We live in an age of marketing, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see Christianity touted by some as a way of solving life’s problems. Whether it’s poverty, illness, the loss of a job, or a failed relationship, the sales “pitch” in many of the largest mega-churches today is that a relationship with Jesus will solve the problem.
The difficulty with this approach isn’t that Christianity can’t help someone improve his life. In many cases, living according to Biblical values can indeed make life better. The problem is that our faith starts to be marketed as a product, a method of achieving some desirable end. A person identifies a need in his or her life and Christianity fills that need, the way any product might do.
But this is not the message of Christianity. The Bible is not a “how to” manual on achieving financial or worldly success. It does not promise riches in the here and now, nor an end to all hardship. Quite the opposite, in fact, as the early fathers of the church, and their followers, could have attested. In short, Christianity tells the story of man’s broken relationship with his Creator. It claims to speak truth about the nature of God and of the rift between Him and us, and most importantly, what is needed to fix it. The Old Testament provides the backdrop as God prepares a people to serve as the vehicle for redemption. He interacts directly with his “chosen” people, using law to both indict them – show them their sinfulness and their need for salvation – and to separate them from all other peoples then living. Through them, he introduces himself into the world, taking flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus comes – not to make our lives profitable or more fulfilling in some modern sense – but to fulfill the prophecies that foretold his saving work, to give His life as ransom for us, and to thereby restore our relationship with the Father.
So, viewing Christianity as a handbook for high performance living is mistaken. It reduces the most compelling and wonderful story ever told to some type of owner’s manual to instruct us in the proper use of our time and our bodies. No, we need to consider Christianity on its merits, on its historical truth claims. Did these events actually occur? Did Jesus live and preach and walk among the Jews all those centuries ago? Was he put to death on a cross? Most importantly, did he rise again from the dead, fulfilling both his promises and the prophecies about him? There is no side-stepping this question. As the Apostle Paul said, we are to be pitied as fools if Christ did not, in fact, rise from the dead. Everything rests on that truth claim. Once we see that these teachings, these events, are grounded in history, we have a reasonable basis for placing our trust in Him.
This then is the core of the message. To be reunited with God, we need a Savior. We can no more save ourselves from our current predicament than we could lift ourselves by pulling on our bootstraps. But Jesus, as fully God and fully man, has the power to do what we cannot do for ourselves. He will do a work in us, making us “perfect” so that we will have the capacity to reunite with God. But we must consent to that transformation. He will not do it against our will. And for that, we must place our trust in him.
Yes, living a God-centered life will have practical benefits. Loving our neighbor as ourselves, letting go of petty grievances as we learn to forgive, freeing ourselves from the love of money which is the root of all evil, staying married even when the going gets tough – living out the principals of our faith can have positive ramifications. But it is not a magic talisman. Paradise, though guaranteed to those who trust in Jesus, was never meant for here. Paul himself remained physically afflicted, and there is no reason to believe that by following Christ, our problems will disappear. We will, however, look at them differently, and by living out our Biblical values, we will probably have a better life than we might otherwise have had. More importantly, when the storms come, we won’t discard our faith like yet another product that didn’t live up to its promises.
For the promise of Christ is not the perfect life here, but an eternity in the presence of Perfection. That’s a promise we can place our trust in.
Posted by Al Serrato