VITAL CHRISTIANITY

  Chapter one

WHY BE A CHRISTIAN?

 

There is a search going on in many hearts for something with more depth and integrity than the "Christianity" which is commonly equated with church-going and respectability. "I want to be a Christian...but 0 my God, let me be a real one!"

 

One of the biggest fears many of us have is the fear of hypocrisy. Too many times we've been shocked to see a person who impressed us as being a genuine follower of Christ suddenly turn out to be quite the opposite. One day we happen to walk in when he wasn't expecting us... his mask was off ... and what a miserable countenance we beheld! What a weak, selfish, greedy life was exposed to our view!

 

Sometimes the mask that falls off is our own. We had ourselves convinced that we were really progressing in righteousness until some small incident tripped us, and a sea of vileness tumbled out of our lives. "Where did that come from?"

 

"Lord, don't let me be a hypocrite! Don't let me go through life wearing a pious mask over an empty heart. If I can't be a real Christian, if I can't be a disciple of Jesus on the inside as well as the outside, then don't let me be anything."

 

"Is there a Christianity that really penetrates right into the heart? Not a mask ... not a costume ... not a pair of colored glasses that makes things look right when they're not. Is it possible to be transformed into a man who is really like Jesus? Is it possible to become a person who can actually live the Sermon on the Mount? If so, that's what I want to be."

 

You do… why?

 

Why do you want to be a Christian? What are you really after when you say you want to be a Christian?

 

Some people want to be Christians because they've been told it will bring serenity. They've heard that only Christians have real serenity, so they submit to certain "Christian disciplines" hoping that as they progress the turmoil and struggle within their hearts will cease and they will be filled with a blessed calm. Let's be frank ... you don't have to be a Christian to find serenity. There are people outside the Christian faith who have an amazing serenity of life and spirit. You'll find them not only among the farmers and shepherds of oriental lands, but even in the cities of restless America. There are men and women who work in factories and department stores, who teach school or minister to the sick, who are not Christians; yet they're at peace.

 

Some people want to be Christians because they've been told it will bring them prosperity. We have an abundance of preachers who are making themselves prosperous selling this idea ... and millions are buying it...but it's just not so. You don't have to become a Christian in order to prosper. In fact, you may prosper much more in terms of money and popularity if you stay away from Christianity.

 

Some people want to be Christians because they've been told that the Christian faith is the only source of happiness in this world. "If you want to be happy, be a Christian." Open your eyes, friend, and you'll see people who never darken a church door or call upon the name of Jesus who are really, quite happy. They enjoy the natural pleasures of life ... they like to read or fish or travel or putter around in their garden. They’re satisfied with that kind of life and are content to make the most of it until the day they die. You don't have to be a Christian to be happy.

 

Some people are driven to Christianity by an ominous feeling of guilt… they feel unclean ... they feel condemned...they're sinners... they want an easy conscience, and they have been told they can find it in the Christian faith. It certainly is true that only through Christ can you find true forgiveness. But if it is merely release from a sense of guilt that you are seeking, a psychiatrist can meet that need. For he can set your mind at ease. You don't really have to become a Christian to obtain an easy conscience.

 

All these reasons for becoming a Christian have to do with something this‑worldly.... immediate... "Be a Christian so you can have this blessing or that blessing right now." But to obtain these immediate blessings you don't have to be a Christian. When people came to Jesus for healing, he didn't say, "Wait a minute ... are you a Christian? I heal only true Christians." When the five thousand sat down to be fed, Jesus did not begin with an altar call ... "I feed only Christians around here!"

 

Any blessing that it is possible to have on earth you can have with­out being a Christian. If it's within your power, work for it. If it's beyond your power, pray for it. For God often answers the prayers of non-Christians.

 

But there is one blessing which is reserved for Christians only.... it is a blessing that doesn't belong to this world at all. You can have this blessing now in a partial way. You can taste it ... you can see it dimly as through a mirror. But you will not have it fully until this world as we know it has passed away. It is called the Kingdom of God.

 

Jesus came and lived and died and rose in order to bring us into the Kingdom of God. This is what he preached about. This is what his wonderful signs pointed to.

 

"Seek ye first the kingdom of God.... If I with the

finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom

of God has come upon you.... The kingdom of heaven

is like a grain of mustard seed ... like a treasure

hidden in a field ... like a merchant in search of goodly pearls....”

 

Now we're talking about something which is beyond this world. We're talking about something greater than serenity or prosperity or happiness or anything else that can be found on earth. We're talking about a place where there is no darkness at all ... nothing covered ... nothing hidden ... because God is its light. We're talking about a place where there are no tears, no devil, no demons, no lies, no pain, no sickness, no hunger, no death, because God is its life and its joy. We're talking about a place where God is all in all.

 

This is what Christianity is about ... this is its primary concern.

 

Rejoice not that spirits are subject to you,

but that your names are written in heaven,

 

This is what Jesus Christ came to offer.

 

Now after John was out of prison, Jesus came into

Galilee, preaching the good news of the kingdom of

God and saying, "The time is fulfilled and the

kingdom of God is at hand; repent ye and believe the

good news."

 

He healed the sick and raised the dead and opened the eyes of the blind to show them that there is such a blessed kingdom where God walks and talks with us as he did in Paradise… where God is our Father and we his blessed children. Where our joy ... joy inconceivable to the mortal mind ... is God himself.

 

Notice the wave of praise and glory that swept over the crowd when Jesus raised the dead son of the widow of Nain. "God hath visited his people!" they exclaimed. That praise, brief as it was, was a foretaste of the kingdom. Have you observed sometimes in the gathered fellowship where you worship, when a particularly powerful manifestation of God's grace touches the people, how praise and wonder sweep over the whole congregation? This is a foretaste of the kingdom of God.

 

Whenever people suddenly become conscious of God's presence, are swept by the Spirit into praise of God, or are lifted up into a realm of genuine worship, the kingdom of God has come near. They're being given a glimpse of the Promised Land.

 

Jesus never forced the general public to seek the kingdom of God. He never pressed the multitudes with lectures on the current advantages of the kingdom as over against the world. He did not present it as a "good buy", a panacea for earthly troubles. Jesus simply offered the kingdom. "Here it is! Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear!" If men preferred, they could choose the pleasures of this world and the interesting pastimes of this life rather than the kingdom of God. The choice was up to them.

 

But once men came to him and wanted to be his disciples (Christians), then Jesus drew a sharp line. "If you want to enter the kingdom of God you must desire to know and live for God. You must take up your cross and follow me."

 

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall

enter the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the

will of my Father who is in heaven.

 

Lay not up for yourselves treasure on earth where

moth and rust doth corrupt and where thieves break

through and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures

in heaven where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt,

and where thieves do not break through and steal: for

where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

 

So at the beginning of this quest we draw the same line by asking, "Why do you want to be a Christian? Because you want serenity, pros­perity, happiness, an easy conscience? Or, do you want to be a Christian because you want God? You desire to love God ... you want to dwell in the Father's house ... you want to please him ... you want to honor him." If this is what you seek, then you will be a Christian. Jesus himself will make you a Christian.

 

"Fear not, little flock; it is your Father's good pleasure

to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give

alms. Provide yourselves with bags which wax not old,

a treasure in the heavens which faileth not.”

 

Ask your heart at the outset of this quest, "What do I want?" If it's something on earth, then you need not trouble yourself trying to be a Christian. But if it's in heaven… the throne room of the living God ... then the way of Christ is the only way.

 

Of course, the place we have to be Christians is in the world... down in the most drab and sordid circumstances of daily life. We shall be Christians in the shop and office, in our kitchen and garage, amid nagging relatives and dirty politics. But we'll never be Christians here in the jumbled and complicated world unless we know where we're going and why.

 

Our goal is not on this earth ... our goal is in heaven. God is our goal. God's kingdom is our treasure. And Jesus is the Shepherd who will bring us there, if this is what we really want.