Christianity Works Only in Its Most Radical Form
After 30 excruciating minutes of expressing deep frustration with his personal life, Peter confessed, “I gave up on Christianity during college days. It just didn’t work.” He went on to describe how hard he tried to stay inside the moral boundaries as outlined in the teaching of the Christian church he attended, but never could. In an effort to be authentic, he decided to abandon the standards and live like most of his friends.
Peter is an example of the thousands of former churchgoers who now identify on religious surveys as “nones.” The now have no affiliation with a church. Some wear that identity as a badge of freedom from religion.
A Broken Form of Christianity
It is now coming to light that the form of Christianity that has been promoted for several generations is not the form that Jesus taught and lived. From the Roman Catholic’s sex abuse scandal to the slowly dying Protestant congregations, to the garish consumer-driven spectacle affecting Evangelicalism, the evidence seems to suggest that something isn’t working.
Disciples like those who brought transformation to cultures in the early days of the church are few today — and rarely noticed by the church culture. The model disciple today seems more interested in gaining and maintaining relevance to the culture, rather than offering an alternative to the steady march toward meaninglessness.
The agenda of secular society is gaining momentum while we Christians try not to be perceived as contrarians. We must not offend. We must not confront. We must lose or ignore our convictions. We must change our core beliefs. All the while, millions are fraught with life-destroying addictions, dysfunctional relationships, and twisted identities.
Only Full Abandonment Satisfies
When the popular brand of Christianity eliminated the power of transformation from its core, multitudes were doomed to live in their spiritually defective condition with nothing stronger than willpower to confront their afflictions. It is no wonder we have normalized behavior that is prohibited by both Scripture and common sense. If we can’t change, we must adapt. We now call that progress.
Early Christianity offered radically changed lives, as evidenced by the apostle Paul’s comments:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
— 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV)
The early church was not a gathering of good people trying to be better. They were captivated by the One who was raised from the dead. They had been transformed by him.
But radical Christianity is not just for the extreme outcast of society. Even regular church attendees are often beset by disappointment with their level of spirituality. They are discovering that a partial buy-in cheats the seeker. Any hold-back denies the bounty of grace. Only full abandonment to God’s love satisfies the yearning of the human soul, which was designed to be loved fully.
Living By the Spirit
Jesus describes a life far beyond external standards and man’s ability to achieve them. He spoke of forgiving your enemies. Turning your cheek to insults. Eliminating hatred, anger, lust, greed and vengeance. He described disciples as lights in the darkness, salt in society, and houses built on a foundation that no storm can topple.
He commanded people to do things they couldn’t so he could do those things for them and through them. “Stretch forth your hand,” he commanded a man with a withered hand. “Lazarus come forth,” he said to a dead man. Later, his apostles followed suit, giving instructions that can only be obeyed by those born of the same Spirit that raised Jesus from death. “Love without hypocrisy,” “outdo one another in showing honor,” “bless those who persecute you,” “live in harmony with one another.” The implication is that when a Christian does these things, it is coming out of his new life — the one he shares with Jesus by means of the indwelling Spirit.
These displays of love have death-defying power in them. This kind of love cannot be defeated. It annihilates hate. It exterminates fear. It will not stop at the edge of human hardness. It will still be reigning when all the ideologies of history lie bankrupt in the pit of shame.
It Took a Radical Act of God to Redeem Us
The form of Christianity that settles for theological propositions, transcendent principles, altruistic projects, and moralistic practices doesn’t work!
It took a radical act of God to redeem us. It required a costly death, a miraculous resurrection, and a glorious ascension. Nothing short of that would have solved our problem. The radical act of grace demands a radical response of faith. God’s grace toward us does not produce a half-hearted moralist who is trying to get better. Those who are born of the Spirit are infused with a radical love that demonstrates a radical alternative kingdom.
Our world desperately needs the hope that comes from the One who offers his life now and forever. Those who abandon themselves to that hope find that it works.