Over 2000 years ago Jesus said it would be better to lose a physical piece of your body than it would be to lose your soul (Mt 5:30). So, just what does it mean to lose your soul. For too many Christians to lose your soul means to fail to “accept Jesus as Lord and Savior” at some point in your earthly pilgrimage or to not exemplify your faith through certain spiritual practices (e.g., going to church, reading the Bible, praying over meals, etc). But for Jesus losing your soul meant something quite different, something far worse; it meant to lose your God-given identity, to lose who you were truly created to be.
I remember how sweet it was when I first met Jesus as an adult almost 18 years ago. The encounter was life altering. My life changed in so many incredibly positive ways. I saw myself and others in a totally different light — in the Light of Christ. Soon after my epiphany, I began to regularly attend the Mass. I wept tears of joy during the service and met with Jesus again and again, most profoundly in the Eucharist.
But not long after my conversion and those wonderful worship experiences, I was led by some Christian church leaders down a typical path of discipleship that would turn out to be a path away from Jesus, my identity, and thus my soul. Though I personally never lost sight of Christ, nor did I stop having profound encounters with Him, my initial mentors and other church leaders began to train me to become a “good church Christian.” You see, for many Christian leaders a “good” Christian is a certain type of person, who acts in certain ways that exemplify what they think is a good Christian.
I was reminded of this extremely narrow (and wrong) understanding of Christian faith recently, when I read one such leader’s remarks about the dangers of Christians dating non-Christians. In his admittedly simplistic advice he noted that the values that “Christians” have are counter to those of non-Christians or even “nominal Christians.” In his brief blog, this Christian leader repeated what most “churchified” Christian leaders have been saying for hundreds of years: “To be a good Christian is evidenced by faithfully attending church services, praying regularly (mostly during meals or at bedtime), and reading your Bible daily.” And the ultimate test of the real Christian in this inane paradigm is sharing your faith with others so that they too can become church attenders, meal prayers, and bible readers just like the rest of those in the “club.”
But Jesus challenged the religious leaders of his time directly when he accused them by saying, “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!” (Mt 23:15, NLT). Instead of making converts into lovers of God and people, the religious leaders of old made them into Law abiders, sin avoiders, and public pietists. For many Christian leaders this is as true today because they see discipleship just like the Pharisees did two thousand years ago. And just like the Pharisees, many Christian leaders shape new converts into the sub-culture of their own religious values (Churchianity), and not the Kingdom values that Jesus proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount and the Great Commandment.
So who really is a Christian? Well, according to Jesus it is not necessarily the one who recites his or her daily prayers, or the one who knows the location of many Bible verses, or the one who “goes” to church every Sunday, or even the one who proclaims the Gospel regularly (see Mt 7:22-23). A Christian is one who loves like Jesus loves, who incarnates (attends) to the others in their lives with the love that Holy Spirit continually supplies, and who lives joyously in the face of suffering (Jn 15:9-17). The true Christian is the one who by dying to self has found their true self in the identity the Father created them to be in Christ (Jn 12:25).
Many “good” Christians need to be born-again-again (for Protestants) or have a subsequent conversion (for Catholics) to regain their souls through Christ, to love like Jesus loves, to see with eyes of faith. Interestingly enough, the path to that subsequent conversion is not a radical Holy Spirit encounter, but to simply understand and respond to how deeply God’s love is provided to us in Christ Jesus–to love yourself in Christ as much as God loves you (Mt 22:36-40).
© Paul Dordal, 2014