16 years ago, I wrote this in my journal:
What would Jesus do? Good question. I’ve never taken it as seriously or asked it as often as I should. I started reading a novel called In His Steps by Charles Sheldon and it’s all about that question. Mom and Dad would disagree with me, but I don’t think Jesus would have stopped at Braums and eaten a double dip peanut butter fudge sundae after church when there is still so much hunger in the world. This should be interesting.
Earlier this week I read some Charles Finney and got incredibly confused and guilty. He said that every Christian should seek unction, or power from on high, in order to have any effect witnessing. If that means days of fasting and prayer, so be it. He also says that amusements, games, novels, etc. are sinful and that we should be doing everything possible to promote Christ’s kingdom. These are only a few examples.
I felt horrible, guilty, and miserable. I haven’t been that depressed since before I came to Him. I finally settled down again after reading about how Kieth Green lived comfortably on a farm for years, and he didn’t feel condemned. It’s okay to enjoy God’s gifts, but I don’t want to go too far the other way. I know I’m supposed to trust that Jesus saved me, but I don’t want to use that as an excuse to sin. So what do I do?
I’m gonna take up the challenge, WWJD (what would Jesus do?), and I look forward to it.
— June 27th, 1999
Dear Former Self,
How do you know Jesus would never eat a double dip peanut butter fudge sundae? You believe God created taste buds, right? So why wouldn’t he want people to enjoy using them? As I said in the last letter, you’re interpreting your faith in the strictest way possible. It’s like you think God is a cranky old man who doesn’t want anyone to have any fun. You’ve been reading too much Finney.
Many modern evangelical Christians speak highly of Charles Finney, but I wonder if they’ve actually read any of his sermons. Finney didn’t actually believe in justification by faith alone. He was convinced that “There can be no justification … but upon the ground of universal, perfect, and uninterrupted obedience to law.” No wonder he was so damn strict. According to him, every Christian who falls into the “spirit of self-pleasing” and doesn’t obey the law perfectly has lost their salvation and must repent and start over. [Systematic Theology, 362]
It’s all nonsense anyway, but I highly recommend you stick with the modern version of evangelical Christianity where you get to relax and accept God’s grace. You’ll be a lot happier. Remember Romans 3:28, “A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” So you see, you don’t have to worry about following the law to the letter. You can just live your life assume you’re going to Heaven. Works aren’t going to get you there, anyway.
Then again, in the previous chapter it says, “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.” So I guess you do have to follow the law to the best of your ability. Better cut out the ice cream and give that money to the poor if you don’t want to go to Hell.
Then again, Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves … Not of works, lest any man should boast.” So works aren’t going to save you. Just have faith in Jesus and you’ll go to Heaven.
Then again, James 2:24 says, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” So clearly it’s not enough to just have faith. In that chapter, the author of James says “faith without works is dead” twice. So if you feel convicted to do “works” such as giving your ice cream money to the poor, you better do it. If you don’t, it must mean your faith is dead and you’re going to Hell.
Then again… well, I could go on and on. There’s a lot of confusion among Christians about how to be saved. Even though they all have the same book, Baptists believe it takes faith alone, Lutherans believe it takes faith and baptism, Catholics believe it takes faith and works, and Calvinists believe it’s up to God who gets saved. Which interpretation is right?
Hmm… If only there were someone who had all the answers. Someone who knew exactly what the authors of the Bible meant. Someone who could come along, clear up all the confusion, and tell everyone exactly how to be saved. Oh wait, there is! Jesus Christ could do it! Jesus Christ could write his own gospel in his own words and make it clear as day. Either that or he could just appear to all the confused Christians and let them know how to be saved.
But for some reason (mysterious ways?) he’s not gonna do that. He’s gonna stand by and do nothing while millions of Christians argue with each other, split up into hundreds of major denominations, and sometimes even kill each other. That doesn’t sound like the behavior of a loving father who cares about his children. It sounds like a lazy dad who reads the paper and ignores his kids while they beat the crap out of each other.
So go ahead and take up the WWJD challenge, but something tells you’re going to have trouble figuring out what Jesus would do. And when you ask other Christians what Jesus would do, you’ll find they often disagree with each other. The road ahead is littered with confusion. Watch your step.
— Matt, June 27th, 2015
This is part of an ongoing series called Letters to My Former Self.