God’s people in name alone…..
I often struggle with being labelled a Christian. Not because I am ashamed to be a follower of the one true God. Far from it. No, it’s because of the label and what people assume when they hear the word Christian.
Because over the years, Christians (certain Christians) have given Christians a bad press. When someone hears the word Christian, they think of their experience of Christians or what they have heard about Christians and expect the same from every Christian they meet. Sometimes I see what Christians do and am ashamed to be called a Christian. I do not want to be identified with them. I wish there was a different word. We get called hypocrites all the time. And rightly so. Because Christians set impossibly high standards to live by that they themselves don’t have a hope of ever living by.
I have one friend who became a Christian and it was the best thing for her – until she started listening to other Christians – ‘If you want to be a Christian, you have to behave like us. You have to give up……..You have to start………..You have to do this and stop doing that.’ She couldn’t do it. She loved Jesus and the difference he made in her life but she hated the guilt of always falling short and feeling judged by other Christians. She couldn’t handle the fear of being found out for who she really was and being rejected. So she walked away and never looked back.
But she misses it. Of course she does. She yearns to be in relationship with Jesus again. But she’s scared. She’s so caught up in her idea of what a Christian is and that she can’t ever live up to that, that she has to turn her back on the joy of walking with God. We have plenty of conversations about it but the problem is she doesn’t see me as a real Christian……..it makes me so mad and so sad (not how she sees me but the damage done in her life)……….
So what is a Christian?
It depends who you ask, I guess.
For me, a Christian is a follower of Christ. Look at Christ and how he was on earth and that is what a Christian should be….living life to the full; showing compassion; genuinely valuing the inner person rather than outward appearance; meeting needs; showing hospitality; caring about the poor; a peace maker; in relationship with the Creator God; dealing with the temptation to misuse his power; prepared to face suffering; ready to give it all up; yearning to teach everyone the best way to live…..
Is that what Christians look like for you?
When we look back through history and all that has been done in the name of God, it is heart-breaking. The damage done by well-meaning missionaries and their cultural Victorian values (that had nothing to do with Christ) across Africa in the nineteenth century have left a legacy that is still with us today. The Germans believed God was with them as they entered the Second World War. The SS, the armed wing of the Nazi Party, had God With Us written on their belts. Extreme Evangelical Christians in America have shot people who work in abortion clinics and have tried to ‘cure’ homosexuals’ with their extreme inhuman aversion therapies. The list could go on and on and on…..And what about the examples closer to home of rifts in churches and condemnation and deep hurts and rejection that take place in our churches…..?
Where is the love?
Where is the grace?
Where is the compassion?
Where is the forgiveness?
Maybe we, like the people of Israel, need to get back to the book. We need to read what Jesus did and said to remind us how best to live and speak today.
I say like the people of Israel, because of this incredible passage from 2 Chronicles 34. Incredible because we think of the people of Israel as the people of God. That’s what they were – God’s chosen nation. Yes, they got distracted from the straight and narrow, but of all the peoples on the earth, this was the chosen nation that God was choosing to be in personal relationship with…..and yet this still happened –
While the money that had been given for The Temple of God was being received and dispersed, Hilkiah the high priest found a copy of The Revelation of Moses. He reported to Shaphan the royal secretary, “I’ve just found the Book of God’s Revelation, instructing us in God’s way—found it in The Temple!” He gave it to Shaphan, who then gave it to the king. And along with the book, he gave this report: “The job is complete—everything you ordered done is done. They took all the money that was collected in The Temple of God and handed it over to the managers and workers.”
And then Shaphan told the king, “Hilkiah the priest gave me a book.” Shaphan proceeded to read it out to the king. When the king heard what was written in the book, God’s Revelation, he ripped his robes in dismay. 2 Chronicles 34:14-19
And they had never seen it before. They had never heard of it before. They didn’t know what was in it.
That’s incredible, isn’t it?
And as soon as they opened it and read from it and listened to it, it evoked a response.
Of course it did. It always does.
God’s people had drifted a long way from God. There were God’s people in name alone. They had lost sight of how to live as the people of God.
Except the wonderfully exciting news is that they weren’t God’s people in name alone. They might not have been living as God’s people. They might have completely forgotten how to do that. And yet they were still God’s people. God was waiting and waiting and waiting for them to get back in communication with Him. With God, there is always a way back, because God is God and God is love and God is our God and we are His people.
So my friend can take as long as she needs but I believe God will always be waiting and waiting and waiting for her to get back in communication with Him.
Because we are all God’s people. Every individual who has ever lived is one of God’s people. He created us all – we are His. He is simply waiting for each gloriously unique created being to discover this truth and wake up to it and walk into His light……..
So I’d rather ditch the labels – Christian, non-Christian, backslider, unchurched, sound, spiritual, fundamentalist, Creationist, sinner, the world, the saved and the unsaved, atheist, unbeliever and believer, born again……
And rather think like this.
We are all God’s people at different stages on our personal faith journey. All moving forward. All discovering something new of God every single day. We all have a long way to go. None of us have it sorted. We are all walking alongside each other. God’s people in more than name alone.