Rev. Yme Woensdregt
I have written three columns listing some (almost) tongue–in–cheek reasons not to be a Christian. The first six reasons: The church is full of hypocrites. The church is morally compromised. Christians aren’t always nice. Won’t you have to condemn other religions? People may make fun of you. It will require sacrifices.
Let’s continue in this column with the last two reasons why not to be a Christian. Next week, I will conclude this series with one reason why we might consider doing so.
#7. Your life is no longer your own.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, you are no longer in charge of your own destiny. That’s a radical thought, particularly in these times, since one of the highest ideals for us is to actualize our own destiny. No one can tell me what to do! No one can criticize my choices! No one has the right to tell me how I might live. To quote the title of the Sammy Davis Jr song, “I’ve Gotta be Me!”
And yet … to become a Christian means being willing to make this sacrifice.
The Bible talks about this as the willingness to be transformed. Paul writes in Romans 12, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” In a more contemporary translation called The Message, Eugene Peterson translates it this way: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.”
To be Christian is to be counter–cultural. We have different values than the world. We worship a different God than the god of consumerism and profit and growing the economy. We live in a different way.
That’s hard work. But like anything worthwhile, the hard work pays off. When I was in middle school, I started playing clarinet in the school band. I loved the music, I loved the performing, I loved being with others in music class. What I absolutely hated … was practicing.
A few years later, I enrolled in the music program in UBC. My clarinet teacher told me that I had absolutely terrible technique, and that I needed to unlearn everything I had learned, and start over.
What did I do? I dropped the clarinet and majored in other areas of music. To this day, I regret it. I wish I had the wisdom then to make the necessary sacrifices, the necessary adjustments, and work hard at learning proper technique.
Why would you do this as a Christian?
Because Jesus models a life which is more mature, more whole, more fulfilling. As the first disciples said, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6)
#8. You don’t think you could keep it up.
Everything I’ve said to this point might lead you to think you could never do this. It’s counter–cultural. It’s difficult. I’ve said that people might make fun of you. You might be persecuted. You will be challenged.
Why would I want to do this?
It’s a perfectly reasonable question.
The thing is you don’t do it alone. I’ve mentioned previously that you join a community of support and encouragement. You develop systems of support which help you grow in your relationship with God and with each other.
Even more importantly, you don’t have to be perfect. All of us are not. We mess up. We get it wrong. We are seduced by other ways … and then we find the wherewithal to return to the way.
That’s an important image. The first name for Christians was actually “People of the Way”. We are on a journey. We take one step at a time. We move ahead, and sometimes it feels like two steps forward and three steps back … but we persist on the journey. And as we walk, we find ourselves walking with companions along that very way.
We also engage in spiritual disciplines which help us grow and mature in faith—like participating in worship, praying, giving, helping, loving.
Finally, God has promised to help and support us. In the mid–1900’s, a church leader named William Temple wrote, “It’s no good giving me a play like Hamlet or King Lear and telling me to write a play like that. Shakespeare could do it; I can’t. And it is no good showing me a life like the life of Jesus and telling me to live a life like that. Jesus could do it; I can’t. But if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like his. And if the Spirit of Jesus could come and live in me, then I could live a life like his.”
We very much trust that we are supported and empowered to continue in this life as faithful followers of Jesus. The spirit of Jesus is given to us, breathing life and energy into our efforts to follow.
I’ll see you next week for the final column in this series.
Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook