Mahatma Gandhi once said: ‘I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.’ Sadly, he was right, for we are all aware of the awful things that are done in the name of religion in general and Christianity is no exception.
The Bible makes it clear that Jesus wanted it to be otherwise. In one of his last conversations with the disciples he said: ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’
Within perhaps 20 years of Jesus’s death, Paul was already scolding the Christians in the Corinthian church for forming little groups opposed to each other. Some followed Peter, some Apollo, and some were following Paul himself: ‘Is Christ divided?’ he asked.
Perhaps the only realistic explanation is that people prefer to follow people, rather than have the courage to follow the radical Christ. That’s why we have over 30,000 sects, denominations and cults, each one different enough to keep it apart from the others, and sometimes so different that open hostility breaks out.
Why? Because they lose sight of their purpose: to serve Christ and their fellow man. Evangelist J John pointed out that religious leaders can become so busy with the ‘work of the Lord’ that they have no time for the ‘Lord of the work’.
One of the most shocking statements Jesus ever made – one I must confess I don’t fully understand – was this: ‘Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and drive out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers”.’
How would you feel if you devoted your whole life to prophesying, delivering people from demons and seeing people miraculously healed in front of your very eyes, only to realise that you weren’t serving him, that it was all an elaborate ego trip?
How can that be? Maybe it has something to do with the suggestion that we are ‘human beings’ and we were never called to be ‘human doings’! Isn’t that what Paul meant when he talked about the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. In other words, just as an apple tree doesn’t have to try to produce apples, so it is with us. We bear fruit because we abide in him, not because of our efforts.
For you and me, the deep security we crave will follow, as sure as night follows day, when we have that ‘deep knowing’ that there’s nothing we can do to make him love us more, and there’s nothing we can do to make him love us less. And the promised peace will come when we grasp the simple fact that we are called to do something we have absolutely no control over: to bear fruit. And how do we do it? By resting in him, for as John 15 says, ‘Abide in me and you will bear fruit.’ It’s that easy, but that’s why it’s so hard. Because we want a slice of the action. We want to live good and productive Christian lives, and that’s as it should be. But to accept that there’s nothing we can contribute to the process, we just have to ‘be’ and the fruit will come: that’s the hard bit.