Believing in Christ and following Christ’s teachings is a spiritually fulfilling experience, but it isn’t easy. It can be incredibly hard. What Christ asks of His followers is love and servitude, which can be counter-intuitive in a competitive culture such as ours that is biased towards power, money and self-importance. It requires an understanding of ourselves and of Christ’s teachings — and the strength to seek peace when others call for aggression. It requires the wisdom to know who speaks the truth about God and who speaks falsehoods about Him.
Christ essentially asks His followers to turn their worlds upside-down in the sense that what is most-valued in this world is not what is valued by God. To the contrary, what is most-valued in this world (money, material possessions, power, and social standing, etc.), often is a stumbling stone to a meaningful relationship with Christ. Not all Christians understand this to the same degree, nor choose to act on it as they should. The realization that one’s life is inconsistent with Christ’s teachings is not a welcome realization that comes easily to anyone; it challenges one’s comfort zone and the status quo. It is not something that Christians overcome without God’s grace, faith, hard work, study, and prayer. Contrary to a common assumption that all Christians can see their own lives with clarity, they often do not. Their insight changes over time as their relationship with Christ deepens — and as they learn more about Christ’s teachings and what that means in relation to them.
Not all Christians understand Christ’s teachings well. In truth, not all Christians have ever read the Bible. Sometimes, Christians do not have access to one. Developing a more meaningful relationship with Christ takes time, guidance, and practice. Ideally, it takes a Bible. People don’t simply “become Christian” and know all there is to know. As the Reverend Billy Graham wrote in 1983, “Being a Christian involves a lifetime of hard work, dedicated study and difficult decisions.” Just as a child develops in the relationship with his or her parents, and that relationship changes as he or she grows, so do Christians develop in their relationship with Christ over time.
Far too many people today have common misconceptions about Christianity. In part, Christians are themselves to blame by over-simplifying Christianity and by downplaying the hard or more controversial aspects of Jesus’ teachings. Still, Christians do not bear the complete blame for common misconceptions about their faith. Sometimes Christianity is misconstrued, misunderstood, or intentionally misrepresented by others. Sometimes there are forces at work against God, Christ, and Christ’s followers that we simply cannot understand.
Misconceptions about Christianity can make it hard to believe in Christ and difficult to maintain one’s faith. Those same misconceptions can make people abandon their faith when they become disillusioned by them later on. I have made peace with many of the misconceptions I once had about Christianity. And the truth is, acknowledging them for what they are has made it easier for me to strive to become the person that Christ wants me to be.
For example, some people believe that Christians are supposed to be perfect. Christians are not perfect. Church congregations are not perfect. Church doctrine is not perfect. Their imperfections are not because of imperfections in Christ; they are because we are human and we all make mistakes. People’s imperfections– and their capacity to sin — are hard-wired into humanity’s DNA. If someone cannot admit they are imperfect, then they are either not Christian or they are seriously misguided.
Not all people who say they are Christians really are. Increasingly, some people say they are Christian when they are not. Some people pretend to be Christian for financial or political gain. Not all people who believe they are Christian are actually Christians at all. It doesn’t depend on what they say; it depends on what they believe. It depends on whether they love God above all else — and love others as themselves. It depends on whether they accept Jesus into their hearts and give their life to Him. In truth, only God knows for certain what is in people’s hearts. Only God is in a position to judge others.
Contrary to what some people may say, Christianity does not promise a carefree life. It does not promise wealth, popularity, victory over our “human enemies,” or good health. It does not promise it will be easy to love one another, including our enemies. To the contrary, even though some Christians may be wealthy, Christians are often poor, despised, oppressed, and suffer terribly. In many countries, Christians are persecuted and their livelihood and lives are lost because of their faith. Christians don’t have all the answers; there are some things about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit that will forever remain a mystery to them. Christians can and do struggle with negative feelings just like everyone else. The point is they do not struggle alone. They don’t need to know all the answers because they have faith. They struggle with the help of Christ and with the hope that, if it is God’s will, their struggle will be overcome. As the Reverend Billy Graham wrote in 1983, “”Becoming ‘new’ in Christ is a wonderful beginning — but it isn’t the end of pain or problems in our lives. It is the beginning of our facing up to them.”
In order to face the issues confronting the world today, I believe it is our responsibility as Christians to read the Bible, study, and pray so that we can make informed decisions about what Christ demands of us — and negate those myths about Christianity that foolishly threaten our relationship with God. If we are to share Christ’s teachings as He has asked, it’s our responsibility to share them accurately with all those who desire to hear them. It is misleading and dangerous to share only those parts of Jesus’ message that seem easy — even if we are sincere and well-intended. At a minimum, we would be contributing to confusion about Christianity. More likely, we would be misleading people about Christ. And, as Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr so eloquently stated, “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
Photo of Martin Luther King, Jr, circa 1963, by Howard Sochurek (Getty Images); Photo of Reverend Billy Graham by CNN.com; and, Photo of Mother Therese (Images of India).