One of the biggest issues I had with Christianity was the whole ‘confess your sins, and all is forgiven’ angle. After all, if all sin is forgiven, why bother not sinning? Why make any effort to live a life that is kind or good?
Problem is, that’s not what Jesus taught. Nowhere did he say, “You can murder, covet and steal, just come back to me each Sabbath (which is a day of rest, by the way, so please don’t murder, covet and steal that day, thanks) and ask for my forgiveness. Then you can start sinning all over again on Monday.”
That’s what has become twisted out of misunderstanding, poor communication and an unwillingness for people to let go of their belief systems about what they ‘think’ they know. It’s comforting to be able to slap at something you don’t truly understand – and worse, spend no time trying to. The danger is non-Christians (NCs) end up spouting ill-informed nonsense whilst feeling falsely superior to those ‘unthinking Christian masses’ in need of a bit of ‘crowd control’ (borrowing a few stereotypes here).
When I look at some of the bigotry NCs shovel (using the definition of bigot as someone who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion), I realise true Christians don’t need crowd control. They need a bloody medal. Turn the other cheek? Far out! The SAP amazes me with his generosity. I reckon I’d have punched a few people by now.
For the past five months I have had the privilege to sit with, question, observe and listen to an amazing cross-section of Christians on their journey. For them, this is a life choice not an event. You see, in The Bible, Christians are specifically commanded not to sin even though they have been saved by the death of Jesus and by his grace: Romans 6-v15: What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.
Not to sin? Whoa. That’s clearly very different to “keep sinning, over and over, and I’ll keep forgiving you.”
To live a life not sinning probably strikes you as nigh near impossible. It did to me. Which brings me round to Jesus again (he pops up a lot). My very basic grasp of it is:
If you accept the grace of Jesus, then not sinning gets easier and easier. Because by accepting that grace you become more Jesus-like. And by becoming more Jesus-like, you are then less likely to miss the mark.
Christians work at not sinning, not because they are ‘fearful of some unseen power’ (as suggested recently) but because of the sheer joy they receive. This has been the biggest stereotype-buster for me. The joy. I don’t think the term ‘happy clappy’ is actually an insult to a Christian. I think it means they’ve connected the dots:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Apostle Paul, Romans 8:38-39)
You don’t need to be Christian to choose to live a good life. You can be kind to others. Do the best that you can. It’s valid, it’s worthy, and, absolutely, far, far better than choosing to lie, kill, maim and steal.
Yet living that life doesn’t make you a Christian. Just like meditating every day, eating vegetarian, and not harming life doesn’t make you a Buddhist. I slowly started to realise what the interviewer meant in that job interview about Christianity when he said, “But it’s the structure.” It takes some focus on the teachings of Jesus, prayer, a decent dig into The Bible, and getting out our own way.
We can be spectacularly bad at getting out of our own way. Change is often scary. But, mostly, I think too many of us are scared of the possibility of great joy. Which is what Christianity offers. Yet we are so trained for disappointment in this world, we shove it away. So it fascinated me, this joy. Because what I was observing was that Christian joy, unlike worldly happiness, flourished, even when the circumstances around it pointed to the contrary.