Yesterday I was contemplating a potential tag-line for the series of films that began with Living Generously, continued with Loving Generously (now complete and available soon), and the final Leading Generously series (under development). Then it hit me.
Dave Ramsey, a Christian financial guru who has helped many people (Christian and otherwise) get out of debt, has a famous maxim: “Live like no one else, so that you can live like no one else.” It’s never quite sat right with me. The point is that doing what everyone else does in our consumeristic, debt-laden culture is unwise. If we can live like no one else, scrimping and saving, then later in life we can live like no one else, enjoying a comfortable life, perhaps even wealth. Basically, save now, be rich later. Is this a truly Christian maxim?
In his defense, Dave has helped millions of people change their unhealthy habits and improve their financial situation. That’s obviously meaningful. And he emphasizes the importance, for Christians, of tithing, and giving even more if you can. On the other side of the ledger, however, Dave often glorifies the wealthy and mocks the poor (with little consideration for the many ways in which people become wealthy or poor), affirms the longing for wealth and material abundance rather than questioning those desires in the first place, and thereby baptizes a kind of faithful materialism. For much of his writing and Financial Peace University, at least, it seems like the message is: Give your tithe, and give more if possible, but otherwise you can enjoy whatever you can afford. Dave often holds himself out — in a rare twist on the Apostle Paul’s challenge — as someone to emulate: imitate me as I imitate the super-wealthy.I could never quite put my finger on what I disliked about that maxim, though, until yesterday.
Shouldn’t it read like this:
Live like Jesus, so that you can live like Jesus.
We as Christians are not called to live like no one else. In fact, we’re very specifically given someone we’re supposed to live like. Jesus. And we’re promised that when we live like Jesus, we will receive his true life. The way of Jesus is a way of self-denial, of dying to ourselves, or extraordinary and sacrificial giving that goes way beyond worldly comfort. But in exchange we receive the peace and the joy of Christ, and ultimately his redemption and eternal life. To live in the imitation of Christ is to live in self-donation. But when we give ourselves in wholesale generosity, we receive the even more extraordinary generosity of Jesus as he gives us our true selves in return.
Give your life. Gain his. If I could boil down the logic of the Christian life to five words, it might be those five.
What do you think? Live like Jesus, so that you can live like Jesus. It may or may not be the tagline for our series, but I think it’s a much better maxim.