Is Jesus Relevant To Christianity?

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Is Jesus relevant to Christianity?

I realize that probably sounds like a bizarre question to be asking, but in recent weeks I’ve begun witnessing an equally bizarre phenomenon.

It really picked up steam after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, but it started before that in random blog comments and Facebook posts that I’ve come across on a variety of subjects.

What am I talking about?

The claim that Christians should not be expected to model their lives after Jesus.

Whether the issue is how to respond to violence, what to do with money, or any of a host of other important way of life issues, I have witnessed a growing number of people claim, in a variety of ways, that Jesus’ life was unique and therefore not a relevant example for Christians to base their day to day decisions on.

Sometimes the argument is put forth that Jesus was too perfect and because we mere mortals are not capable of such perfection, we shouldn’t be expected to even attempt to live our lives like Jesus lived his – as if doing so would somehow border on blasphemy and violate that all important, but fundamentally misunderstood, teaching of salvation by faith alone.

Other times, I have heard people try to make the case that because Jesus came to earth with a specific mission – salvation – everything he did in life was part of that mission and, therefore, should not be considered the normative model for how his followers should live.

I have no doubt that it’s difficult to believe that there are Christians out there trying to make these arguments. I, myself, was dumbfounded when I first read them.

But I assure you these arguments are out there and their adherents are growing in number.

However, the more I thought about it, the more it began to make sense.

Not the arguments, but why Christians would try to make them.

We’ve all heard it said time and time again that living the Christian life is difficult. Jesus himself said, “the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

But it’s not until we come face to face with that reality that we begin to understand that the difficulty of being a Christian runs far deeper than forcing yourself to get out of bed for church on Sunday mornings or occasionally telling someone you love Jesus.

We witnessed such a collision of reality with Sandy Hook Elementary and the response that followed.

In the face of such horrific violence, the gut reaction for many of us was, and is, to retaliate with more guns, more violence. After all, killing your enemy does bring a quick and expedient resolution to the problem at hand.

But as Christians, we find ourselves faced with a Jesus who calls us to love our enemies and to pray for them as well. He tells us to turn the other cheek. When Peter went to defend the most innocent person in history, Jesus told him to lay down his sword. And when the opportunity came for Jesus to call down the forces of heaven and smite his enemies, he chose crucifixion instead.

To say Jesus’ life complicates how we respond, or want to respond, to violence is an understatement. But if Christ-like is what we are claiming to be, and as Christians it inescapably is, then performing mental gymnastics in order to allow ourselves to ignore Jesus’ example, simply is not an option.

Of course, violence isn’t the only difficult way of life issue we face as Christians.

As American Christians in particular, materialism has become an epidemic. We go out of our way to justify why God wants us to have a never ending and excessive flow of nice stuff, even as our brothers and sisters, many of them Christians themselves, struggle to put food on the table or keep a roof over their family’s head.

Sure, the blessings we experience come from God, but if we think we were intended as the final destination of those blessing, then we’ve missed the fundamental narrative of the Bible, not to mention the purpose of the life and mission of Jesus himself.

While these are two of the most prominent issues, there are countless other examples of how Jesus’ life and teachings stand in stark contrast to the life so many of us try to pass off as Christian.

But the simple reality is this – if Jesus’ life isn’t relevant to Christianity, if it is not the model for our lives, then we have no right to claim the name “Christian.”

In fact, if being a Christian isn’t an attempt to live a life closely resembling the life of Jesus Christ as possible, then the very idea of Christian makes no sense.

We would do better, and have more integrity, if we called ourselves Jesus admirers or fans of the Teacher.

Claiming to be a Christian, but excusing yourself from modeling your life after Jesus not only makes a mockery of all the saints who have come before who shed their blood, sweat, and tears to live like Jesus in and for the world, it also transforms Jesus into an idol of our own creation, a god who looks conspicuously like ourselves as he thinks, acts, talks, and believes all the same things we do.

In other words, claiming to be Christian without living a life like Christ, isn’t just hypocritical, it’s idolatrous.

Jesus said “go and do likewise” and because he said that, it is not, has never been, and will never be enough to simply agree that Jesus died to take away the sins of the world.

Even the demons believe that shudder.

Most of us don’t even shudder at the thought. We just say “amen” and go on living our lives like we always have.

The reality of being a follower of Jesus is certainly difficult, but it’s also straightforward. If “Christian” is what we are going to claim as our identity, then we must “go and do likewise.”

Without the going and doing likewise, there is simply no such thing as the Christian life.

 

Grace and peace,

Zack Hunt

  • http://www.twitter.com/simplyundrea Simply Undrea

    This is a great piece, I really liked this article! Really thought-provoking for those who don’t believe that Jesus is the one Christians should strive to emulate. Thank you for writing it. I know it’s going to raise some eyebrows but the truth SHOULD ruffle some feathers.

  • Braden

    I think there needs to be a clear distinction between living like Christ and who He is and what he challenged the people of His day with, and living out the Law. Jesus came and showed us what the Law really was and that we couldn’t fulfill it, this is why He did it for us. It is more important to actually focus on what Christ revealed to Paul and live that out, than to try and do what Christ already did, which most of the Church still teaches. Jesus said himself that He didn’t come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it. If we want to obey the commandments of what Christ was teaching, then we will be trying to fulfill the Law. Christ removed that burden from us, so that we could be reconciled to God and love Him and others. I think we focus too much on the sin issue and trying not to sin, when Christ already took that away. The sin issue was nailed to the cross, so therefore we don’t have to focus on it anymore, we can focus on relationship with God and others. Only through this way will our minds be free to be renewed and we can actually love each other. Jesus is essential to Christianity, but most Churches interpretation of this leads straight back into trying to fulfill the Law, and not freeing people to actually love each other. Just my two cents.

  • Karen

    Amen.

  • Jim Hibettb

    I
    read the article above and find it a very valid criticism of present
    day Christianity. I would add one reason that it has been common for
    people to see it as unreasonable to be ‘like Jesus.’ It is because
    historic Christianity while claiming that Jesus is fully human as well
    as fully God, it has not consistently really believed or taught
    what that implies. We have lost the capacity to say with meaning
    ‘Jesus was truly like me, that he was human and had all the
    experiences, anxieties and learning experiences that are part of being
    fully human.’ No, he was very different is our usual actual and honest conclusion. So I
    think it is not enough, even fair, to criticize people for coming to
    the conclusion that being Christian is not seriously about being like
    Jesus(who we are actually taught was so different from us.) We need, as
    Christians, to back up and figure what we need to change about our
    thoughts of Jesus that might keep him being truly as human as we are and
    also that we have the potential of being god in the sense that he was
    God. This is unorthodox but it is central to get at the heart of what
    this article logically leads us to. I recall an old quartet gospel song( I think the
    early Oak Ridge Boys recorded it) which says ” I could have liked him
    better if were a little more like me.” This is saying we are not
    honestly comfortable with our image of Jesus because if the truth is known… we(in our heart of hearts believe)
    are hardly the same species. How can we possibly identify with him with this orthodox view of him? With
    the image most have we honestly can’t. There must b a way to approach
    this problem that involves us accepting that we are indeed like Jesus
    and him like us. Anything less renders the concept of ‘being like him’ truly meaningless and irrelevant. But we are long way from that and it likely sounds
    like blasphemy to most claiming to be Christian today. jim hibbett

    • Karen

      It’s interesting, Jim, that all of the major Councils held by the Christian bishops within the first millennium of the Church met to defend both the complete divinity AND the complete humanity of Jesus Christ in the Incarnation. They met to defend the two natures (divine and human) each fully resident in Christ’s Person against heretical teachings and interpretations of Scripture that would have reduced one of those, beginning with Arianism which denied Jesus was fully God. Subsequent heresies would have diminished that in his humanity Jesus was indeed exactly like us in every way, except for personal sin. This is a very big deal and has been subject to confusion and distortion from the very beginning of Christianity, and I think you are onto something with the continuing struggle of modern Christians to come to grips with all the implications of this great truth (really a great “mystery” in the biblical sense) of orthodox Christian faith–the fullness of Jesus’ participation in our humanity.

      As an aside, there is a careful distinction made in Eastern Orthodox Christianity following the Greek early Church Fathers that I have not seen clarified in the same manner in the western churches (Roman Catholic or Protestant) about what the result of Adam’s sin was for subsequent generations of human beings after “the Fall.” In terms of what is inherited by every human being and thus part of our shared human “nature” since Adam (including the human nature of Jesus Christ Himself), the Eastern Orthodox Church is very careful to teach we all inherit “corruption and death” from Adam and that “corruption and death” is the condition of fallen or unregenerate human nature, but that we do not inherit Adam’s personal sin nor its guilt. Another way of putting this is to clarify that it is not our human “nature” that is guilty of sin, but rather each of us as individual persons become guilty of sin when we personally choose to disobey God, as Adam did. The technical term the Church Fathers used of both Christ’s and our “person” is “hypostasis.” Sin, whether conscious or not, fully willful or not, is a property of the human “hypostasis,” not of human “nature” in their teaching. Eastern Orthodoxy understands that human persons (not human “nature”) now tend to become sinners because of the corruption in the world which clings like a disease to our human nature, weakening it and blinding it to the truth and sowing confusion and disorder in our will and desires, but it sees fallen human nature, not as guilty, sinful or evil, but rather as inherently good (having been created by God, who is not the Author of any evil, for communion with Him) but now wounded and corrupted by death. Death is understood as the natural consequence of Adam’s sin by which he voluntarily severed his (and our) connection from God who alone is Life–it is not seen as (an arbitrary) “punishment” from God. In this state, unremedied, each person inevitably will fall into personal sin. In the Person (“hypostasis”) of Jesus Christ, our human nature is reunited with God who is our Life. St. Athanasius said that in the Incarnation, God, the Word, became everything we are by nature as human beings, that (through being reunited with Him) we might become everything He is by nature as God. What Christ is by nature (God), we become in Him through faith by grace as a gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Bearing the image of God, we each by becoming willing participants in God take on the full likeness of Christ in his divinity. Only in Him can we become fully human as God intended that to be–fully human persons in a communion of love in the Holy Trinity.

      The difference between our becoming “god” in orthodox Christian understanding from the false New Age teaching that we are all “god” (or “God”) and we just need to (supposedly) discover our inherent “godness” is that Christianity teaches that we become “god” (or “partake of the divine nature” to use the Apostle Peter’s terms, 2 Peter 1:4) through our union with Christ as a gift of His grace, but we are not, in and of ourselves, God. Rather, we are by nature creatures of God, bearing the divine image (essentially constituted in the freedom of our will), but not having any life or being from ourselves, nor being our own Source–for that, we need to be connected to our Creator through a free movement of our own wills in response to His freely given and unconditional love for us.

  • Shawn

    Again Zack, I ask you, Has armed air marshals done nothing stop 911 style attacks? I would say it has had quite the desired effect. Except on blowhards such as Alex Baldwin. . Once again, you equate arming a teacher or principal, as some sort of violent act. I would call it looking out for the least of us. Do you lock your doors at night? Why? Did Jesus lock his doors? No, his door is always open, (Dang, that was a good one Shawn) You call yourself a follower? I say NAY!

  • http://twitter.com/woutnieuwenhuis Wouter Nieuwenhuizen

    In the Netherlands we have a (luckily considerably small but nevertheless very present) growing wave of prosperity-belief. I see that in the same light as the things you describe here. Risks are people breaking with God the first time fortune takes a detour and fatal pigheadedness when it doesn’t. Either way it creates empty shells where there could (or should?) be purposeful living human beings. I hope your words reach those who spread those empty words of Christ-fanhood.

  • Andy J.

    Just started reading your blog and this is what I see so much. In our church (congregation) we strive to do as Jesus taught and that is to love everyone and give to others in need until it truly is a sacrifice and not just a “nice thing to do”. We have been nicknamed the Crazy Love Church in our town and have embraced that.