Tag Archives: discipleship

Authentic Living in a World of Imitation Games and Fictional Lives?

Are you living your own life, or is it being lived for you by some other force? From where did you get the script for your life? Do you know who cast you in the role you are playing? Are the passions and thoughts and goals that drive you through life based on reality, or are they elements of fictional story-world? Most people never ask such questions. They just live as they are told to live. They seek what others seek, love and fear what others love and fear. They worry about what concerns others. Most of us are simply personifications of the values, loves, and dreams of the society in which we live. We are the hosts within which live society’s demons. There is nothing inside. There is no substance to us. Take away our masks, costumes, and memorized lines, and nothing remains. And this is not my pessimism speaking; it’s the clear-eyed teaching of Jesus and his apostles.

In the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20), Jesus warned his disciples that their mission to preach the good news would not meet with complete success. He speaks of four different reactions they will receive. The third one strikes me as highly relevant to our situation:

18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

The seed of God’s word can impart truth and authentic life. As it enlightens and enlivens us we become “fruitful,” that is to say, we begin to live the life we were meant to live and become what we were meant to be. But if we focus on “this life” we will grow anxious about what might harm us. We are deceived into a false sense of security by wealth. We are driven by our animal passions to seek immediate pleasure and by our human passions toward envy, jealously, anger, and hatred. With our minds full of other things, we can’t think about the life that exists in God.

And of course we must listen to John when he urges us:

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.

“Love” in this text does not mean “unselfish self-giving to another.” It means desire for something as if it were the source of life and joy. When we seek our true lives in the world, we lose them completely. The world is driven by the irrational desire for pleasure, unbridled curiosity, and overweening pride, which is a feeling of self-generated, comparative worth based on falsehood.

Let’s now ask an even deeper question: What would it mean to live your own life? Where does one find the script for the real world? How do we get out of the fictional story-world into light of reality?

Popular culture recognizes to some degree the problem I’ve been describing. Its solution sounds simple: write your own script, cast yourself in the role of your choice, in defiance, live your own life! The problem with this advice is that it is but one more subtle and deceptive way the world’s demons colonize our minds. From where do you get the storyline for your script, and on what basis do you choose your role? How can you live you own life, if you don’t know in what your own life consists? The “do your own thing” approach to life always ends up living according to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” These things may feel like our true selves because they move us from within and are always with us, but this too is a deception. And when we live according to these feelings we are doing what everyone else is doing! The differences are superficial.

But Jesus said,

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

If you want to live your own life and not be colonized by the world and driven by irrational passions toward death and unhappiness, you must live according to truth. Authentic living is not about merely existing as a thing or in our automatic animal processes. It’s about acting to achieve goals, about becoming in actuality what we are potentially, and about embracing and enjoying good things. It’s about freedom. But apart from the truth about what goals are worth achieving, what we are meant to become, and what things are truly good, we cannot truly live. Apart from truth, freedom is an illusion.

Jesus is the truth, the truth about God and the truth about human life. We usually think of truth as a quality of an assertion; it is the perfect fit between how the assertion describes reality and reality itself. Jesus is the truth because he is the reality of God manifested in the reality of a human life. He is the truth not merely in the words of an assertion but in the reality of a life, and for that reason he is also the way to the Father.

If you want to live your own life, stop imitating others and give up attempting to write your own life script. Follow in the way of Jesus, let yourself be guided by the truth who is Jesus, and you will find yourself living your own life. Only the God the Creator knows the goal of human life, only God knows the way life must be lived, and only God can give us a life that is truly ours. And only in Jesus can we begin to live that life as our own free act.

 

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No, My Friends, Christianity is Not for Everyone

We’ve heard it said so often that it has become utterly vacuous: “Christianity is for everyone!” “Everyone is welcome!” “Come just as you are!” That’s the way it works with well-worn phrases and catchy sentences. Remove them from their original contexts that gave them precision, repeat them year after year, and they become empty vessels to be filled with meanings subtly or even dramatically different from their original import. Spoken in a culture that celebrates tolerance above virtue, that prefers feeling good to being good, and that favors image over reality, the expression, “Christianity is for everyone,” will be interpreted to mean “Everyone is okay just the way they are.” So, in this post I want to say, “No, my friends, Christianity is not for everyone.”

Christianity is not for the proud, those who will not admit that they are weak and dependent beings, mortal and needy and empty. It’s not for the unrepentant. If you intend to pursue a life of lust or greed or cruelty, if you don’t need forgiveness or renewal, if you are well and don’t need a doctor, Christianity is not for you. If you have no love for God or human beings, if you have no interest in prayer or acts of mercy, if you have no desire to worship God or serve humanity, you won’t find Christianity appealing. It’s not for the satisfied. If you are completely content with the world, if you have no ambition beyond physical pleasure, wealth, possessions, and fame, Christianity aims too high for you. So, I say it again, “No, my friends, Christianity is not for everyone.”

Christianity is for the weak and broken. It’s for those who know they are dying and need healing, mercy, and grace. Christianity is for the humble, for those who morn their sins and long for a pure heart and a clean conscience. Christianity is for those who thirst for God, for those who long for a glimpse of glory. It is for those not satisfied with what the world has to offer, for those compelled to aim higher. It’s for those for whom “the good life” is not good enough and only eternal life will do. I must say it yet again, “No, my friends, Christianity is not for everyone.”

What do these thoughts have to do with apologetics or a defense of Christianity? Much, I think, much indeed. Why should anyone be interested in a “Christianity” that offers nothing but bland assurances that we are fine just the way we are? How can you argue for Christianity’s truth about other matters if it doesn’t even tell you the truth about the human condition? Who needs a doctor that won’t tell you the truth about your illness because he lacks the skill to heal you! True Christianity pierces down to the heart of the human problem: we are finite, mortal, imperfect, corrupt, ignorant, blind, selfish, and unhappy beings. Christianity speaks the harsh truth about what we are, who we’ve become, and where we stand. And the remedy it offers is just as radical as the diagnoses it makes. We need forgiving, recreating, and resurrecting. We have to change, die, and become new people. Who can renew and perfect the creation? Who can forgive sin and overcome its power? Who can save from the annihilation of death? Who can cleanse the conscience of its guilt and empower the will to choose the good? Who can fill the human heart with faith, hope, and love? God and God alone can accomplish these things.

Christianity is not cheap like water but costly like blood. It offers not pleasant reassurances but disturbing truths. It aims not to anesthetize the conscience but cleanse it. It tells us what we know deep in our hearts: we are not okay just the way we are. No, my friends, Christianity is not for everyone.