“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” - Brennan Manning
I don’t know how many people I have talked to who have been turned off to Christianity and Christ specifically through the actions of those claiming to be Christians. They have been hurt by gossip, slander, cruelty, and exclusion by those claiming to be the Hands and Feet of Jesus. Contrary to the gospel, where Jesus presented salvation to the outcast, hopeless, and lonely we Christians are willing to offer grace typically only so far as it is convenient to our lifestyles and comfort. Is this what our religion has become? What should “real” Christianity look like?
“Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” -James 1:26-27 MSG
So how do we practice “real” Christianity; the kind that is a true reflection of Christ? James gives us a start by pointing to the homeless and loveless around us. Other translations mention caring for “widows and orphans in their affliction” What is the affliction of widows and orphans? They are alone. One of the great afflictions of mankind is that we are created to yearn for love and companionship. In the absence of this, we are a sad and lonely people. How many people are there around you right now that just need someone in their life to truly care about them and their needs for once? How many people could you help just by being available and empathetic to the pain in their lives? There is a reason caring for your neighbor is named the second greatest commandment, only behind loving the Lord.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. ’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:37-39
Too easy right? Except it’s not. If we think of our neighbor as those that we like and want to help, we’re missing the point as badly as the religious leaders of Jesus’s time. Who is this neighbor that we are supposed to love as dearly as we love ourselves? The parable of the good Samaritan was used to demonstrate that our neighbors are not part of the homogeneous bubble in which tend to isolate ourselves. They are those of other races, cultures, social circles, and even *gasp* political views. They are even our enemies.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the unbelievers do the same? - Matthew 5:43-44, 47
“Fine” we say, “I can love my enemy/neighbor as long as I can do it from a distance. As long as I can say an insincere prayer for them and get on with my life as quickly as possible.” But this is not the standard to which we are called. We are called to emulate Christ’s love to those around us.
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. - Ephesians 5:25-26, 28-30
Perhaps this seems a bit extreme, but, as Christians, I believe we are called to care for our neighbors as we care for our own flesh; to care for the stranger the way we care for our children, spouses, and friends; and to set their physical and spiritual needs as equal to our own.
So there you have it, Christian. This is the way. Feel up to the task? You shouldn’t. It’s impossible. There is not a person ever born who could love his worst enemy in the same way he loves and cares for his own flesh. It’s an insurmountable standard to expect anyone to be able to keep. No one would expect it of the best of mankind. Except, we aren’t called to emulate the best of men. We are called to emulate Christ. Instead of fulfilling the pettiest of stereotypes that the world expects from us, we are called to holiness. To be Christ-like, or Christian, means that we need to be able to go beyond what is expected, feasible, or perhaps even imaginable to the world.
“He who has ears, let him hear.”