In a recent church announcement, two new staff people were described as being hired because they “love Jesus.” They were both long-time members of the church, and, presumably, qualified in other ways, but that was the only aspect that was printed. But what does it mean, to “love Jesus”?
In the Christian scriptures, it is very simple – as Jesus himself put it, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). And the apostle John reflects this when he wrote, “This is the love of God, that we keep God’s commandments” (1 John 5:3).
Love, the Bible (and common sense) tells us, is what we do. But that’s not what the church announcement said or even implied.
“Loving Jesus” in many Christian circles has come to mean precisely the opposite of what Jesus clearly stated. For many I know who claim Christianity, “Loving Jesus” does not equate to living an exemplary or even distinctly Christ-following life. Salvation, they tell me, is not earned or even deserved: it is free gift to be claimed.
Can anyone really just “claim” salvation? Or maybe this isn’t even the question to be asked. Maybe instead, we should wonder if salvation is the only (or even primary) goal and achievement of faith? Is living a life of compassion, generosity, and sacrifice of so little value or interest that it is not even considered?
There’s an old saying among believers, rarely heard anymore, that sums up this vacuous theology. It says, “Some people are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.”
The irony for Christians is that Jesus, at every level, was of constant, enormous, and often near sacrilegious “earthly good.” He healed the sick, touched the unclean, condemned the religious bureaucrats and their followers, and praised “righteous” unbelievers. I would like to ask our current generation of such followers of Jesus why they call themselves Christians. Would they say that it is because they “know Jesus”? Would they be able to tell me what that means?
What I really want to know is why this “love” so often doesn’t look like love; why this “faith” doesn’t look like faith. Would they say, “It’s not about what love looks like, it’s about what I believe”?
To that, I would press, “Does any expression of love fit that definition?” If I love a dog or cat, or even a child or spouse, isn’t my love reflected by what I do and how I treat them? And not by what I “believe” about them?
One of the many ironies of modern, specifically American, Christianity is how indistinct it is from the larger culture. Being called out by scripture as a “peculiar people”—those who live by and are inspired by divine principles and are alien to the larger culture—you’d think that people of faith would stand out and be literally defined by their compassion, generosity, and sacrifice in the greater community.
But no, Christians are rarely a distinct, inspiring presence. In fact, in most cases, they barely make their presence known at all. As we have seen all too often in the 2020s, “Christians” are seemingly eager to believe and propagate absurd conspiracies while refusing even the most basic health precautions in the midst of the worst pandemic in a century.
Instead of being of service to or even proponents of truth and integrity, all too many Christians use their “faith” as an excuse to flaunt their own privilege if not arrogance and ignorance. At its most basic, how does a church parking lot, for example, differ from the parking lot of any mall or public space? How does a typical contemporary Christian value differ from what anyone else values? How would, or should, a “Christian” neighborhood look, or even feel, different from a neighborhood of non-believers?
There is a parable in the New Testament about a house built on sand and a house built on rocks. Per my interpretation, the point of the story is not that the house built on sand that collapses. Rather, the point is the house built on the rock that prevails. And what makes that house prevail? Hearing and doing. “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24).
And just a few verses earlier in this same chapter, a warning is given about false prophets, who will be recognized “by their fruits” (their actions). And in verse 21 of the same chapter, a clear warning to anyone who might “claim” salvation: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
I’m not interested in “claiming” salvation, but I am interested in “being” a follower of the one who calls us to “go and do” and be of distinct, powerful, and often baffling “earthly good.”
I’m interested in a reality where “loving Jesus” is the beginning, not the end, of my faith: one where I see the poor, my livelihood, and my relationship with every other living creature through the lens of Christ.