One day while at work, a coworker came to me and commented about what he felt was evidence the Bible was not accurate. He brought up Matthew 7:14, which says,
“Narrow is the path to salvation and few there will be that find it…”
After quoting this scripture, he argued the validity of it.
“This scripture can’t possibly be right, because look at all the people who claim Christianity. It seems to be the broad path, so Jesus must have been talking about something else…”
His comment baffled me. Not because of some argument about population versus religious distribution (that’s what many preachers would bring up), it was the spirit of his question. Where would he get the idea that claiming Christianity meant you were heaven bound?
It wasn’t just his comment that struck me at that moment. It was the realization of the image that Christians have portrayed. He let me know how people perceive the image of Christianity. Most outsiders (and I say “outsiders” meaning: people who don’t self-identify as believers), get the impression that Christianity teaches the ultimatum that either you claim Christianity, or you go to hell! So the popular belief among people is that the church believes and enforces, rewards and punishes, according to the idea that claiming Christianity is what separates the righteous and glorified, from the unrighteous and damned. Our demographics are separated by who says they believe, and who doesn’t. And the reason this sat so wrong with me when my coworker said it, is because the Bible doesn’t teach this… On the contrary, the Bible teaches that even those claiming Christianity could be separated from Jesus at the end (Matt 7:21).
If that is the case, how did this distorted image of Christianity get started? There are many reasons, but in the interest of time, I will bunch the reasons together in a neat package. If I could explain the fault in one phrase, it would be: The misunderstanding of the message of the cross; it leads to many believers thinking that building a faith-evident lifestyle is unecessary. To be honest, the way we explain Christianity to new converts leads to a generic, shallow religion, in which we understand ‘sin’ simply as ‘bad behavior’, and see the cross as us needing to be saved from that bad behavior; otherwise, God won’t want us (or we can’t be with Him). We say, “Mankind lived in sin, therefore, God sent His Son to die for us so we can be free from that sin.” While this is not a false statement, the most anyone hears when we say this is, “We were acting bad, and God could not let us into heaven because of all the bad stuff we’ve done. So He sent His Son to die to pay for all the stuff we’ve done (or will do) so we can be with Him.” Don't get me wrong, it is beautiful to see people stop living a certain way and pick up a brand new lifestyle. That alone is wonderful, but to what affect?
The problem is, if my entire faith is based on what someone else did, and that’s it, just the death and resurrection, not telling the other half (man's half) of the story, I am totally free from responsibility. Nothing is required of me, because my salvation is based on events I had nothing to do with. So the most I am required to do is think about what Jesus did, and I’m going to heaven. But this wouldn’t make sense in light of the the fact that Jesus says that not everyone who calls Him their Lord will enter the kingdom, because that would mean there’s something else required of me than simply acknowledging what He did. Not that we can do anything to earn our salvation, the Bible is clear that we can’t (Eph 2:8). And this is also not to take anything from the power of the cross, because it is the whole reason for our salvation. But if you don’t understand what made the cross necessary, then our entire belief is reduced to worshiping an event. And spreading the gospel becomes a battle of intellectual belief systems. Therefore, anyone claiming Christianity is heaven-bound, because they have an intellectual belief of Jesus dying on the cross.
The meaning of the cross is mentioned in the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16. It says:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not parish, but have everlasting life.”
This verse is beautiful, but deadly if misunderstood. The word “loved” in this verse is taken to mean ‘affection’… but the reality is, it means ‘value!’ I’m almost certain that God loved His son, as well as any parent would. He said it Himself (Matt 3:17). He wasn't just a sacrafice, like some animal from a barn. So to see this verse as merely God making a statement of affection (which it is mostly used for)is not only arrogant, putting mankind at the center of thier own faith, but it chops its meaning in half. The idea is that He gave up something He valued, for something He valued more. And the reason this was necessary is because we failed to value Him. "Value" meaning, what He is worth to each individual.
You have to understand that the events in the Bible were written at a place and time where all of the Jews already had a firm “belief” in God. Getting them to believe was not a problem, they already did. They were not being penalized for not believing, they were being penalized for not valuing. They skipped over certain commandments, and favored some over others, which if they had actually valued the God they were serving, wouldn’t be happening. Because value is, according to the standard that God set by giving His son, what you are willing to give up to get something else in return. If they had truly valued God, they would have been willing to jeopardize themselves to follow His laws. You can’t claim to love me while devaluing my words.
This explains why Jesus seemed to have spent a lot of His ministry turning potential followers away. For example, a young man came to Him and said, “I will follow you, but first, let me go back and bury my father.” Jesus replied, “Let the dead bury the dead, you go and proclaim the kingdom of God (Matt 8:21).” This amongst many other examples, shows that Jesus’ message was that we have failed to choose God, His laws, over other things (our livelihoods, emotional satisfaction, safety, etc.). The first commandment summarizes this: "Love the Lord they God...("love"once again meaning 'value')." So we were divorced from Him, no more than you would want to be with a spouse who was constantly unfaithful to you (read the book of Hosea). Christ then had to die or take the penalty of “divorce,” so we could be remarried to God, so to speak. The cross is all about how we failed to value God, or rather, we have failed to feel like He is worth anything to us. So Christ says that in the end even Christians would be rejected from Him, because the most Christianity is to us is a battle of morality, not an evaluation of how much we don't value God. We worship the moral code.
Now, the problem with all of this, is that our contemporary society doesn’t fix this issue of value in our hearts. Even as Christians, while we are super-moral, our value system is still incredibly skewed. In fact, we have almost been trained to believe we don’t have to value God, He understands that you can't. Especially here in the U.S., we have been raised to believe that God is our sidekick. He is here to monitor the outcome of success in our lives. And give us great advice on how to get to the top or live as a functioning part of society. In other words, He still pales in comparison to the value we place on the functionality of our lives. To the point where we even believe that He wouldn’t dare ask us to do anything to put ourselves in bad spots, He would even sacrifice His own laws to see to our happiness; so we say things like, “God understands me,” and “God knows my heart.” Valuing God is not even a part of the picture of our modern day Christianity, Him valuingus is! We have made it to where sacrificing to follow how He said to do things is not necessary, so anyone who says a short, quick prayer is now in the Christian club. Now I see where my coworker got this distorted idea... from us Christians ourselves! By haphazardly taking Romans 10:9 unblanced with the rest of the word, we have handed people a sword in which they don't understand the fight. But if valuing God wasn't that Big of a deal to Him, why did He have to die to fix it?
The mission of this ministry is to show the value of God’s word by revealing how or own ways lead to self destruction, so we begin to devalue our ways and begin to value you His. This is not an over-night fix, a problem you can point out and straighten up instantly; however, the goal is to provide the missing link. If we do not change how we value God, the point of the cross becomes void.
Pastor Andre Lee
Turning To Life Ministries
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