Stop Assuming Jesus Is in Your Corner
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”
If ‘90s trends are truly back, it’s about time we dusted off the W.W.J.D. bracelets—the Evangelical craze that attempted to stamp into teenage minds the importance of imitating Jesus. What would Jesus do? Usually it turned out that He would bring His friends to youth group, and stay away from alcohol, sex, and drugs. By comparison, today it’s hard to imagine such a question could spark any substantive reflection or life change. After all, Jesus is my homeboy. He’s got my back. Jesus is there to pick me up when I get down. He’s got plans to prosper me, for my welfare, not my destruction. Jesus is always there for me. He never judges me. Jesus loves and accepts me.
The W.W.J.D. acronym for the ‘20s should be: “What Wouldn’t Jesus Do?” Is there anything that you can definitively cross off? Or is Jesus everyone’s favorite silly putty? He simply takes the shape most convenient to that person at that time, then afterward, he squishes right back into his neon eggshell.
It is in this way that the third commandment is most often trampled in our world. People invoke Jesus’ name to provide moral authority to all sorts of far-reaching, banal, and even horrific causes. As mentioned in my previous article, Christians have a history of getting God’s name and intentions wrong. Yet professing Christians no longer hold a monopoly here; people from a wide variety of beliefs hold that Jesus was, at the very least, moving the same direction they are.
Seven Worse Demons
The life and words of Jesus have seeped deep enough into Western culture that someone who has never opened a Bible has enough familiarity with popular “Jesus snapshots”, that they can readily construct cardboard caricatures of Jesus who play the appropriate roles, such as:
- Jesus the non-judger
- Jesus the religious reformer
- Jesus the compassionate
- Jesus the bringer of equality
Jesus actually predicted this predicament. In Matthew 12:43-45, Jesus responds to the skepticism of His Jewish audience. They demand more signs from Jesus, more fireworks, and new tricks. He denounces this as a failure to recognize who He is; they should have responded in repentance and worship. Jesus goes on to compare them to the pagan peoples of the past who did respond rightly, even though they heard a more veiled version of the Gospel. Jesus then makes a strange analogy: He compare this generation (our generation) to someone who has a demon cast out. The demon restlessly looks for a landing place, and finding none, returns to find a dignified, disciplined, cleaned-up host whom he re-enters, bringing seven spirits worse than itself.
Jesus is saying that the post-Christian world is actually in a worse spiritual condition than that of the pagan idolaters. The original demon was a spirit of polytheistic appeasement; it inhabited a barbarous world of human sacrifice, violence, and capricious, competing divinities. Now, in our civilized, educated, materialistic 21st century, the situation looks much better, but in reality has become much worse. There’s no denying that civilization has eminently and objectively advanced, and in fact much of our progress has been borne on the wings of gospel-motivated social reform. Yet the fallen human heart still rejects God.
Can’t Forget, Won’t Change
We’ll never be able to forget Jesus, or pretend like the cross didn’t happen. It is unlikely that we’ll revert to cutting ourselves as we dance around Baal’s altar. But things are truly much worse. We live in a world where everyone may be Christianized, but we’ve become Christ-less. Jesus has been fragmented into a thousand moral and humanistic principles, so we all get gospel-inoculated. Instead of the spirit of overt idol worship, people today have seven far worse, deceptive, and controlling spirits. They can subtly dodge Jesus because they claim they have already incorporated him. We can live tidy, presentable, enlightened lives that may even include a designated Jesus cubbyhole.
Some Christians have diagnosed the problem as a loss of a confrontational Jesus. I don’t believe that is sufficient. Granted, because of our fear of man and because of the scourge of relativism, many of us tend to be non-confrontational, which naturally means that our Jesus is non-confrontational. On the other hand, many people can hardly bear a single hour devoid of outrage and indignation. For them, Jesus is seldom anything but confrontational, and he can invariably be found condemning the same causes they find reprehensible.
The real question is not whether my version of Jesus is confrontational, but whether he ever confronts me? No one, most especially his disciples, spent any time around Jesus without being made to feel uncomfortable. That’s a good test of whether we have encountered the Jesus of the Bible: Am I challenged and convicted, as well as loved and saved?
Previous articles in this series:
Justin Poythress (MDiv, WTS) is Assistant Pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers, FL.
Podcast: "Jesus Becoming Jesus Part 2"
The Same God Who Works All Things, reviewed by Deryck Barson
"Jesus in the Storm" by Guy Richard
What Happens When We Worship by Jonathan Landry Cruse