For decades, if not centuries, people have been sold a false bill of goods when it comes to Christianity. If you’re like me you were told there was this guy named Jesus who was sent to earth by his dad (named God) to die for our sins. However, there was still a caveat if you didn’t want those sins to hang around your neck forever. You had to accept his as your personal Lord and Savior too.
Accept him and you get to go to heaven forever after you die. Don’t and you’re the egg in a sin omelet, sizzling on hell’s griddle for all eternity.
This was what I thought Christianity was for years. I thought this was what it meant to follow Jesus. You were following him to heaven. But after I accepted him into my heart (maybe I’m such a heretic because he landed in my liver or kidneys instead), I didn’t understand why I needed to keep coming back to church every week. It was a little bit like making a weekly appointment to meet with your insurance agent after setting up your policy for auto-pay.
So the angle pitched from the pulpit in my childhood church was that some crappy stuff could still happen to you if you had some residual sins lingering around from last worship service in case Jesus came back. So basically, coming back to church – and of course, drinking shitty coffee and choking down green bean casserole – was a sort of ritualized spiritual car wash. It was tantamount to keep a pair of clean underwear handy at all times.
But this isn’t actually what following Jesus is about. It’s not about believing the right things, about making the right statement of faith before a cloud of witnesses. It’s not about staying out of hell, and it’s not about making sure your sin tab is paid up in case the Son pops in for a surprise inspection.
This is what’s at the core of My Jesus Project, the year-long effort I’m undergoing to more deeply and personally understand what it really means to follow Jesus. After all, many of Jesus’ own disciples questioned, even doubted, who Jesus was. They had different answers when he asked them who he was. But that didn’t mean he condemned them, threatened them or kicked them out of the group. They were committed to seeking, to following, to learning and growing, and to help him realize something better for their own lives and the lives of others.
Making a statement of faith and getting baptized is no more about the daily choice to follow Jesus than being married is about saying “I do.” Yes, it may be an important shared, sacred ritual, a marker in time, a way to allow others to both hold you up and help hold you accountable. But that’s not the thing.
The walk is the thing.