Today's post is brought to you by Jeff Goins. He works for Adventures in Missions, and has contributed to RelevantMagazine.com. We're happy to have him tell his story here.
When I first became a Christian in college, nobody told me the "rules" of right living according to the American Gospel. I had to learn them.
For instance, I used to think that God was happy to bless anyone he pleased for his own purposes. I thought that the grace of Christ was abundant and without condition. I guess I was a little foolish. I had to learn that God really only helps those who help themselves. That confused me - because, if you could help yourself, you didn't really need help, did you? Nonetheless,I kept hearing people at church, even in Sunday school classes (where you were supposed to learn more about the deep things of the faith life) that God only helped those who helped themselves.
I figured that since I was a newbie, they knew much more about God than I did, so I dismissed the fact that to me, it sounded like God didn't really help anybody.
Another phrase I heard thrown around was the following: "God only speaks to you through his WORD." The word "Word" was often emphasized with an inflection in the person's tone as they were speaking. Again, this was weird to me, because, while I was no Bible scholar, I read things in Scripture like Jesus saying, "My sheep know my voice and follow me." But then when I heard of someone sharing how God has personally spoken to them, some Christians were quick to say, "No, you misunderstood - God doesn't speak to people like that. He's said everything he wants to say in his WORD." Strangely, I found some people doing radical things like giving away their possessions because "God told them" being labeled wacky charismatics. They were gently rebuked by their brothers and sisters and told that while the Lord spoke to the disciples of the New Testament this way, that was before the printing press and that God just likes to use the Bible these days.
I used to think that Jesus was a bit of a radical. At times, it sounded like he was a political activist, and at other times a social reformer. And at even other times, he acted like a prophet or a renegade priest. He was hard to figure out. Because he was so mysterious, I was content to bow down to him in awe. But that was before I had Jesus figured out. Now, I've learned that if Jesus were walking the earth today, he'd be a white guy, probably from America, and definitely a capitalist. It took me a while to learn this, because it didn't seem to line up with the Sermon on the Mount and other passages, but I think I've gotten it down. Jesus is a white dude who tries to make people feel bad about themselves so that they'll go to church or get a decent, white-collar job.
Lastly, I was under the impression that when I first became a Christian that God really liked me. I knew that this must be true, because I wasn't that good of a person when I came to know him. So, the fact that he would save me meant that he was a pretty loving person - well beyond my comprehension or moral rectitude. It wasn't until I really started hanging out with some Christians did I find out that there were limitations and conditions to God's grace. It turns out that he only really likes you when you've read your Bible, had at least 30 minutes or prayer time, and are going to a minimum of three church activities each week. It turns out that it's pretty hard to please God, and that's why so many Christians should be miserable most of the time.
Like I said, these were all things about being an American Christian that I had to learn - that God helps those who help themselves, that he doesn't speak to people in personal, relevant ways, that Jesus is American, and that God doesn't like you unless you're really, really good.
Now that I think about it, I think I'm going to try to un-learn everything I've learned about Christianity and come to know Christ like I did when I first met him.