taking the words of Jesus seriously

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Our faith journey is filled with complex and difficult questions, but we need to avoid turning these questions into distractions, and our answers and opinions should never become idols.

Related: A New Split in Protestant Evangelicalism – by Jimmy Spencer Jr.

Imagine being a new believer entering into the realm of Westernized Christianity? Theoretically, Christianity should be solely about the Gospel of Christ, but for many it has become a confusing set of conflicting paths and ideas. And if you happen to choose the wrong theology, worship incorrectly, use an inferior translation of the Bible or attend a “heretical” church—you are attacked from all directions.

Contrarily, we can become so passionate and certain about specific aspects of Christianity that we devote ourselves entirely to these causes—fanatically endorsing our experiences, beliefs and ideals to anyone who will listen. Without prayerful humility, accountability and grace, we can unwittingly become attackers instead of reconcilers.

In Luke 6 Jesus instructs his followers to love their enemies and not be judgmental. In verse 32 He asks “if you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them!” (NLT) The sad fact is that Christians don’t even love each other!

We use Christianity as an evaluation to judge those around us, a sort of grading system used to give people fluctuating amounts of worth based on our self-perceived definitions of faith. The closer someone aligns to our perfect concept of Christianity, the more merit and respect we award them. But this is the exact opposite of Christ’s teachings about love.

And these problems are occurring within Christianity. It’s no wonder that the term “Christian” is associated by the secular world with hypocrisy, bigotry and hate—we have forgotten how to love unconditionally. Instead of seeing everyone as God’s beautiful creation, we have created a caste system of love where we classify people according to their theology (or lack thereof).

Many Christians today have become a lot like the Pharisees, who strived to promote, enforce and preserve their formal religious structures, doctrines and agendas—completely avoiding God in the process.

Unfortunately, the topics listed above can turn into idols, and Christians can easily spend all of their time and energy focusing on them instead of Christ. “Christianity” has become a minefield of massive distractions—false idols—that ultimately separate us from God.

Instead of unifying around Jesus, Christians have splintered into thousands of different factions, furiously protecting their own convictions while simultaneously attacking the beliefs of others. Infighting has become the norm. We have taken Christian characteristics, traditions and opinions and transformed them into our own personal idols—prioritizing them over Christ.

Also by Stephen: The 6 Best Things About American Christianity

The Christian faith has innumerable variations, and the temptation is to turn these differences into something big and important and life-changing—and they often are—but when they supersede and overshadow Christ, there’s something wrong. Fortunately, there’s another way: Focusing on Christ alone—and exuding His grace, mercy, forgiveness and amazing love to everyone.

“Following Christ” seems like an overused cliché, too easy of an answer amid the complexities of life. But much of Jesus’s ministry was about simplifying things, cutting away the religiosity and returning back to the basics of profoundly loving others—if only we could do the same.


Stephen Mattson has written for Relevant, Sojourners, and The Burnside Writer’s Collective. He graduated from the Moody Bible Institute and is currently on staff at Northwestern College in St. Paul, MN. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.

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