Customized Jesus

I made the mistake of scrolling through social media during the recent Alabama special election. The ugliness and hate were being tossed like mud from both sides. But I was amazed at how much I saw the word, “Jesus”. In each case, Jesus and His words were being used as a defense mechanism to prove a righteous point. It was like watching two Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Jesus Robots throw haymakers back and forth.

I’m concerned about the state of affairs within modern Christian culture. We’ve treated Jesus like a popular consumer item that can be customized to our liking. As if we were shopping for an SUV or building a brand new home, we select the Jesus of our preference. Then, we criticize our neighbors for their lack of taste or their lack of understanding. But Jesus doesn’t come with options—He’s personal, not customized. There’s a big difference. The only option is to follow, or not.

Once we choose to follow, everything changes. While some might say the events in today’s culture signify the death of evangelism, I believe they signify a spiritual awakening among God’s people. An awakening that is transforming what we now call, church. In the gridlock, the remnant will emerge.

My intention for this article is to point out a few challenges as a way to create awareness. There is a vibrant and real battle being fought both in and out of our institutions. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit would awaken and convict individual hearts as needed. Also, I pray that God’s anointed leaders would step forward in such a time as this. We need faithful and courageous leaders who are unwilling to compromise for political power or social positioning.

As we navigate the road ahead, here are five things we must consider.

1. Jesus Wasn’t Competitive

When Jesus said, “the first shall be last,” He declared the end of competition. By willingly giving His life, he proved His point. However, in modern-day religiosity we have failed to turn the other cheek. We’ve not only pitted Christians against non-Christians, we’ve become divided amongst ourselves—Baptists against Methodists and Pentecostals against Catholics.

As a result, lukewarm faith can be likened to a modified sporting event where we cheer on our team and compete against those who don’t think like we do. This has wrecked the institution for years and continues to dilute any hope of unity.

Unity is found when competition is removed.

2. We Don’t go to Church, We are the Church

A city on a hill should not be hidden. But by that same token, a box on a hill should not be idolized. Many of us go to church because it’s what our parents did, or it’s what we think we’re supposed to do. But the inherent problem is that our faith becomes relegated to an institution instead of becoming personal.

As a culture, we have placed churches and pastors on the throne of our heart—our own personal saviors to defend. The result is that church has become something we do or somewhere we go instead of something we are. In a world that continues to question the institution, we have to become the good news in the life of others.

Instead of going to church, we need to be the church.

3. The Gospel Isn’t a Hammer, It’s a Sword

The great debate between grace and truth rages on. And the pendulum swings from love to justice as circumstances send our emotions back and forth like a pinball inside of our chest. We use the gospel like Thor’s hammer to deliver the deadening blow to our adversaries. Instead of laying down our stones in light of our own shortcomings, we hurl them at those surely deserving of our reproach.

But the gospel isn’t a hammer, it’s a sword. A blunt object pounds, a refined edge pierces us to the core. And like a perfectly shined sword, the gospel reflects the image of the one who looks into it. The gospel reflects our truest image—not only who we are, but the identity we were created to bear.

It’s the gospel that pierces the human heart, not the craftiness of the one who wields the sword.

4. Theology is not a Substitute for Living a Life of Faith

When I was in college, one of my Bible study leaders handed me Systematic Theology and said, “Study this.” For a while, I did. I thought that arguing theological points was the good Christian thing to do. And with each internal victory, my self-righteous ego grew. Oh sure, I wanted to give glory to God, but I desperately wanted people to see how smart I was.

When we’re more concerned with how many verses we can quote than our willingness to live them out, there’s a problem. Our theological vocabulary isn’t the fruit that Jesus was referring to. But pride is the sneakiest of all vices because it blinds us to its presence. And the more consumed we become, the more we refuse the humility we need.

Just as knowledge is not a substitute for wisdom, theology is not a substitute for living a life of faith.

5. We Cannot Remove the Power of God

In most churches we recite liturgy like the Apostle’s Creed and declare that Jesus was “conceived by the Holy Spirit.” But do we really understand what that means? It’s a supernatural declaration. Yet in “modern reality” we refuse to believe a supernatural God. In most cases, miracles are relegated to medicine alone and God only heals if He’s willing. It’s as if we’ve come to believe that God’s either not that powerful or not that smart.

But when it comes to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, we must not write it off as spooky hogwash. The work of God must be accompanied by the power of God. As sure as “I am willing” was spoken from Jesus’s lips, we must be willing to trust in His supernatural ability. And that begins with asking Him to increase our faith.

The power of God always accompanies the people of God.

Leaving His Fingerprints

In the end, we are either using Jesus to win an argument or He’s using us to advance His kingdom. But instead of picking a side, maybe we should learn to pick up our cross. And in doing so we will show the world that victory doesn’t bring peace. Peace is found when we know for certain that the battle has already been won. In the end, the ability to lay down our stones is found in our brokenness, not our strength.

You cannot separate evangelism and Christianity. As long as God’s people exist, evangelism is alive and well. But we must realize that evangelism has less to do with what we say and more to do with who we are. God leaves His fingerprints on the world through ours.

The question is, are we leaving a fingerprint or just smearing mud everywhere?



This article originally appeared under a different title at YouPrint.

YouPrint is a faith development organization cofounded by Zondervan author, Kevin Adams, and Matt Ham that combines the very best executive level business coaching with sound discipleship and transformational resources.

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