Can you remember the last baptism at your church? Many Christian churches (though certainly not all) baptize children born into the church as infants. These are mostly the baptisms I remember, though there have been a few where adult converts have been baptized as well.
Of course when we baptize as infants, there’s no choice involved for the child himself or herself. The parents and congregation usually take a vow to bring the child up in the ways of Christ until they’re old enough to make that choice for themselves. This usually involves a process called confirmation or making a public profession of faith. Somewhere along the line, that individual will still have to make a public choice to follow Christ.
What does that choice entail though? What do we expect when we make the choice to follow Jesus? In particular, I’m wondering what we RISK when we make that choice.
Let’s face it, in America we don’t risk that much. Sure, the “religious persecution” crowd is out there constantly talking about how Christians in the USA are being persecuted by atheists, liberals, big government, and the “gay agenda.” It’s not really persecution though, come on. It’s more people throwing a temper tantrum because they can’t enforce their own political and moral views on people who don’t agree with them.
In America you get to go to whatever church you want. You get to read whatever translation of the Bible you want. You’re free to practice pretty much whatever religious rite you want. You can put up a nativity scene in your front yard. You can show up outside of the Supreme Court or Capitol buildings and thump on your old King James Bible and scream about sin until your heart is content as long you as you don’t assault somebody in the process. Every year here in Utah when the LDS church holds it’s general conference groups of “Christians” show up to “protest” with nasty signs and doing things like calling LDS women whores. It’s not as bad as it used to be, but it still happens. You can do that if you have a mind to.
The truth is, we still live in a country where the vast majority of people identify themselves as Christians. Church attendance is down, but most people who call themselves Christians go. Maybe Starbucks didn’t put Baby Jesus on the red cups this year but Christians will still light Advent candles and go to Christmas Eve services without worrying about whether the government is going to kick in their doors or throw them in prison.
It’s not like that in other places.
Francis Chan talks about this fact in the supplementary materials for “Crazy Love.” He talks about some friends of his who are missionaries in India. The lives of their converts change irrevocably the minute they dip their heads in the waters of baptism. Their family might disown them. They might lose their job. They might be ostracized from their community. They might make themselves targets for extremist groups. In other words, there’s risk involved, just like there was in the early days of the New Testament.
He also talks about one of his church pastors who had been to Iraq, and he illustrated the differences between becoming a Christian here in America and becoming a Christian in Iraq. Here in America we make the choice to follow Christ and then we think “Well, now I have time to work on this. I’m a Christian now, and I know I’m still gonna have issues with sin, but that’s ok because I’m forgiven. I can steadily work up to total commitment. That’s called spiritual growth.”
For Christians in Iraq, that kind of total commitment isn’t something you “grow into.” It’s a prerequisite for being a Christian because the minute you make that choice you put a target on your back and risk alienating yourself from all of society. You might also risk being killed. ISIS and other terrorist groups have deliberately sought out Christians.
In other words, your commitment better be total, because you’re putting it all on the line. There’s no turning back.
Do you see the difference between being a disciple here and being a disciple there?
Jesus demands total commitment. He doesn’t go to coffee with you, have you sign a membership covenant or statement of faith and then sit back and say “Ok, let’s talk about how you’re going to work up to fulfilling this. Just don’t drink, don’t swear, don’t get divorced, crusade against gay people, vote Republican, and come to church and everything else we can work with.”
No, he doesn’t say that. Instead:
Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23 NRSV)
Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62 NRSV)
Those verses are pretty challenging, aren’t they? They’re meant to be.
The Christian life is not meant to be easy, nor was it ever meant to be easy. Anybody who tells you that becoming a Christian and following Jesus will solve all your problems is taking part in a great deception. That great deception is that of “cheap grace.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote extensively about this in his classic book “The Cost of Discipleship.” This is from the very first page of that book:
Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The Sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices…..In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for it’s sin; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin.
In other words, no commitment required. We know the bill has already been paid, so we’re just gonna go around and do what we like. If we actually do advance toward a total commitment, then we’ll pat ourselves on the back and call it “spiritual growth.”
That really sounds like the church in America, doesn’t it? Worse yet, I realized this morning, it sounds like me.
I mean, I’m a pretty decent Christian by cheap grace standards. I read the Bible and pray pretty much everyday. I do an in depth Bible study at least once a week. I write this blog about being Christian and living the Christian life. I’m not ashamed of my faith in the slightest. I love Jesus and I love my faith. I teach Adult Sunday School and help lead Bible studies during the week. I wrote a piece that was published in the Church Advent Guide. I’ve missed precisely three Sundays at Church this year. Two of those I was out of town and one of those times I did actually go to church in the DC area. My friends and coworkers have told me that they’re impressed with how much I’ve cut back on my swearing. I rarely drink anymore.
Sounds like a pretty good resume huh?
But could it be that I’ve grown comfortable with that resume? Could it be that I’ve grown a bit stagnant? Could it be that I’ve let slack into my commitment? Could it be that I too am “lukewarm?”
Jesus doesn’t have any room for fakes. He doesn’t care for the “lukewarm.” Check it out:
“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3: 15-16 NRSV)
Sounds like I have some work to do. I like to think that I’m not fake, but I was convicted this morning. I’m too comfortable with where I’m at. I need to let God into my life in more areas and help me work to be a better person and a better disciple. If we’ve gotten too comfortable in our walk with God, we might be doing it wrong, because following Jesus is HARD.
I wonder, how comfortable are YOU?