There, But For The Grace Of God, Go I
I’ll tell a quick story and then I will get to the point of my post …
I was flying back from Israel ten years ago. It had been a wonderful trip but I was tired and was looking forward to a solid fifteen hours of dozing on and off. I was a little apprehensive when I saw one of the Chasidim (Hasidic Jews) coming to sit next to me. I had learned during my trip that the Chasidim weren’t always the most gregarious of people, so I was afraid things could turn awkward. Luckily, this was a friendly, talkative fellow.
Talk turned to religion fairly quickly and I explained that I was a follower of Yeshua (Jesus). He said that he did not want to be offensive but he wanted to enlightened me to all of the things his Rebbe had taught him about Yeshua. He said that Yeshua was a bastard, born of adultery, and that He was a homosexual who had sex with all of His disciples. He was taught that Yeshua traveled from town to town beguiling everyone with magic. So, it was understandable that I would believe in Him but I should now know better.
Now, it would be understandable to be angry when you hear your God attacked but I couldn’t blame him. All he knew was what he had been taught. And I wanted to make a point. So, I quickly made a few comments about “Well, some say that but that’s not what we believe happened” and let it go, instead asking about specific points he had been studying. He began talking about morality and how, as Jews, we were supposed to be the example. We were supposed to be HaShem’s people, who refrained from adultery and violence.
I told him that I absolutely agreed. I then continued, telling him that I had recently been reading the teachings of a predominant Rabbi, one who was very popular back home. “He teaches that it isn’t enough to just refrain from adultery and violence. In fact, HaShem is concerned with the state of our hearts and the thoughts that go through our heads. He taught that if we look at a woman to lust after her, we have already committed adultery in our hearts. If we were angry at someone without just cause, we have already committed murder in our hearts.”
He shook his head in agreement, quite pleased with what he was hearing. “I like that! That’s very good, very good. I want to read some more of his teachings. What was his name?”
“Yeshua.” We didn’t talk much after that … except to complain about the airline food. What’s the deal with that stuff, anyway?
I tell that story because I have one point that keeps demonstrating itself to me year after year: most people have not rejected Yeshua. Most people have rejected Christianity. Mostly because so many Christians are assholes.
They can’t reject Yeshua because they don’t know what He taught or what He said. So much of what the Church teaches is man-made doctrine and is not based on anything in the Scriptures. They push their own prejudices as Gospel truth. They politicize in His Name. “Jesus would have supported this!” “Jesus would have been against that!” Whatever they don’t like becomes heinous sin but whatever they like is somehow excused.
Christians have a tendency to look down on those who do not believe. “They have rejected God! They are filthy, rotten sinners!” Well, we’re all filthy, rotten sinners. Are they any worse because they do not believe? No. Are they less moral? Probably not. I’ve known many unbelievers who were much more Messiah-like than many Christians.
This is why I think proper theology is so important. So many Christians look down on unbelievers because they honestly believe their faith makes them better than them. “I’m good, so I believed. I did not reject God so I am more worthy.” That is where the stereotypical Bible-thumper, frothing at the mouth while he tosses out damnation like Mardi Gras beads, comes from. “I believe because I am better than you.”
Now, in addition to being a student of Messianic Judaism, I am also quite entrenched in Reformed Theology (often called “Calvinism,” based on the writings of Swiss Reformer John Calvin) and most of my beliefs are filtered through that. If you look back over time, many of the greatest evangelists of the modern era (including Billy Graham, Billy Sunday, Charles Spurgeon, and Jonathan Edwards) come from the Reformed tradition. Why do I believe that is?
I think it is because Reformed Theology (which, in part, covers issues such as unconditional election and eternal assurance) gives us the proper perspective. While some walk around and think “I believe because I am better,” the Reformed recognize that we only believe because God has given us the faith. “I believe because God has allowed me to believe.”
I spent many of my school years as an agnostic or Deist. I generally believed in a God but did not think He was particular interested in our day-to-day issues and I certainly did not believe He loved us. God was not personal. He was a force … He was a thing. I was an unbeliever.
So, what happened between that point and the point where I believed? Did I get smarter? Did I suddenly become more moral? No! I believed because God revealed Himself to me, softened my heart, and regenerated my spirit. It was nothing I did. It was nothing I earned, deserved, or gained of my own accord. God’s grace was demonstrated through my faith. I had faith because He had given it to me.
Now, how does this relate to the unbeliever? The unbeliever is not my enemy. The unbeliever is not less moral than I am. The unbeliever is not less intelligent than I am. The unbeliever probably isn’t much different than I am, at all. I have friends of many different faiths or no faith at all. Does this make me pious and them dirty, rotten sinners? Far from it. It simply means that God has revealed Himself to me and not them.
So, I respect them. I can respect their opinions and beliefs even if I respectfully disagree. I understand why they believe the way they do. I am certainly no better, no more pious, and no more worthy than they are. We’re the same.
I know a lot of this particular post was written to those of the Judeo-Christian world and may use some “insider” information. To my pagan, atheist, and agnostic friends who may be reading, I simply want to say that you should never let people define God or Jesus for you. I implore you to give His Word a look for yourself. Learn some of what He taught and see if it does not speak to you. The word “Gospel” literally means “Good News.” It’s supposed to be liberating. It’s supposed to be inspiring. I’m sorry so many people have tried to use it to make you second-class citizens.