taking the words of Jesus seriously

I imagined Christianity would be similar to what I read in the Bible: I would pray for people and they would get better, I would have intimate conversations with God and receive supernatural revelations, I would be an unstoppable force for good, evil would be overcome, and things would generally be good—or at least headed in that direction.

I pictured scenes of innocent happiness, laughter, and joy. I envisioned a world where the church would be a source of unstoppable kindness, encouragement, and love. Instead, I found a corrupted institution infested with infighting, sexism, racism, discrimination, exclusion, and legalism.

In my naïve immaturity I was inspired by how future spiritual leaders would lead revivals by revealing the nature of Christ through sacrificial service, humility, and grace. But in reality I’ve found that people are often more motivated by pride, power, success, fame, and fortune.

I assumed Christians would radically stand out from the crowd and be distinctively attractive because of their ability to love others as Jesus did, but in the real world nobody—including myself—can tell the difference between believers and non-believers.

Related: 5 Things that are Holding Christianity Back

Like the rest of society, Christians are infatuated with wealth, comfort, control, social status, and being right—they’re too busy to care about promoting peace, feeding the hungry, helping the poor, uplifting the needy, fighting injustice, and protecting the persecuted.

The stories I heard about Jesus as a child made me wonder how anyone could reject such a wonderful person, and I was excited to join Christians in declaring the good news of the Gospel. Unfortunately, the priority of sharing the story of Jesus has been replaced by the desire to push political agendas, engage in theological bickering, and gain worldly power.

The Bible was such a beautiful book, filled with redemption, reconciliation, and hope, but now it’s been turned into a weapon to serve a variety of horrid motives—to promote violence, exclusion, injustice, corruption, bondage, and hatred. God’s words have lost their luster and the original meanings—harshly debated among pastors and theologians—are becoming lost and ignored amidst the sheer volume of noise, distraction, and garbage that Christian culture has created.

I never thought I would become so cynical, skeptical, doubtful, and ashamed of my faith—something I once considered holy, righteous, and a source of continual joy, hope, and inspiration. I didn’t think Christianity would ever become associated with the Westboro Baptists of this world, the sleazy televangelists, the fear-mongering street preachers, the sermons full of apocalyptic accusations, and hate-filled propaganda—but it has.

Despite everything, I’m routinely—astonishingly—surprised by God’s grace.

Against all reason and logic, God is still working, moving, redeeming, and loving humanity! In the face of my utter sinfulness, Jesus continually reveals His goodness through small bits of revelation: a moment in time, an interaction, a prayer, a friend—and hope slowly grows.

As bad as I sometimes think Christianity has become, I’m routinely overwhelmed by the distinct holiness of the mess that I’m surrounded by. God powerfully works through the brutally honest community of my church, my small group, and the beauty of corporately living life together, united and strengthened through Christ.

Suddenly, in moments like these, I can see that the Bible was much closer to reality than I previously imagined. It’s full of complexity, suffering, and chaos—real life. Christianity was never meant to be a form of escapism, an easy journey, or a way to flee from reality. Instead, it’s about God deeply loving His creation.

Also by Stephen: Ken Ham v. Bill Nye – If Only Christians Were This Passionate About Helping the Poor…

In spite of all the negativity, disappointment, and pain, I never could have imagined how absurdly wonderful following God would be, how He could intervene in my darkest moments, or redeem the most awful things and transform them into something beautiful, divine, and holy—and by “most awful things” I mainly mean: me.

These are often the hardest things for us to imagine: God created us. God thinks about us. God gives us worth. God died for us. God loves us.

And once we imagine them, we often refuse to believe and accept them. But today, I pray that you will.

About The Author


Stephen Mattson is the author of "The Great Reckoning: Surviving a Christianity That Looks Nothing Like Christ." Follow him on Twitter (@StephenMattson_)

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