wrong somewhere before our idea of him; his name is invoked when someone wants an illustration of the irredeemable (e.g. "If you could go back in time and kill Hitler, would you?"). Likewise, Ghandi is our icon for peaceful leadership. Not that most of us know much about him at all; most are shocked when I tell them he spoke and wrote more about enemas than he did about peace. Regardless of the complexity of who he was, our image of him is a placeholder for a concept.

Seeing Saved! last week got me to thinking of what kind of icon Jesus has become in our cultural lexicon. Why didn't the film just dismiss Him, since it clearly wasn't going to embrace who He truly is? The idea of Jesus is important to us culturally. So what does it mean?

By and large, I think Jesus is our cultural representation of acceptance. It goes something like this: do whatever you like, as long as you're trying to be good, and it'll all work out in the end because He's accepting. Don't talk about sin, because that's not loving. The church is criticized legitimately for its many sins, but over and above that, organized religion just doesn't understand how loving and peaceful and accepting He was (almost like Ghandi). Jesus' arms are perpetually open in all-accepting love. Just love.

But the arms of Jesus are open because they were nailed there, by people not inherently different from me. And though men had their own corrupt reasons for crucifying Him, in the cosmic drama, that death was executed in punishment of the sin. Further, He was no victim—He took up the cross for the joy set before Him, scorning its shame and yielding His right to Himself to His Father. He came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. He accepts our sin only by bearing the judgment for it. His work was to free us from sin, not to free us to it. That's not the icon that sits well with our culture.

If we want Jesus to accept us as we are, it is only reasonable that we must accept Him as He is. He told people who were sinning to stop, because ultimately it's killing all of us. And He has the right to tell us what to do, on every level: no one will ever love us more, no one will ever know better what is best for us, no one has more right to us than He who purchased our lives, and no one has more authority on Heaven or Earth.

He's alive, not some dead historical figure. Though Sheldon's In His Steps is a powerful work, I think he'd cringe at much of the "What Would Jesus Do?" mentality and merchandising that have risen from the catchphrase a century later. It's not a guessing game. Abide. Live as a branch connected to the vine for life itself. Learn from Him, from His Word, from His Spirit, and discover that life isn't about a set of principles to follow independently of Christ Himself. The checklist isn't the relationship. The church isn't to be worshipped, nor is the Bible. Only God.

And Jesus is going to be complex, just as He has always been. He won't fit into a concept, ideal, or icon. He doesn't adapt to our cramped personal dramas the way we'd like Him to sometimes, and when He doesn't, we can't pretend He's abandoning or not answering us. He's calling us out, setting us free, and we're trying to get Him to make life work our way inside our cell. He's a thwarter sometimes, and I thank God He is.


Thanks for the reminder.
I needed it, too.
It's strangely refreshing, on occasion, to read anti-Christian screeds that actually do revile Jesus, rather than just blaming the Church for twisting the intentions of the "good teacher." The latter position is so intellectually dishonest as to be entertaining.
Yes. Honest disagreement (including honesty with oneself on both sides) is always preferable to wading through bullshit for me.
I just finished reading God's Smuggler, the story of a Dutchmen smuggling Bibles behind the Iron Curtain. He made it a point to avoid anyone who was against something rather than for Christ, even returning sizable contributions from anti-communist people and groups. That idea resonated with me - to be for Christ rather than against things. I think that's closer to the mark than how many of us live.

I agree with you on this. As someone who for a time was defined by what he was against (ironically, my social and political positions were more liberal at the time), there's a difference, an important one.

Being for "acceptance Jesus" (our cultural icon who replaces the person of Christ), however, results in not being against anything, and certainly not being against the things Jesus came to destroy. The result is an Oprahesque spirituality that never really follows Jesus at all. Following Him—loving Him—must result in being against some things. Yet it's the following that's the motivator, not the opposition. That's how Brother Andrew's ministry worked, thanks be to God.
I love that book! I haven't read it since I was a child, but back then I read it over and over. Thanks for reminding me of it!
Thanks. I'm especially tired of people calling Hitler 'mad.' If he'd been mad, he wouldn't be responsible for his deeds.

Gandhi was not really nice, from what I've read -- devoted to a cause above all, I suppose.

I'm avoiding 'Saved' because I live in California and thus have heard violent anti-Christian words before. I don't take it as 'well, the Church needs to hear thiis...' The Church needs to hear the Word of God and do it. God didn't ordain anti-Christian complaints by our critics to lead us.

I'm sleepy.
The Church needs to hear the Word of God and do it. God didn't ordain anti-Christian complaints by our critics to lead us.

This is a truth I need to share. Thank you.

I was sleeping when you wrote this.
"He's a thwarter sometimes, and I thank God He is."
thanks for the reminder. it never ceases to amaze me how often your words hit me right at the core of my struggles. God certainly does work in mysterious ways, including through LJ.
I was glad to read you aren't going to give up writing here.
Wow... yet another one of your posts I'd like to mass mail... if that's okay.

Similarly, but not so much so...

Jeff and I were reading a Time magazine article today about faith and the White House (don't bother getting it). While discussing the radical differences in pollings between Believers and Non-Believers and Libral Believers and Convervative Believers we came to the conclusion that there is so much diversity because people do one of two things:

(A) They vote for what best suits their own personal agenda. That is, they're poor and need help so they vote democratic because they want the funds to be there for them. Or they're old and want better healthcare benefits so they vote democratic because they want medicare reform and so on.

(B) They vote for what sounds the "nicest" thereby making them nice as a result. Tons of them even use Jesus as their reasoning... whether they're actual Believers or just advocates of a "great teacher".

Both of those scenerios make me ill.

Those political observations are very astute from where I sit. The level of self interest in politics makes me ignore the whole ball of wax (too) much of the time.

I'd be honored if you'd like to mass mail this entry—thanks!
I believe I'd like to add you as my friend. Add me back please. :-) It never ceases to amaze me that there are people in this world who love Christ. I hope I never stop getting excited meeting believers. Hi- my name is Josie by the way. :-)
Hi Josie! I've added you, too. Welcome aboard!