When confessing Christ with your mouth just isn’t enough
An old photo emerged this week of disheveled presidential candidate Bernie Sanders being hauled away by the police for protesting racism.
I don’t know what feelings that image stirs up in you, but I was quite amazed that Bernie has managed to go a lifetime without combing his hair.
And I was also deeply inspired by his actions. They were the actions of someone putting the well-being of others before his own well-being and comfort.
But before I get to Sanders, let me quickly say this from a historical perspective...
It is a CRAZY irony that in modern times, one of the best examples we have of someone who sought to apply the teachings of Jesus, did not consider himself a Christian, but a Hindu.
Gandhi said, “The gentle figure of Christ - so patient, so kind, so loving, so full of forgiveness that he taught his followers not to retaliate when struck, but to turn the other cheek - was a beautiful example of the perfect person. Christ, the martyr, was an embodiment of sacrifice.”
We know that Gandhi went on to live out this radically Christlike love of neighbor and enemy, ultimately bringing great change to his nation and laying down his life for his Indian brothers and sisters.
In the words of Jesus, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command." (John 15:13-14)
So, let’s come back to the present day.
In contemporary American politics, it's hard to avoid the observation that the only major candidate who does not profess Christianity, Bernie Sanders, holds many of the more Christ-like positions towards the poor and marginalized.
He’s no Gandhi, but this is a man who 50 years ago, as a young man in the civil rights movement, was willing to lay down his freedom, comfort and safety for those being oppressed by racism and segregation. And from what I can tell, he has been attempting to follow that path ever since.
In contrast, it is deeply ironic that those candidates who TRUMPet their Christian faith most loudly are simultaneously advocating the least Christ-like positions imaginable on war against other nations, immigration, care for the poor, care for God’s creation and almost every other policy that comes from their mouths.
I am reminded of the words of Jesus: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will know them.”
Jesus declared that we will be judged, not by the church we go to, or the political party we support, but according to how we treat the least of these (Mt 25:31-46). He taught that the wise man is the one who PRACTICES the words of Jesus, not just he who spouts them (Mt 7:24-27).
Jesus takes these teachings a step further when he curses the fig tree for being without fruit and then tells a curious story to explain himself in Matthew 21:28-31. Let's check that story out because for me it sums up this whole dilemma...
Jesus' parable revolves around a man with two sons. It’s a brief story and Jesus doesn’t get too flowery in his telling of the tale. He simply says, the father tells the first son to go and do his work.
“I will not,” the son answers, but later he changes his mind and goes to do the father's work.
The father then comes to the second son and asks him to do his work as well. He answers, “I will sir,” but he doesn't get up off the beanbag and go. That little sucker just sits there sipping a diet coke, playing on the internet. (OK I added that last bit in. Couldn't help myself.)
Jesus ends the story with a simple question, “Which of these two did what his father wanted?”
In recent years, we Christians have placed a huge emphasis on what comes out of our mouths. We trust and support people who say the correct words about God, reject the same sins as us, and have "good doctrine". Then we feel suspicious of people coming from other perspectives or traditions.
But Jesus isn't nearly as interested in our words - or even our beliefs - as he is in our actions. That's why he says, "You are my friends IF you do what I command."
Speaking and believing truth is very important. But Christians, I would suggest to you that it is just NOT enough. Even the demons believe in God and probably get dressed up to go to church too (James 2:19).
So, here's where the rubber hits the road for me, and maybe for you. This is not so much about how you vote, but how you live. It's less about what you spout, and more about what you live out. Less preachin'. More practisin'.
There are many who proclaim Jesus with their mouths, but do not proclaim good news to the poor with their actions.
There are many who say they follow the Prince of Peace, but support policies of death and destruction, or harbor violence in their hearts.
There are many who love to be known as Christ-followers but do not love their nation's enemies or even just their neighbors.
Truth be told, that's me a lot of the time too.
It pains me to say it, but on an average day, I probably have more in common with Ted Cruz or even Donald Trump, than Gandhi or Christ.
If I'm honest, I have a long way to go and my fruit is a little feeble. I'm the guy sipping diet coke on a beanbag.
Sometimes confessing Christ with your mouth just isn’t enough. (It's a good start, because all of this is only possible with Jesus' help, whether we acknowledge him or not).
But I pray that we will be a people known for more than pious words.
May we be people of practice.