Is Your Christianity American? Or Biblical?

What is the cost of following Christ? For many western Christians, the practical answer is "Next to nothing." Sure, we forsake certain vices, give up Sunday mornings for church attendance and a small percentage of us tries to tithe on a regular basis. All of this is fine and good, and definitely the standard for Christian circles. But do these small sacrifices (if they even rise to the level of that nomenclature) fit with what Christ laid out as the expected path of following Him? Let's see what the Bible lays out as the expected course:
  • Give up everything that you have
  • Sell your possessions and give to the poor
  • Go into all the world, even places of great danger and hardship
  • Give up your life for the sake of Christ
  • Don't accumulate material possessions but instead lay up treasures in heaven
  • Make disciples, not more church programs
  • Don't follow ambition and career, follow calling
Now look around at the majority of American Christians. How many are living this way? Are you? Am I?

These thoughts stem from my recent foray into David Platt's book Radical. The book's tagline is a great summary of its contents: "Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream". And for me, the book's impact has fulfilled the title's promise as I've been wrestling with the differences between cultural Christianity and Biblical Christianity.

First, I was challenged in my views of wealth and material goods. Because I'm married to someone that has a predisposition to giving money away (the exact opposite of my personality), I've had to accept some measure of frugality and temperance upon my natural bent towards materialism. But I'm still rich. And I still expect a certain level of comfort and lifestyle as my due. But what about Paul's words to Timothy?

"Godliness with contentment is great gain...with food and clothing, let us be therefore content." (1 Timothy 6:6,8)

Platt states the following about this passage:
"...those who desire to be rich and acquire more than the necessities of life are in danger of being plunged into ruin and destruction. This passage begs the question, am I willing to live a life that is content with food and clothing, having the basic necessities of life provided for? Or do I want more? Do I want a bigger house, a  nicer car or better clothes? The way we use our money is a barometer of our spiritual condition."

Second, I was challenged in my views about discipleship. Discipleship,  investing in the lives of others both through witnessing and one-on-one interaction, is not an option. I AM to be giving of my life to help others find Christ and grow in Christ. It's easy for me to put that on the back burner. After all, I have 4 kids. I homeschool. I work as a freelance writer. I don't have a lot of extra time. But after reading Radical, I'm convinced that many of my excuses are just a smokescreen for not wanting to give of my free time and not wanting to invest emotionally in others. In other words, I'm just selfish. Even if it's just once a month, I need to be obedient and to be, as Paul stated, "pouring out my life as a drink offering..."

I'm normally a speed reader. Not here. The content didn't allow me to race through the words. Instead, I'd get hung up on a sentence, have to put the book down and then spend several minutes pondering an idea the author presented. The rarity with which this happens to me attests to the book's value (or to the fact that I'm just normally not a deep reader!)

I'd highly encourage you to get your hands on this book. And to read it deeply, thinking through the ramifications of Platt's challenge to follow Christ's commands absolutely. To close this review, here's a quote from Elizabeth Elliot that he includes in the book:

Jim's aim [her husband who died in Ecuador] was to know God. His course, obedience - the only course that could lead to the fulfillment of his aim. His end was what some would call an extraordinary death, although in facing death he had quietly pointed out that many have died because of obedience to Christ

He and other men with whom he died were hailed as heroes, "martyrs." I do not approve. Nor would they have approved. Is the distinction between living for Christ and dying for Him, after all, so great. Is not the second the logical conclusion of the first?

And is not that what we're called to? To die daily, taking up our cross and following Him? So whether selling extra possessions or choosing to move to a place that advances ministry rather than career, we should lose everything in order that we may gain Christ.

As the author stated, "My biggest fear, even now, is that I will hear Jesus' words and walk away, content to settle for less than radical obedience to Him."


MikeL said...

A dead man has nothing in this life to fear or to lose. If we count ourselves as dead, we will rather die before we compromise the doctrine of Jesus Christ. Like Peter we all think we will die for Christ, but like Peter we come to find out that our love of our flesh is much greater than we realized. Peter demonstrated that He would die for Christ, and in doing so came to see that he was not willing to die with Christ. Christ doesn't want people dying for Him. He came so we could die with Him. In other words:

2 Cor 10:4 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal [physical sword], but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) [like "All that is needed for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing"]

All that is really needed for evil to succeed is for Christians to take up a physical sword and ignore the words of their spiritual Sword. A physical soldier, sincere as was Peter and all of today's physical soldiers, is a spiritual murderer according to the word of God:

Matt 5:43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
Matt 5:44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

1 John 3:15 Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.

1 John 3:16 Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

It is much harder to "lay down your life," as Christ set Peter and you and me an example, than it is to "call down twelve legions of angels" and exact immediate justice. Christ's kingdom is not of this world:

John 18:36 Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.
John 18:37 Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth [is given ears to] heareth my voice.

Why would anyone be so "unreasonable" as to love their avowed enemy?

Matt 5:45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

"His Sun," His Light, is His Word which is in every home and in every library in the nation sitting there witnessing against every one who cannot obey its dictates. Christ has not given to the multitudes the ability of understand the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.

Matt 5:46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
Matt 5:47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
Matt 5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. [Greek-future tense, according to my KJV + TVM e-sword - "Become ye therefore perfect..."

Matt 13:10 And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?
Matt 13:11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

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