Comfortable, Consumerist Christianity
“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” – Jesus Christ, Luke 14:27 (ESV)
The Christian Faith offers great comfort and consolation to those who know themselves to be sinners deserving of God’s wrath and curse. The greatest comfort offered by biblical Christianity is Jesus Christ Himself, for Jesus is the Son of God sent to this earth as a gift by a loving heavenly Father to win salvation and eternal life for all who believe (John 3:16). In Christ we believers receive every spiritual gift (Ephesians 1:3-14) — redemption, the forgiveness of sins, adoption, an eternal inheritance, the sealing of the Holy Spirit, etc. Indeed, there is no greater comfort in life or in death than to know that we as believers belong to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, as beautifully stated in the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism.(1)
But while salvation is a free and sovereignly-bestowed gift of God, and while the gospel does indeed provide believers with profound spiritual comfort, the Bible nowhere promises that the Christian life will be a comfortable, easy life. Indeed, our Lord Jesus Himself depicted the life of discipleship as a life of denying self, taking up one’s cross (an instrument of death), and vigorously pursuing Christ above all.
Truth be told, being a faithful, consistent follower of Christ is hard. Becoming a disciple of Jesus is like joining spiritual boot camp. A “disciple” is a learner, one who learns the way of Christ so as to follow and obey all that Christ has commanded. The word “disciple” in our language is closely connected to the word “discipline” — and aptly so, since being a faithful, growing Christian requires the diligent (disciplined) use of the means of grace.(2) A disciple of Jesus can also expect to receive fatherly discipline from the Lord, so that he/she might share in God’s holiness (see Hebrews 12:3-17).
The biblical truth about discipleship is a far cry from the kind of comfortable, consumerist Christianity that is popular in America today. Christian bumper stickers exhort motorists to “Try God” (as if the Creator of the universe is a product to be sampled). Or they proclaim “God is my Co-Pilot”. (Exactly who, then, is your “Pilot”?) In imitation of the “Got Milk” advertisement, Christian t-shirts can be found asking “Got Jesus”. And from a survey of your local Christian bookstore, you are likely to get the impression that the Christian life is one involving constant, uninterrupted victory, peace, material prosperity, earthly blessings, and non-stop spiritual highs. (Talk about false advertising.)
In our sinful narcissism we want a Christianity of convenience that will serve our selfish felt-needs, not a Christianity of absolute, unchanging truth that demands our soul’s allegiance and involves carrying a cross.
We want a Christianity that will entertain and soothe us, not a Christianity that will challenge us to the core of our being and demand whole-hearted engagement in the worship of God and self-giving service to our neighbor out of gratitude for God’s grace to us in Christ.
We want what theologian J.I. Packer has called “Hot Tub Religion” (the title of one of his books) — a resort-style religion that will coddle and serve us, not a serious-minded faith that will sanctify us.
In sum, our natural, sinful inclination is toward a Christianity that we can approach as consumers, one that offers a cafeteria-style array of options that we can pick-and-choose according to our own desires and tailor toward our own personal “style.”
Jesus Christ in His Word calls us to something better, something more lasting, something ultimately much more satisfying than the shallow, sentimental type of comfortable consumerist Christianity that pervades American Christian culture. He calls us to discipleship. He calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and pursue Him as our “Pearl of Great Price,” our greatest Treasure.
Our Lord’s call to discipleship, while full of comfort for weary souls, will not be easy. It may involve stepping outside of your comfort zone. It may involve breaking off sinful associations and relationships in your life which pull you away from Christ. It may involve losing your job if your job requires you to do that which is sinful. It may involve a willingness to be on the receiving end of scorn and derision and mockery from unbelieving family, neighbors, and/or co-workers. It may involve leaving a compromising church where you are comfortable to attend a more faithful church which doesn’t feel quite so comfortable. It may involve you in some uncomfortable family confrontations. But, whatever the cost may be to you in terms of your personal life circumstances, it will be well worth it in the long run.
Dear reader, may you and I forsake the comfortable, consumerist Christianity that surrounds us. Instead, may we find true, lasting comfort by pursuing Christ in a life of genuine discipleship, and in the fellowship of Christ’s church. Jesus calls us to follow Him. Will we answer the call?
(1) Heidelberg Question & Answer # 1:
Q. 1: What is thy only comfort in life and death?
A. That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with His precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto Him.
(2) Our confessional standards, in line with the Scriptures, state that the “means of grace” include God’s Word, the sacraments, and prayer. These “means” are instruments that God uses to nurture and strengthen our faith. God uses the reading, but especially the preaching, of His Word to create and nurture saving faith within the hearts of His elect. That is why private Bible reading, family worship, and especially corporate worship where one sits under the official preaching and teaching of the Word in the church, are all important keys to faithful discipleship. The sacraments seal the Word, and are used to strengthen faith and deepen union with Christ and His church. And prayer, as our response to Word and Sacrament, also deepen our relationship with the Lord.