I just can’t get around the fact that what the book of Acts presents as biblical community is so disproportionately different from what I see as Christianity in our modern Western culture. The church in Acts actually looked different to those outside of the faith. Different in a good way. The Christian community was attractive and inviting to outsiders in a way that we just aren’t today. I think if we brought our Christian brothers and sisters from that time era into ours and we saw their community, I wouldn’t be surprised if people would call them a “cult”.
They were really different than the culture they lived in. I’ve been asking myself, “what would it really take for us to be a community of Jesus followers that actually looked different than the culture?” Lets face it, by and large Christians in our culture don’t look much different than those around us. We may have less sex, or not steal, or use profanity, but we don’t really look much different? It really isn’t enough to just be morally superior than those in the world. The differentiating factor is supposed to be how we love one another. The radical love and forgiveness the Gospel calls us to, and empowers us to live out, is supposed to be the underlying identity of our community.
To be different we really have to see victory in the area of removing the heart idols that keep us from giving Jesus authority as King over our lives. If Jesus is king, then how we spend money, how we view sex, how we work, how we love one another, would all be filtered through the lens of radical forgiveness and acceptance we’ve received from God. Jesus says in Mark 1:15 that the time has come that we could experience God as king in our hearts, but we must repent and believe in the Gospel to receive this gift.
Every sin is rooted in the fact that we fail to see God as supreme. In other words, we give authority and worship to things other than God. I did this a few years ago at the expense of another.
When I was just starting out in youth ministry, there was a teen named Jay who struggled in his walk with the Lord. He was very faithful in coming to bible study and church. His desire to be involved was matched with a genuine desire to know the Lord, that I knew could have only come from God. But he really struggled with surface sins. Sins like stealing food from stores, smoking, cursing, etc.
I was to lead a group of teens in a study on the role of the Holy Spirit and he was in my group. Of course in the study we went over the Holy Spirit’s role to convict us of sin, lead us into truth, and give us the power to walk away from sin.
Jay of course had questions because the surface sins I was speaking about just dominated his life and he knew it. I responded to his questions with a heart that sounded something like “maybe the Holy Spirit hasn’t entered into your heart. Because you struggle with these things and the bible says that you will have power to walk away from sin, maybe you don’t have the power of the Holy Spirit.”
I’ll never forget how he responded. He cried.
It wasn’t one of those “Lord I’m so sorry cries, help me to change.” It was more like, the weight of this is too heavy, and I can’t do this” kind of cries. I presented it in such a way that he felt the burden of having to be something that was impossible. I put the weight of perfection on him.
Something inside of me knew I did something wrong but at the time I had no idea what it was. In hindsight, I thrived on moral excellence as a form of righteousness. I looked to my ability to abstain from surface sins as a way to earn God’s love and favor and placed that expectation onto those I taught. I never would have said I actually believed that I could earn what God had already given to me, because in my head I knew “not by works but by faith through grace,” but it was in my heart. I believed it and our beliefs always show up in our actions.
Heart idols are the enemy to Gospel community that actually looks “different” in a good way. A way that is attractive and operates in radical love and forgiveness. If we can engage in the battle for our souls at the heart level, then we can actually become a community that serves.