Have you ever heard the word Legalism? If you’ve been in the church for more than five minutes you probably have. Church folks are terrified of being legalistic. People accuse others all the time of being legalistic. It’s our version of Joseph McCarthy and the communism “Red Scare.” People around the church like to out other people as legalists if they think they are one.
Legalism is basically saying that you do what you do out of guilt or fear and not out of genuine love for God and love for people, like adhering to a set of supposed Bible rules. “Oh he’s legalistic; he reads his Bible everyday because he thinks he has to.” “She gives money to the church because she’s legalistic.” Those are broad looks at legalism, but I hope you get the idea.
I believe without doubt that there is a lot of legalism in the modern church. It’s all over the place. It’s in my own life. On the other hand, I believe that some churchgoers may call out legalism where it’s not actually in effect.
We have people all through the church trying to create a formula of what it means to truly be a Christian. Some people are too legalistic. Some people don’t adhere to the rules enough. Everyone seems to have an idea of what the ideal Christian looks like.
But what is the perfect example of a Christian?
Is it Billy Graham? John Piper? Tim Tebow? Bob the Tomato?
Maybe your experience with church has left you a bit annoyed. Maybe you didn’t go and see a myriad of individuals who were each unique. Maybe you went to a church and saw people who all acted and dressed the same way and who hated the same things. Maybe you saw unbelievable amounts of boring people. Maybe you saw an army of white and uptight.
What is the perfect example of a Christian?
I get annoyed with politics in America. It seems like it is just bad writing, really. It’s the same story over and over. If you haven’t noticed, the two major political parties have an ideal candidate. It doesn’t matter how you started out and what views you may have held at one point in time, if you become a lead candidate for the presidency, you are forced to become who your party says you should be. It’s true on both sides. They both have an ideal candidate.
I heard someone say they would have voted for John McCain 2008 if he had been who he is now during his campaign. My thoughts were, “He wasn’t allowed to be who he truly was during the campaign.” Members of the political parties want to hear you regurgitate back to them what they expect to hear. They don’t want to hear anything different. As a result, we end up voting between the exact same two candidates every presidential election.
The same practice abounds in the American church. When people get the idea that they are what a Christian should look like, they try to make other people look like that as well instead of helping them become more like Jesus. We produce our version of the ideal Christian.
This is the music a Christian likes. These are the people Christians hang out with. This is the candidate a Christian votes for. These are the issues a Christian stands for.
So does being a Christian mean that you now must shape into the mold that the church has created for all Christians? I don’t think it does. Bearing the name of Christ surely means that things won’t be the same as they once were, but you should not become just another paper doll. I believe that God made us all unique for a reason. He wants us to unify, not to become completely identical. There’s a difference.
What does a perfect Christian look like?
You can say that perfect Christians look like Jesus. All right, but how do they look like Jesus? Jesus was a homeless, vagabond preacher walking around with twelve men and occasionally rubbing mud in people’s faces. Should all Christians be homeless, unshaven preachers? Or should we uniquely display the love and practices of Christ while maintaining our unique, God-given qualities and strengths?
I fear too many followers of Jesus are fearful to display their faith because they feel that they are not an accurate representation of what it means to be a Christian. They are scared to try and lead others because they don’t think that they can. They feel they are too messed up, too broken from their pasts, or not smart enough.
What does a perfect Christian look like? I think the perfect example of a Christian is someone who is not perfect at all. Someone who has scars. Someone who doesn’t have every part of their life put together. Someone who makes mistakes all the time. What if God’s perfect design was imperfect people?
There’s a story in Luke 14 that Jesus told about a man who was throwing a huge banquet. After all of the invites were sent, no one showed up. So the man said, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame… Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.”
Do you know why feel like I am the perfect example of a Christian? It’s because Jesus wants the ones that no one else wants. He wants me in my struggles through loneliness. He wants me when I feel worthless. He wants me when my job doesn’t want me anymore. He wants me when I keep repeating the same mistakes. He wants me when I feel like no one else in this city wants me. He wants me just because he loves me. Jesus wants the ones that no one else wants.
There’s a great feast going on and you have been invited. Bring your worn out clothes. Bring your drug addict friends. Bring your divorce papers. Bring your fear. Bring your depression. Bring your pornography. Bring your minimum wage job. Bring your anger. Bring your past.
Jesus wants you. You’re exactly who he’s been waiting for.