Doing Christianity vs. Being Christian

Here’s an expansion upon my Tweet o’ this morning that read: “Watch that you don’t sacrifice being a Christian for doing Christianity.”

Sometimes I think that in our efforts to be all that we can be when it comes to Christ, we make Him entirely too complicated.

As a means of proving that he loves and cares for us, God became a man, absorbed into himself the full cost of every wrong we and any other human would ever do, and then let that eternal debt—all that negative karma—be obliterated along with the corporeal form he’d assumed. And then—just in case we ever forget or lose touch with that reality—he left in our hearts the Holy Spirit, which is God in his entirety, as near to us as our next thought or breath.

That’s it. That’s what happened. That’s the entire story of who Christ is, and what he did.

We don’t have to do anything about what God did on earth. We don’t have to (and can’t) improve, embellish, elaborate, add to, enhance, or in any way modify it. And we sure don’t have to make ourselves worthy of it. We can’t. That’s the whole point.

We make God too complicated. One of the main reasons we do that is because the Bible is so extremely complicated that, in order to even begin to grasp its meanings and implications, most of us rely upon someone who went to seminary college for four years just so they could begin to understand and teach the Bible.

The Bible is extremely complicated because all history, from the personal to the universal, is extremely complicated.

God himself, though, is the ultimate in uncomplicated—and, via the Holy Spirit, is or can be as fresh and new to you as the very moment in time in which you’re reading this.

Don’t ever sacrifice the peaceful simplicity of being Christian for the complicated busyness of doing Christianity. Never forget that God cares so much for the former he gave his bodily life for it, and that for the latter he wouldn’t give a plugged dinar.

****

That might not be the Holy Spirit telling you to go join my Facebook fan page, but do you really want to risk it?

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • http://zug.flathatter.com Bryan Zug

    Completely agree. Have you read Keller's Prodigal God yet? It completely nails this idea and calls out our tendency toward religious responses to the Gospel.

    The more of an old fart I become, I find myself responding with a kid-like "everythings different" kind of joy, that is much less complicated than the responses I used to have.

    And out of this, the things that convey my changed reality to the world around me, seem a lot less like "work" or "projects" and a lot more like life lived with a "thank you" at every turn.

    And the funny thing is, I really think more of my friends who are not Christians notice this sort of approach, than they ever did the other kind.

  • Mindy

    John, you have found the nugget and put it into words. Thank you.

  • Gina Powers

    Ok…think I got it now (still recovering from nasty illness, bear with me)…awesome, thanks John!!!!

  • http://jmsmith.org JM

    John, I agree with the sentiments behind your post…but aren't you leaving out the key event that everything we know about Jesus points to? It happened between his body being put to death and the Holy Spirit being poured out in his followers hearts. Without it, none of what he said or did makes any sense and the church would never have come into being apart from it. Why leave out the most important part of the Good News?

    Blessings from the Dojo,

    JM
    http://jmsmith.org

  • Mary

    More Mary-ness. Less Martha-ness.

    • Tim

      Like Martha Stewart…something about that constantly choleric temperament that makes me a little crazy. I used to be far more choleric than I am now. I think age naturally lets you see that it is futile to sweat the small things.

  • Susan

    Holy crap! (No pun intended.) I JUST bared my soul about this very subject on the other blog. Talk about timing!

    • http://luwandi.wordpress.com Beth Luwandi

      What other blog? Is there some secret other conversation going on that some people reading this one know about?

      • Susan

        Are you kidding? You didn't get the url and secret password?

      • Susan

        Actually, I misused the word blog. I meant John's post "The Question of Premarital Sex Rears Its Ugly Head." There was discussion about the holy spirit somewhere among the comments. Sorry about that.

  • Susan

    (Couldn't you have done this pre-soul baring…)

  • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

    Well, there is also the bit Jesus alone brought to us about eternal damnation and endless torment… probably in a very loving way…but it's a small matter easily overlooked I'll grant you.

    • Diana A.

      Yes, it's true. The Jewish people didn't believe in Heaven and Hell (as we understand those concepts today) before the Zoroastrian influence. So Jesus ended up addressing that issue along with all the other issues he addressed.

      • http://www.shadsie.deviantart.com Shadsie

        There is also the idea that some of those passages in regards to "eternal" and "Hell" got mis-translted. I'm no theologian… I have no idea if God even is able to speak to me anymore because I haven't been to church in years, but I like reading religion/Christinanity related stuff online. A friend turned me onto the "universal reconciliation" idea – there is a minority of Christian Universalists who contend that some of the original language and concepts are lost on modern readers. (I recall reading something about "eternal" in regards to Heaven as being "outside of time" while a different word is used for judgement/Hell and denotes more "for a time").

        I read a blog by an Orthodox Christian on Huffington Post recently with a different concept of this – the idea that Hell is sort of self-created – that the love of God is like a burning fire and that those who respond to it, it becomes good, but to those that reject it/hate it, it is like the anger one has over a hated enemy doing a kindness – you just cannot stand it.

        To a degree, even a lot of modern Fundamentalists have this idea of a self-created Hell. I remember when I went to Baptist church, there was this idea "Hell is seperation from the love of God and is something that people freely choose by rejecting God."

        I'm not dead yet, so I don't know what is true about Heaven/Hell or anything spiritual *for sure,* but I like to believe that even *if* Hell is a fire-and-brimstone truly vengeful eternal torment thing that this life wouldn't be the only chance to escape it. I think God would give people another chance if for nothing else than my encountering so many people who ditched Christianity in favor of atheism or paganism simply because "God's followers" were cruel them. It's like, if someone had abusive Fundamentalist parents, I don't blame them for rejecting all religion and I can't think that God would blame them, either.

        • Diana A.

          Yes, I think there's a lot of truth to what you've said here. Thanks, Shadsie!

  • http://mindathink.blogspot.com Minda Shultz

    a further thought on this: my brother doesn't believe in Christianity but "does" christian behaviors flawlessly. He's the most Jesus like dude I know. I on the otherhand am head over heals with Jesus/God and yet make a pretty crappy christian "doer". A wrinkled family for sure.

    • Tim

      Minda, don't worry. We're always far more critical of ourselves than we are of anyone else. It takes 10 positives to erase one negative. Your brother may or may not be the most Jesus like person…but don't let a contrasting comparison of your brother bring any self-condemnation on yourself. Jesus died for all of that. Besides, you see EVERYTHING you do wrong. Unless you can follow your brother around 24/7 and see first-hand that he never blows it (which I doubt), you may be no worse or better in the Jesus like department.

      Some people are just more easy going and that generally comes off as being more kind or loving. But if you've ever seen an easy-going parent let their kids do whatever they wanted (no rules, no judgment), they almost invariably discover that true love isn't always hugs, smiles and permission. Kids and adults appreciate tough love…eventually. Tough love pisses off and alienates people. That doesn't mean you aren't being Christ like. You are a work in progress. To be honest, I don't particularly believe in Christianity either. I believe in Jesus. If I had to hang my hope on the mouth breather sitting in the pew next to me, I'd be in trouble.

      • http://mindathink.blogspot.com Minda Shultz

        well, i wouldn't call my brother easy going, he's actually pretty intense, but don't take my comments to mean that I'm being overly critical about myself. I'm blissfully aware that my works do not get me further in my relationship with God, humbly, blissfully aware, but I'm not torn up about it…well at least not today. Of course sometimes I feel the sting of my failure more than others. and I had to laugh at your mouth breather / pew comment. One of the things that most wrecks christianity for me is christians. You know the old saw, the only thing wrong with church is that they let people in there.

        • Tim

          Well…I guess I'm glad I was wrong.

          I used to feel the same way about church and the church people. I doubt there will ever be a perfect church until He comes to claim us. Being planted in ministry, I've been privileged to see the change/transformation in more than a few church people from insufferable to enjoyable. I guess I've come to believe that we can see those glory to glory transformations in people from the outside. Not so easy to see them in ourselves from the inside looking out. The transformed never seem to feel like there has been substantial change, so I guess it's a little like the watched pot never coming to a boil. We tend to peer intently at a specific area of our Christianity where we want to see progress. Trouble is, we tend to overlook some really awesome fruit on branches we weren't really paying attention to.

    • http://www.shadsie.deviantart.com Shadsie

      A bit off-topic, but I see your name "Minda" and my brain automatically thinks "Midna." — I'm a huge fan of the Legend of Zelda videogame series and Midna is a character in one of the more recent games. She's an awesomely snarky shadow-imp who is your partner/helper in the game.

      I know what you're talking about. I don't consider myself a very good Christian. Even, when my depression gets up… a "defective person" in general. I consider a lot of people of all persuasions to be "better than me."

      Then, my attitude is that all humans suck in some way or another… I gave up being perfect long ago, yet I beat myself up whenever I've known I've done something imprefect. I'm pretty sure it's my twitchy-artist nature, though.

  • http://mindathink.blogspot.com Minda Shultz

    Oh and the bit about relying on seminary grads to teach us the bible? ugh. I know four seminary grads who went in and came out not believing in God. Having them teach me the bible is like having someone tell me about my husband by reading his emails, but who has never actually hung out with him. No thanks!

    • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

      But that’s the difference between thinking one understands the bible (through very selective cherry-picking) and studying the bible.

      I’m pretty sure that most who go to seminary are pretty strong believers… so much so that they think spreading the word is their life’s calling. They are answering god’s call to his ministry, so to speak. That’s certainly the case of many fine people I have known to go to seminary school and who have struggled to earn advanced theological degrees. For you to assume that those who become agnostics or atheists after so much work must never have known god or who have known little about Jesus is rather presumptuous and quite insensitive. I suspect you didn’t really mean it that way, but just in case you did, I think you could learn a lot by listening to these folk in particular. Some are incredibly earnest, honest, intelligent people well worth listening to. Their stories matter.

      But after studying the bible, I’m just as surprised seminary schools manage to graduate any believers!

      • http://mindathink.blogspot.com Minda Shultz

        Oh dear, you have taken my meaning wrong! I mean I have met four people who have TOLD ME that they went into seminary not believing in God AND came back out feeling the same way. Still they went on to use their degree. I'm not judging them, these were their own judgements. I went to a school that had a seminary, and in fact lived on campus of the seminary and I thought only very dedicated believers would go too, but I was wrong. And trust me, since some of these folks are very dear to me, I DO listen very sincerely to them!

  • http://whatsleftinthechurch.blogspot.com Geoffrey

    I think you should add to your list of things we don't have to do to earn God's grace is believe in God. I am firmly convinced that even denying the reality of God, God's grace, and the hope embodied in Jesus doesn't mean all that much to God. If God is real, does the effort gone in to declaring God doesn't exist really mean anything?

    • http://mindathink.blogspot.com Minda Shultz

      to earn God's grace I agree that we don't have to believe in God. But to benefit from His grace I do think we need to believe.

      • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

        Minda,

        I read it that way too, but I have this feeling in my head and my heart that maybe…just maybe…there's a way beyond that. At least, I hope there is.

        See, my father is an atheist, and he is now 83 and in failing health. He used to attend church on special occasions with the family and he donated countless hours of time to our church in the way of painting,carpentry, maintenance, etcetera. He's a retired firefighter and lifelong liberal who regularly gives to charities, has donated so much blood that he earned some kind of ridiculous honor (is there a thousand-gallon donor award? LOL) and when his health was good he was always volunteering for the food bank and for UGN and lots of other organizations. I know in my heart that he is a good man and that he cares deeply for his fellow human beings.

        What I hope and pray is that when my dad crosses over and comes face to face with the living God, when he really sees it, his heart will know and acknowledge the truth, and that perhaps our loving God, who in the embodiment of Jesus made the greatest sacrifice of all, that he would then see my dad's heart and say "I died for you too, and as you recognize me now, I embrace and welcome you into My holy presence." I hope that with all my heart. I hope that more than a deathbed confession that the God who sees our hearts and minds and knows everything about us and has forgiven us through Christ would also honor the heart that recognizes and turns to Him at the last moment.

        • http://mindathink.blogspot.com Minda Shultz

          Barnmaven,

          I loved what you had to say and my eyes teared up with the beautiful picture you painted. I also have loved ones that I hope get another chance in the hereafter. I don't pretend to know all the ways God will reach out to us, but my heart sure goes out to the one you describe!

        • Jeanine

          John 6:39

          And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.

          • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

            Love. that.

          • Susan

            Yes, Jeanine. That's beautiful.

  • DonP

    Kinda nice, ain't it. . Just pure and plain simplicity. No need to add water or cook over a slow fire. Got your full course MRE and it's already done. Just open it up and start eating. It's all been done, just for you.

    "The law was made for man, not man for the law"

  • Tim

    I think the right heart is well expressed in 1 Corinthians 13:1-8.

    If I speak in the tonguesa of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,b but have not love, I gain nothing.

    Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

    Love never fails.

  • Jeanine
    • Jeanine

      If interested, please go to youtube and listen to all 7 parts.

      • http://spiritualmeanderings.wordpress.com/ Sentinel

        awesome address – thanks for linking it!

        (and yes, I watched all 7 parts… :) )

  • http://rdmlorisgoretownhorrycoscusaearth.blogspot.com/ Robert Meek

    May I recommend http://twitter.com/#!/jaybakker and also http://twitter.com/#!/revolutionnyc for those who Twitter?

    And for those who do not, let me recommend http://www.revolutionnyc.com/ and this article as well, if you will http://nymag.com/news/features/69368/

    Thank you.


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