I was scrolling through my Instagram feed as usual, and I had to stop myself from blanching at the sight of so many picture-perfect Jesus lovers. The worst part? I’m one of them, and totally guilty of posting cute pictures of my prayer time or my favorite Bible quotes. I’m guilty of plastering saint photos all over my bedroom walls and saying cliche Christian catchphrases and debating atheists and joining lots of Christian groups on my college campus and throwing Jesus’ name around like I’m seated at His right hand already.
The other day I started to get this sinking feeling as I scrolled through my Instagram feed and saw post after post of these:
They’re cute, right? Innocuous. Just about the most pure and innocent things a person could possibly post on Instagram, right? So what’s wrong here? What’s the problem???
I asked myself why something felt so wrong.
And then I realized.
Despite the fact that the feelings we experience are genuine – the euphoria from praise & worship, mission work, and prayer; the sense of immense gratitude and personal obligation towards our Saving God; even the butterflies of love we get when we think of Him for whom our soul longs – despite the genuineness of these experiences, we’re still forgetting something.
It’s not enough to post selfies on Ash Wednesday with a cross drawn on your forehead –
It doesn’t mean anything to wear T-shirts that say “John 3:16” –
It makes no difference how much your Bible’s been highlighted –
…if you do not act with radical love towards every single human being you ever encounter, ever.
If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing…If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing…So faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3,8,13
Guys, if all we do is try to talk like Christians, dress like Christians, post on Instagram like Christians, lead all the Bible studies like all the good Christians, but fail to do the one most important thing – be Christ – then we’re not really Christians. We’re Pharisees.
See, I’m not even close to a perfect person. In fact, multiple times a day I find myself thinking I’m a horrible human being. Because I drop swear words much too often, a non-Christian thing to do. Because I gossip and I judge and I get impatient and annoyed with people, all things Christians should not do. I laugh at crude jokes and watch raunchy shows and movies, even though I wish I didn’t. On my twenty-first birthday a few weeks ago, I drank so much I threw up and was still drunk the next morning. Good Christians don’t do that, nagged my conscience.
In a moment of raw honesty, I wrote this to God:
I have this image of this perfect holy saintly Christian, and that person never swears or cusses, never defiles her eyes or ears with inappropriate content or humor, never drinks, never stays out late, always is in a state of constant and perpetual prayer, doesn’t need to be social, eventually joins a convent or becomes a missionary. I feel like if I’m not that person, if I’m not selfless to the point of donating my kidney and raising orphaned African children and attending daily Mass, then I’m not going to be a saint.
Moments later, the Father directed my attention to Matthew 11 & 12.
“For John cam neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is vindicated by her works.” (11:18-19)
At that time Jesus was going through a field of grain on the sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, “See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry, how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering, which neither he nor his companions but only the priests could lawfully eat? Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests serving in the temple violate the sabbath and are innocent? I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. If you knew what this meant, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned these innocent men. For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.” (12:1-8)
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (11:28-30)
The footnotes on these three sections clarified the message Jesus was telling me even further:
“‘Who labor and are burdened’ [refers to being] burdened by the law as expounded by the scribes and Pharisees. In place of the yoke of the law, complicated by scribal interpretation, Jesus invites the burdened to take the yoke of obedience to His word, under which they will find rest…The ultimate justification for the disciples’ violation of the sabbath rest is that Jesus, the Son of Man, has supreme authority over the law.”
What am I getting at here?
God broke the rules man placed on other men in His name.
Jesus was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard.
The Father wants to make it easy and light, not impossibly hard, to be a saint.
Christ desires mercy, not sacrifice.
So what does that mean?
That means saints can use a little smarmy language. Can imbibe. Can have fun and be social and go out. Can listen to R&B and shake what your mama gave ya and watch Deadpool or Rick and Morty and still be saved. That means that having a profanity slip from your mouth is not an automatic condemnation to hell, because saying one-syllable words aren’t nearly as important as frequently laying one’s life down for one’s friends. (John 15:13)
As Christians, our No. 1 Calling is to be the presence of Christ on earth. And how do we be Christ? By loving. God and fellow man. Not in some vague theoretical or philosophical sense. Not based on some fuzzy feeling. Not by putting on the image of a Christian. But through action. Actively giving of ourselves to others. Actively seeking out the outcasts, the lonely, the lost, and showing them God’s love. By welcoming everyone in. By not giving up on people. By seeing others through God’s eyes. By genuinely caring about others and wanting to truly know them and care for them. By ‘going the extra mile’ – this is literally a Biblical allusion. “Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.” (Matthew 5:41-42) By taking time out of your busy schedule and making time for people and listening to them. By laying our very lives down for the good of others. Ensure that every person who encounters you walks away having had a personal encounter with the love of God. If we don’t do these basic things, our so-called Christian Instagram photos of mission trips, saints, Bible quotes, and prayer time mean nothing. They’re worthless in the eyes of God if we act without love.
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love…Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and His love is brought to perfection in us. (1 John 4:7-12)
So to recap?
Real Christians don’t just wear “I Heart Jesus” T-shirts and post photos of coffee and Bibles.
Real Christians love with the radical love of God. How you treat people makes all the difference.