Loving Jesus? That is all? No, I don’t think that is the problem. I think we have done a good job of teaching people that all they need to do is love Jesus. And they do. Go to your churches on Sunday and ask, “How many of you love Jesus?” and I bet everybody will raise their hands. I bet even the meanest, most irascible, most cantankerous church member will raise his or her hand. I bet even the non-Christians in your congregation will raise their hands. I’ve read where non-Christians have said, “I have no problem with Jesus; it’s Christians I have a problem with.” Loving Jesus? That’s the easy part.
What’s not to love? A little baby lying in a manger, and guy walking around, teaching, healing, raising people from the dead, multiplying loaves and fishes, turning water into wine—what’s not to love? An innocent man dying on a cross for the sins of humanity, looking down at those who crucified him and saying, “Father, forgive them.” What’s not to love?
But we have created a system in which it is possible to love Jesus and not do what he says. Both in our language and in much of our theology we have taught that being saved is the most important thing, and that it is a matter, not of obedience, but of faith and love. But by faith we mean belief in a set of doctrines about Jesus, not faithfulness to Jesus’ teachings, which sounds too much like works-based salvation. And similarly, by love we mean a warm personal affection towards Jesus, not a set of actions done on behalf of Jesus, which once again is too close to works-based salvation for our comfort. The only thing we ask a person to do in order to “accept Christ as their personal Lord and Savior” is walk an aisle, pray a prayer, and be baptized. And then we come here and lament that most of our church people are “educated beyond their level of obedience.” Well, of course they are, but it’s not their fault, it’s ours! We’re the ones telling them that loving Jesus and loving the things he told us to do are two different things, rather than part and parcel of the same thing. We’re the ones who don’t tell them that in the Bible “faith” means both belief and faithfulness, and that “love” means both affection toward but also action on behalf of. We’re the ones telling them that loving Jesus will get you into Heaven while obeying Jesus just gets you a larger heavenly mansion and some jewels in the heavenly crown.
And because they can read what Jesus tells them to do, and they can see for themselves how difficult if not unreasonable these things are, how they will get in the way of their earthly pleasure if not success, how in some cases they will get them beat up and beat down if not killed, that they will lead to a lower monetary standard of living—well, is it any wonder they decide to risk a smaller mansion in heaven? (After all, even the smallest mansion is still a mansion.)
Until we teach them that loving Jesus means loving when he says, “Love your enemies” so much that we’ll do it, and loving when he says “Turn the other cheek” so much that we’ll get beat up before we’ll defend ourselves, until then, we’ll continue to have as well as be people who love Jesus but ignore most of what he says.
That’s what I wish I had said.