I didn’t really grow up in the nice and tidy, Pleasantville version of a Christian home, but I did go to church enough as a kid to know the culture, the songs, and the right phrases.
By the time I got to college and really started following Jesus on my own, I realized a lot of our preconceived notions and sayings sometimes don’t even appear in the Bible at all. Even worse, sometimes the sentiment of these so-called Jesus sayings is actually the opposite of what the scriptures teach.
Here are just a few phrases I think we mistakenly attribute to Jesus (or the Bible) without even realizing it:
1. “The Kingdom of Heaven is really, really far away, and if you raise your hand you can go there when you die.”
For the most part, this is a pretty accurate description of the “gospel” most Christians are telling today. But Jesus said the exact opposite. In Matthew 4 it says Jesus began His ministry by going around saying, “Repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
And the way Matthew says he went around saying it infers it was actually the main theme of Jesus’ preaching ministry. The kingdom — the place where God reigns and rules — is breaking open right here in the middle of the old creation. Heaven is infecting earth. He’s coming down to dwell with His people, and His invitation is that we might take our entire lives — our sexuality, or money, our marriages, etc. — and place them under His reign and His rule.
To me, that’s so much more exciting and life-giving than just trying to escape this place. Our gospel is evacuation; His is restoration.
2. “Fight for your rights.”
In today’s culture there is certainly a seismic shift in control, power, and authority. Christian values and principles are no longer the law of the land (which, by the way, just places America now in the majority of all historical contexts, since Christianity has almost always flourished most when it was subversive, underground, and guerilla).
Because of this shift, though, a lot of Christians are getting very knee-jerky. The power is slipping away, and so we seem to be doing everything in our power to keep that power or get it back. There’s lots of talk about fighting for our rights, religious liberty, and the like.
Now first let me be clear that religious liberty is a beautiful thing and a tenet of America that we should all hold dearly. But, we also have to recognize it doesn’t do us much good to fight the way Jesus specifically told us not to.
In the first century, the Jewish people were looking for a messiah who would come storming in, fight and defeat the Romans with violence, and put the Jews back in power. Yet, we see a Jewish rabbi who comes and loves and serves, and then is instead executed under the very Roman rule the Jewish people thought he came to defeat.
Yet that was his plan the whole time, and He then resurrects and says that He has won. The enemy has been defeated. That’s about as counter cultural and upside-down as it gets.
But might we today be a people who follow the way of the cross, and instead of fighting for our rights, offer ourselves as a sacrifice for others and see what happens? Who knows . . . love just might win.
3. “If you follow me, it will be easy.”
I think sometimes a lot of us follow Jesus because we want our lives to get better. But the truth is that when Jesus becomes Lord and King of your life, you find a peace you never had before, a joy you never had before, and things begin to operate how they were created to be.
But, one thing we don’t talk about enough is that Jesus said it would be hard. There’s temptation, there’s suffering, there’s ache and pain and hurt. God doesn’t relieve us of suffering when we follow Him, but He does promise us He will walk with us through it — and that’s the best promise we could ever have.
4. “Make sure people know I hate their sin.”
There’s a group of people who would consider themselves religious and are constantly telling other Christians to stop being soft on sin — or, they will even say, we have to make sure people know that “God hates them.”
I can’t tell you how much it grieves me to hear self-proclaimed Christians talk like this, but what’s also very interesting is they miss one big thing. I do agree with them in a sense — yes, Jesus spoke of hell and judgments more than anyone else in the Bible. But the part they conveniently leave out is it was almost always directed to the most religious people of the day. The gatekeepers. The people who had the scriptures memorized. The people who held religious gatherings, beliefs, and ideas.
Talk about awkward. The very people Jesus was most intensely indicting were His own people. Usually for things like exclusivism, or following rules without love, compassion, and grace. What’s interesting then is the very people who usually yell the loudest about God’s judgment don’t realize that the very thing they are saying is probably best directed at themselves.
5. “What I truly want is for you to be as privately spiritual as possible and make sure you never miss your quiet time.”
Now, of course those things are good. But one thing we’ve completely done since the time of Jesus is privatize faith. We’ve made faith all about me and God and my spiritual disciplines (praying, reading the Bible, etc.). And we then gauge our walk with God on how good or bad we are doing at those things.
But Jesus almost always emphasized the opposite. Our barometer or litmus test for how we love God is how we love people. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God and love neighbor. What’s interesting, though, is He says the greatest commandment (singular) is to love God and love people (two commands — plural).
So is Jesus a C student who just didn’t get it? Or is He creatively saying it is one commandment because you can’t separate the two. You love God by loving neighbor. How you love your neighbor is a reflection of how you love God. What if that was our litmus test?
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