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The Tragedy of an Incidental Christ

Reading Time: 3 mins

The tragedy of the incidental Christ I was raised with is that he was really no Savior at all.

As obvious as it may sound, Christianity is all about Jesus Christ. In the person and work of Jesus, God is revealed to us. The entirety of the Old Testament, in ways both subtle and bold, tells us about the need for and promise of a Savior. In the Gospel accounts, it is revealed to us that Jesus is the Savior the Old Testament promised us. He is fully man, obeying all the commands of God, all the while being fully God himself. At just the right time, he laid down his life to make a blood sacrifice that paid for the sins of all mankind for all time. Jesus is the Savior of the world. Jesus for us is the subject of Chrsitianity. He is the beginning, the end, and everything in between.

The “Christianity” I grew up in, however, was a lot different than the above description. The belief system I was raised with had two distinct components. The first component was the “Bible stories” part. There was the creation story, Adam and Eve, Noah’s ark and Abraham. There was Moses and Elijah. Then there was Jesus. He was God’s Son and never made mistakes. He performed miracles and was the perfect moral example at all times. He was betrayed, died, rose again, and went up to heaven. Jesus’ life showed us how to do everything right, and in doing so, he showed us how to make God the Father happy with us. The Bible characters were always portrayed to us as less than God but more than men. They were superheroes of faith. The Bible stories were meant to show us that God wanted us to be obedient to him and that if we were not obedient, we would be thrown into hell. Hell, of course, is a place of eternal torment from which we can never escape. We lived with the fear of hell always before us.

The second component of the faith of my youth was the “living right” part. This involved us trying to emulate the characters in the Bible stories so that we would live a good life, hopefully make God happy with us, and in the end, avoid going to hell. Jesus died and did his part of the story, and now we were left to do our part to be saved. We were constantly urged to pray harder, sacrifice more, do better, give more and abnegate the pleasures of the world to please God. The focus of this second component was how well we were doing at all times. I was constantly examining my heart and my works to see if I was “meeting the standard.” I knew I was not. The more committed I was to make myself better in order to make God happier, the “behinder” I seemed to be. This second component could never grant me peace, as the business of pleasing God was always unfinished.

The problem with the Christianity I grew up with is that Jesus was an incidental part of the story of my life. He was amazing, talented, wise, and powerful, but that really didn’t help me fight my sin. He did everything right, and I couldn’t. He had the power to do amazing miracles and to please God the Father, but that wasn’t much help to me when I was alone in the dark hours of the night struggling with my guilt and shame. Jesus, like the other biblical superheroes, paraded before us, did not affect my day-to-day angst. I was going to hell, so what good was it that he turned water into wine or even rose from the dead? The tragedy of the incidental Christ I was raised with is that he was really no Savior at all.

If this has been the Jesus you have known, he is not the Christ. Jesus is not an incidental part of your story. There are not two components to your Christian life. There is only one: Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of your sins. Jesus Christ did not come to earth to give you life lessons and encouragement. He came to atone for your sins and set you free from hell. He did not come to make you anxious but to give you peace. He did not come to lead you; he came to rescue you. He did not come to be your example; he came to be your Savior.

The idea that we have to justify ourselves to God by our own works actually cuts us off from Jesus. We do not approach God rightly when we attempt to show him our “resume” of good works. God wants our repentance: a broken spirit and a contrite heart. He wants us to be honest about our sin and quit lying to ourselves and to him about our imagined worthiness and “faithful walk.” He is, instead, waiting to hear your confession of sins so that he can announce to you that the blood of Jesus Christ has paid for them all. Jesus is not a far-away God whose life story has no bearing on your own. He is a God at hand, who created you, atoned for your sins by dying and rising again, and waits to absolve you of all you have done and not done. He has purchased your soul back from eternal death. As you believe this, Jesus is yours, and you are his. Your anxiety over death and trying to please God melts away as you know that your salvation is already finished. Heaven is yours on account of Jesus.

Stand firm in this knowledge, then, and never again let your souls be burdened by trying to justify yourselves to God for salvation. Jesus has won salvation totally and completely and gives it to you as a free gift. There is nothing to add, nothing to subtract, and nothing to fear. Christianity is all about Jesus, not just as a leader, teacher, or hero of faith, but as the Lord and Savior you require. Never let your Jesus life story be apart from your own. He died and rose again so that you wouldn’t.