Jesus Isn’t The Christian God
What if I told you that Jesus doesn’t care if you’re a Christian or not?
I was sitting in a cafe in the heart of Delhi, India.
My friend and I were talking about life, relationships, faith, family, etc.
He asked me what I believed about God, so I responded that I follow the teachings of Jesus. His response gave me pause.
“Oh yeah, Jesus. That’s the Christian god, right?”
My friend is a Hindu. His family is all Hindu. Everything he has heard, seen, and learned in his life has come from a Hindu worldview. For him, it made perfect sense that Jesus was the god that the Christians he knew followed. So my response was confusing for him.
I said, “Well, no, not really. Sure there are some Christians who follow Jesus, but there are also many who do not.”
What I went on to explain to him was that, to his surprise, Jesus himself was not a Christian. In fact, nowhere in scripture does Jesus tell anyone to become a Christian. He invites people of many different faiths to follow him, but there is never any prerequisite about being a specific religion.
“If Jesus walked covertly into any given American city today, there would surely be a church effort to try and convert him.”
Furthermore, after Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection, when more people began to call themselves followers of Jesus, a great debate arose. On both sides of the debate, everyone loved the idea of more people following Jesus. But one side said that in order for people to do that, they had to first become Jewish in their religion and culture. They had to adopt Jewish customs, foods, rituals, and worship styles. But on the other side, followers of Jesus such as Paul argued that this was emphatically unnecessary. To settle the matter, a council was convened (Acts 15). James, the brother of Jesus, and the other council members determined that non-Jews did not need to convert to Judaism in order to follow Jesus. They were free to do so from their own culture and in their own ways.
“If following Jesus requires people to convert away from their family and cultural identities, then that means that Jesus isn’t good news at all…in fact, I’d call that bad news.”
Jesus himself agreed with this.
In Mark 5, there is a story of Jesus healing a man possessed by many evil spirits. Context is important here: The story takes place in a non-Jewish territory called the Decapolis (deca, meaning 10 + polis meaning cities…Roman region of 10 cities). Not only does the name tell us that it is a non-Jewish territory, but the story also highlights the presence of pig farmers nearby, an animal and profession considered unclean inside the Jewish culture.
The story takes on a whole new level of meaning when we see that Jesus (Jewish) and his disciples who were with him (Jewish) were in a non-Jewish culture, healing a non-Jewish man.
After healing the man, and causing a bit of havoc for the pig farmers, the local people demanded that Jesus and his disciples leave their territory. Jesus obliged, but before doing so, the formerly-possessed man requested that he come back with him, now wanting to become one of his followers. But in a shocking turn of events, Jesus denies the man’s request. He says, “No. Go back to your family [back to your people and culture] and tell them what God has done for you.”
Rather than pulling the man out of his culture and converting him to a different one, Jesus sends him back into his culture with a message of grace and good news.
And what was that good news? Jesus isn’t the Christian god. He isn’t even the Jewish god.
By sending the man back to his family, Jesus was declaring that his grace was for anyone of any culture, race, faith, ethnicity, background, etc etc etc.
This stands in strong opposition to the views of many in the church. How much time, money, and energy are spent every week trying to make non-Christians into Christians? To be sure, it’s not all in bad faith. Many, if not most, do it with a sincere heart because they believe (as they’ve been taught) that Jesus is what is best for people and, in order to get Jesus, you have to be Christian, which means doing all the things that come along with Christian culture. But Jesus wasn’t himself a Christian and he never once called anyone else to become one.
If Jesus walked covertly into any given American city today, there would surely be a church effort to try and convert him.
This is not the way of Jesus.
If following Jesus requires people to convert away from their family and cultural identities, then that means that Jesus isn’t good news at all…in fact, I’d call that bad news.
But the truth is so much better.
The good news is that Jesus’ grace doesn’t recognize the boundaries of any religion, nation, tribe, or language. He’s not the Christian god; he’s a god for anyone, no prerequisites.
Back at the cafe, my friend discovered that, unlike what he’d been told, Jesus was just fine with him being a Hindu, and that fact meant that he was free to experience the good news of Jesus without having to abandon his family, culture, or rituals.
Being a Christian by culture isn’t necessarily bad or wrong, but what is wrong is believing that everyone else needs to be as well.
This means that the Church can rest from our need to convert everyone or get them to straighten up and be “good christians”. We are free, instead, to let the good news of Jesus be good news to all people, no strings attached.