A friend of Gandhi once asked, “If you admire Christ so much, why don’t you become a Christian?” Gandhi reportedly responded, “When I meet a Christian who is a follower of Christ, I will consider it.” Later Gandhi demanded Christians to first understand the message of Jesus, and then strive to live without stereotyping others.
When non-Christians see us, do they see more of our distorted portrayal of Christianity than they do a clear reflection of the character and quality of Christ? Apart from our Sunday activities and our conformity to external codes of dos and don’ts, the world doesn’t recognise much difference between us and others.
Too often we have misrepresented Christ with our rules, prejudices and preferences. Few will be drawn to lifeless rituals and half-hearted commitments. We sooth our conscience by following Christ selectively when it seems convenient and self-gratifying. Then we wonder why Christianity seems sterile, ritualistic, burdensome and even…boring.
In his book, Following Christ, Joseph Stowell summed it up this way: “If Christianity is dull and boring, if it is a burden and not a blessing, then most likely we are involved in a project, not a Person, a system not a Saviour, rules rather than a relationship.”
A quest for uncluttered Christianity begins with this awareness.
Proximity and relationship
Life is like a solar system. There is always something at the centre that defines and directs everything else that moves around it. All too often, Christ has been relegated to one of the stars orbiting whatever we have substituted for Him at the centre - money, success, pleasure, friends, partner, children, things, travel to name a few.
Authentic Christ-followers refuse to place substitutes at the centre but Him. The closer we get to Christ, the more of Him we reflect. Increasing proximity to Christ begins to transform us to mirror a glimpse of His character: grace, mercy, love, justice, compassion, truth and righteousness. It also brings simplicity and wonder into our life.
How do we have a relationship with someone who is invisible and untouchable? How can such relationship be at our centre? Unlike any other human relationships, this unique aspect of a relationship with Christ is in fact its greatest advantage. How is this so?
A personal relationship with Christ means that it is by nature a transcendent experience, which is both supernatural and nonmaterial. We don’t have to limit ourselves by earthly material experiences and miss out on the higher form of the world that is above and beyond us.
In our life, it is often the material aspects of relationships that breaks us apart. Friends and even families can let us down when we need them most. Misunderstandings and hurts arise from physical, verbal and material connections in a relationship.
For the real, risen, transcendent, ever-present Christ to relate to us in the very depths of our being without material connections is the greatest advantage with which no earthly relationship can compare.
Continuing the journey
We start with opening our heart to Christ. Experiencing a personal relationship with Christ means we yield our desires and decisions to His presence and give Him the right to do deep cleansing in our hearts. But all too often, we stop our quest here.
We need to pursue Christ. Just as human relationships are built on communication and closeness, we seek to dialogue with Him more. As we pursue Christ, we start to expel ‘self’ and place Him at the centre of everything we do.
We fellowship with Christ in serving others with humility, forgiveness, generosity and compassion. This puts us in closer proximity with Him and allows us to see Christ in His people. Christ meets us, speaks to us and touches us through the physical and visible reality of His body the church.
Disillusioned by the church? Someone once said, “I’d rather attend church with messed up people seeking after God, than religious people who think they’re His enforcers”. We don’t find perfect saints in church, but we can meet those who realise their need for God and strive to live for Him.
The church can be life-giving, not life-draining. We can be the change we want to see in the church through our quest for authentic Christianity. May our relationship with Christ be ever so vibrant and real for all to see. Amen.
Daniel Jang is a senior advisor with Ministry of Health New Zealand. He is an experienced writer, speaker and mentor to Press Service International (PSI) community. Daniel holds an MA in Applied Biblical Studies from Moody Bible Institute and GradDip in Theology from Laidlaw College.
Daniel Jang's previous articles may be viewed at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/daniel-jang.html