- - Sunday, December 29, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Culture challenge of the week: Exclusive Christianity

Christianity is the most inclusive religion the world has ever known.

Despite criticism that Christianity is reserved for only “church” people or Western people or whatever, the Bible makes it crystal clear that true Christianity, when practiced as Jesus preached, is the “big tent” for all faiths.

The sad image of a judgmental, mean religion is the result of the way many of us as Christians live out our faith — and I include myself in that indictment. We are imperfect. We stumble on our words when explaining what we believe. We lash out, act hateful and mess up all the time. If we aren’t humble and honest about our failings, all some people see in us is hypocrisy. If we don’t share about the time we spend on our knees asking for God’s forgiveness, or if we don’t extend that same forgiveness to others when we are wronged, then all some people know of us is our ugliness.

Yet amid our imperfections, Christ loves, forgives and accepts us. This is the good news — the real Gospel of Christianity. I see and feel it in my life, and the Bible breathes it in nearly every story. Filled with historical figures and thousands of examples from kings to peasants, the beauty and message of the Bible is how God works through the lives of imperfect people to fulfill His perfect plan. Over and over, we see the story of redemption, of how men and women from all walks of life are accepted and redeemed by Jesus.

Yes, part of Christianity’s image problem also comes from those who intentionally mischaracterize Christianity. Call them the enemies of Christ, if you will.

But even then, Christians are called by Scripture to remember that we, too, were once enemies of Christ. Yet in His infinite grace, love and mercy for all of us, Jesus died and paid for our sins before we even cared enough or knew enough to be interested in His message.

How to save your family: Practice the truth of God’s infinite love

The Book of Romans is an awesome place to be reminded of how accepting Jesus is. One of my favorites is Romans 5: 6-10.

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!”

The Bible tells us and shows us through the people it talks about that Jesus Christ accepts Jews and Gentiles, prostitutes and kings, liars and thieves, homosexuals, adulterers, persecutors, the prideful. He opens His arms to men, women, children and doubters; to the rich and the poor; to the famous and the quiet, unknown person just going about his daily life. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

I love that word, “whoever.” It means anyone and everyone who believes. Any race. Any nationality. Any age. Any style. Whoever! We see this unique, spectacular truth in the Book of John several times, including this beautiful passage from John 1:12: “Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become the children of God. “

He allows us to come “as we are,” and He then changes us, from the inside out. The thief on the cross. The prostitute at the well. The rich man. The beggar. The crippled man. The Pharisee. The little children. Over and over again, the Bible shows us how Jesus Christ invites all who believe in Him to share in the fellowship of faith.

Make it your purpose in 2014 to share the amazing story of the infinite love of Christ that is available to all. It is the greatest story the world has ever known — and it is a story that is still being written. You can decide to have a part in it, too. When I was a child, I learned a hymn that reminds me to this day that God accepts me just as I am and everyone else who believes in Him, too. Written in 1835 by Charlotte Elliott, here is most of the hymn — pray that this will be the song of your heart in 2014:

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