For the Love of God, Love Others
“Christianity” is often used to manipulate, control, shame, judge, and hurt others. It’s influenced by politics, popularity, wealth, success, pride, hate, fear, selfishness, and a desire for power. The poisoning of our beliefs — or theology — happens subtly, under the pretense of tradition, teaching, education, discipline, authority, respect, and religion.
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We often treat theology similar to politics, where our beliefs and doctrines are based on which ones benefit us the most.
We strive to get everything we can from our faith, and this can lead to spiritual narcissism, where we become obsessed with maximizing the benefits for ourselves while withholding them from others.
Rarely do we adhere to — or agree with — theological ideas that benefit someone else more than us. Sacrificing our own comforts for the sake of others is absurd — which leads to a sense of divine favoritism.
In fact, evangelicals often bristle at the notion of a theology that helps others beyond their own inner circle. Christians prefer beliefs that exclusively profit them. Additionally, the rest of humanity is often the subject of God’s wrath — seemingly condemned to destruction.
To explain God’s attributes of justice and judgment, Christians often allocate these traits upon the “sinners” — those who don’t share their same belief systems, traditions, and theology. Thus, these “outsiders” are blamed, persecuted, and judged for the sake of fulfilling our own self-righteousness. Christians frequently assume that they know Godbest — even when they don’t.
Historically, Christians have embraced war, violence, racism, sexism, and other forms of inequality and injustice for the sole purpose of preserving and promoting their own agendas.
This sinful behavior is rationalized by claiming that God condones such things. Therefore, misdeeds are explained away as God commanding — or allowing — violence, persecution, discrimination, and other bad things as a source of holy justice and judgment. It's excused as being “part of God’s sovereign plan.” As long as we're safe and comfortable and get what we want, our theology remains unchanged.
There's something very worrisome about how many people are vigorously condemned under the pretense of “Christianity.”
Contrarily, Christians often bristle at the very idea of God showing mercy and grace to others — even to themselves. But as soon as they’re attacked and perceived as the victim — everything changes.
When we make mistakes, commit horrible crimes, and participate in evil sins, we’re quick to promote the all-consuming grace and limitless love of God — to save ourselves. It's no wonder the gospel message is often perceived as hypocritical.
As we try to follow Jesus and grow in our Christian faith, it's time we honestly evaluate the motivations behind our faith. How do our culture, upbringing, experiences, desires, and hundreds of other factors influence our beliefs about God? Are we ultimately motivated by the love of Jesus?
The radical thing about Jesus's message is that it benefitted others while at the same time demanded personal sacrifice. This is just as ridiculously counter-cultural today as it was back in biblical times.
Jesus was the sacrifice. He passionately served, worked, helped, and loved others at his own expense. The gospel message isn’t just about how to get the most for us, but it’s about essentially giving our best to others — for the sake of God.
But when it comes to theology and doctrines, we twist scripture to accommodate our beliefs and use verses to prop up our own ideals — routinely putting ourselves on the pedestal at the expense of those God has called us to love.
How do we treat our neighbors? Do we honestly believe that they’re created in the image of God?
Admitting that God's grace, mercy, comfort, and love reaches beyond our personal desires requires humility and spiritual maturity.
The Bible routinely warns against judging others — this responsibility is supposed to be left up to God. Why? Because we’re all sinners and blinded by our shortcomings. Ironically, those who assumed to understand God the most within scripture — the Pharisees and other religious leaders — often were the most wrong about God. This should be a warning to us all.
Loving others doesn’t mean that absolute truth doesn’t exist or that we simply turn a blind eye to sin. It means that we care for others as we’d care for ourselves.
Does our gospel message portray acceptance or exclusion, forgiveness or judgment, hope or fear, joy or sadness, freedom or guilt, love or hate? Is the tone of our communication — our lives — exhibiting Jesus? God helps us.
Stephen Mattson blogs at stephenjmattson.com. He's contributed for Relevant Magazine, Redletterchristians.org, and studied Youth Ministry at the Moody Bible Institute. He is now on staff at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul, Minn. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.
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