A friend recently asked me who Jesus is to me, and, admittedly, I couldn’t answer. Not because I was incapable of regurgitating the typical defining parameters–my savior, the Messiah, the Son of God, etc.–but because I wanted to make him more: he’s undefinable, he’s intangible, yet also tangible and has a palatable presence. He’s what I feel when I’m dancing and someone catches me and smiles. He’s what I see when a baby gives me a big toothless grin. He’s what I hear when I hear someone laugh, hearty and boisterous. His presence is undeniable when you see people loving in individual, private moments and en mass. As my friend Jeff Turner said, “Wherever and whenever hostility gives way to hospitality, there and then, the Kingdom of God has come.”
I don’t mean to nauseate anyone with a series of cliches, but it is sincerely how I feel. Jesus is a man that took the worst of humanity onto himself, and cried for his victimizers. I can’t think of anything that exemplifies the epitome of love and what humanity should be more than that action. Because of Jesus, I am “saved.” (Soteria means to be healed and made whole, to be delivered from oppression. So, being saved is being restored to peace, joy, and righteousness, union with God. I.e. – Not being saved later, but restored now.) I do recognize and acknowledge that grace and salvation. But, for me, so much more is the example of love that I strive to encompass and celebrate. For me, Christianity is about you, you, you, not me, me, me. And my salvation through Christ should benefit you–not just save me.
This begs a question: What does Christianity mean to you?
I think it’s easy to fall into habit of proof-texting (or using specific Bible verses to admonish and discredit someone else’s faith).
A. This is never cool. The point of Christianity isn’t–can’t be–proving that your doctrinal beliefs are “correct.” (I don’t want to get into what the “point” is for me in this paragraph.)
B. Unfortunately this is all too commonplace; we fall into this trap of proving our faith, or assuming the faith in others, by how many Bible verses we and they can whip out.
This doesn’t bode well for me, since my memory is essentially non-existent. I’ve read the Bible in its entirety, but heck if I remember what book and chapter verses are in. My head is chockablock full of verses, but I always–ALWAYS–have to Google the verse I have in mind to find the book and chapter. (I blame being raised with cellphones and not having to memorize phone numbers or addresses, etc.)
Proof-texting also dismisses blatant contradictions in the Bible–that’s not to say that Bible verses contradict each other, but proof-texting leaves no room for interpretation, and to make verses harmonize, you have to get creative and acknowledge your understanding of a verse may be incorrect.
Romans 10:9 – “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Matthew 7:21 – “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
(And yes, I had to Google both of these verses. I knew they existed though!)
By juxtaposition, you can see contradictions if you’re reading at merely face value. The first reads that being saved only requires believing Jesus is Lord and was raised from the dead, and the latter reads that acknowledging that isn’t enough, but ONLY those who do the will of the Father will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (And these aren’t the only two verses on this subject, obviously.)
Here’s where what Christianity to me comes in:
Christianity to me is less about the Bible, and more about spirituality. Admittedly, I need to find more room for the Bible, since Jesus is found in the testaments of the apostles and the prophets of the Old Testament. I do acknowledge that. And I also admit that when you seek verses to support and purport your already-established ideals, you’re going to find them. To combat this, I try to discern what I’m meant to be reading from what I’m reading. But heck, 1 Thessalonians 5:21 reads “Test all things and hold fast to what is good.”(“Good” here is kalos which means beautiful and noble.)
If I know that there are still isolated parts of the world that haven’t heard of Yeshua, how can my heart contend that, according to a literal Romans 10:9, they’re not saved? How can I fully love a God that would essentially damn these people for no less than where they were born?
It could be wrong, but here is my resolution and reconciliation of all the stated:
1 John 4:8 – “Whoever does not love does not know God. God is love.”
1 John 4:16 – “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”
(I’m about to take these verses literally to the nth degree.)
1 Corinthians 13:13 – “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 – “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.“(Emphasis mine.)
Romans 3:3 – “What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness?”
I hope you are smelling what I’m cooking. I think faith in God is subservient to love, and I don’t think that’s a nonsensical assumption. If God IS love, what if by loving God and loving others (the one commandment per John 13:34–notice it’s not faith in Jesus, but loving others) we are inadvertently worshiping God? What if bringing the Kingdom of God by showing love and compassion, we are doing the “will of God” referenced in Matthew 7:21?
Of course there are verses that contradict what I’m saying, such as Romans 10:9. But does it? I think by acknowledging Jesus is Lord, believing he was raised from the dead, we are restored NOW. Referring back to Soteria, being made whole and healed. Not “saved” in the afterlife sense, but experiencing the revealing of Christ within us.
Notably, the more I read, the more I’m convinced that we, those who faith, are the elect that Calvinists believe in. A few verses to consider:
Romans 9:15-16 – “For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.”
Proverbs 16:4 – “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil.”
Romans 8:29-30 – “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”
Romans 9:21 – “Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?”
Ephesians 1:4-6 – “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”
Perhaps the elect, the “predestined,” are those who will believe in Christ in their lifetime, experience the Revelation of Christ. And those that aren’t elected simply love, and are saved by Grace. Maybe the elect will be the priests in the inner circle of heaven, and those who weren’t, that are saved only by fire, are on the outer circle.
I’m spitballing. Which means it’s time to go study and read. 🙂
I hope this clarified what Christianity and Jesus and God is to me.
I’m confident I have much more to learn and see, but I also know that I want to be in love with Christ and God’s plan for reconciliation. And if there’s room for anyone to be damned to an eternal hell for simply not verbatim saying, “Christ is Lord,” then that’s not a God I want to know.