Rev. Mark Buetow
If you asked most people what they think being a Christian is all about they would likely say "living a good life." You know, help others. Don't hurt other people. Always do the right thing, whatever that is. Of course, we know the world's reaction to that: "Christians are just hypocrites. They talk about doing the right thing and then they don't do it." Another popular answer about what it means to be a Christian is that God changes your life. If you were a drunk, now you're sober. If you had a bad temper, now you're gentle. The problem with that answer is what happens if you have a relapse? Are you still a Christian? What if your supposed overcoming of sin gets derailed?
The Christian faith isn't about these things. It's about Jesus Christ. Jesus once said that He did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. He also told His disciples that He came to give them life. That's a life not like the world thinks of it, easy and care-free, but life as opposed to death, victory over death. Jesus told His disciples that He would raise them up on the Last Day. In order to do this, Jesus deals with the root cause of our problems: not our behavior, but our sinfulness. Sinners sin because they are sinful. So Jesus deals with sin by making it His own. Do you sin? Do you have idols, false gods in your life? Do you lust? Murder? Hurt others with your words? Steal? Covet? Well, whatever of that you have, it belongs to Jesus. It's His. He dies for it on the cross of Calvary. He leaves it behind in the grave when He rises again on Easter three days later.
When Christians get confused about what is central, what the Christian faith is really about, it becomes a mess. When Christians think the church is about how we live rather than how Jesus lived and lives for us, then everything gets out of whack. When the emphasis is on our works instead of Jesus' works, the water is poisoned, the light is blacked out. Worse, when someone accuses Christians of being hypocrites, they're absolutely right!
When someone tells me, a pastor, that the church is full of hypocrites I reply, "Of course it is! Where else do we preach a particular standard of right and wrong and then spend all day long violating that standard? Of course the church is full of hypocrites." And that is why the Christian faith is not about the Ten Commandments. It's not about how you live. It's not about what you do. It's about Jesus fulfilling the Law and Commandments. It's about how Jesus lived for you and still lives for you. It's about what Jesus has done for you and still does for you. It's about how Jesus forgives you. All of you. Every sin. Every transgression. Every wrongdoing. And not just for you, if you're a Christian, but everyone. All of you: reading this and the whole world past, present and future besides.
When the message of the cross is what is central in the Christian church, the whole problem of how we live and hypocrisy and all that is irrelevant. Now, I didn't just say that it doesn't matter how you live! It DOES matter. To your neighbor. To those who need you to live to work and help them. What I mean is that how you live is irrelevant to whether or not Jesus is your Savior and God loves you. In fact, the Bible tells us that God loved us while we were yet sinners and while we were still dead in trespasses and sins. In other words, when you want to know how it is with you and the Lord, you don't ask, "How am I living? Am I doing the right things?" No, you ask, "What did Jesus do? Did He take away my sins? Did He rise from the dead? Am I His baptized child? Has He forgiven my sins?"
Remembering that Jesus is the center of the Christian faith-and that we aren't-saves us from all sorts of misunderstanding and confusion. It doesn't mean the world will get it. But it does mean we don't have to do any mental gymnastics to try to argue our way out of being hypocrites. Rather, we just own up to it and remind whoever is asking that we aren't the big deal, Jesus Christ is. And in Him, there are no hypocrites, only those redeemed by His blood shed for the whole world. And such a Jesus means we're also rescued from any despair that we haven't improved enough or changed enough. In short, when Jesus and His cross and empty tomb are the center of the Christian faith, we aren't. What a relief! And that makes all the difference in the church and in the world.