To grow in maturity and faith until we imitate the Savior.
To become fully-devoted followers of Jesus Christ.
To be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ for the sake of others.
All of these are great definitions, but I think we can boil it down to one simple phrase.
To stop being a jerk.
I have to say that I borrowed this phrase from a conversation with another pastor but honestly this is where everything is heading. To stop doing things that alienate people, to stop giving the world tremendously rough edges (and not for God-inspired reasons), and to become someone that draws people toward them because of the impact Jesus has had on them is important because “jerks” can’t do this. What is a jerk, exactly?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “jerk” as 4 a : an annoyingly stupid or foolish person b : an unlikable person; especially : one who is cruel, rude, or small-minded.
Sadly, there are more times than not when this definition could also be used for the word “Christian.” Why is this? I think it’s because we miss out on the goodness of a particular theme in Scripture – freedom.
Often the Christian jerks we know are totally oblivious to the freedom God has injected into their lives – the freedom to love, to forgive, to celebrate, to welcome, and to leave fear behind because of the resurrection of Jesus. Freedom doesn’t mean no rules, but it means guidance that exceeds rules. The Spirit of God leads people, so that we no longer need as many “do’s” and “do not’s”. More on that later.
In John 8, Jesus is talking to some fairly self-righteous people about slavery and freedom. These folks believe that because Abraham is their great-great-great-great (on and on) grandfather that they’re good to go – they don’t have to worry about sin and frankly they’re much better and more holy than those “other people”.
Jesus tells them, “You’re slaves.”
They say, “Huh-uh! We’ve never been slaves!”
He says, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36)
Jesus basically says “You’re acting like jerks because you think that you’ve got the market cornered on God and everyone else needs to get with the program. Stop it. I’m the Son of the true 'family', and if I set you free then you are truly free. Not because of who your daddy is, or whatever privilege you think you have because of your DNA. It’s because of me that you stop being jerks.”
This is the danger I see sometimes in people who are growing in their relationship with God – getting so strong that you begin to look at other people who think differently or are at a different stage and actually looking down on them for what they do.
Or even worse, looking at certain things that really don’t matter (I’d think you were a Christian, but you don’t believe in a millennial reign of Christ prior to the end of days like I do…) and making them standards for acceptance into the “circle.” We call that the “older brother” effect here at Parkview – like the brother in the prodigal son story who thinks that he's always "stayed at home" with God and obeyed all His rules– why would you welcome these dirty sinners back home who don’t believe in predestination or abstaining totally from alcohol, etc. etc.?
This is what it means to be a jerk. Not to believe in predestination or abstinence or creationism but to ignore the fact that Jesus hung out with pagans, prostitutes, tax collectors, etc. and just let His free and beautiful life affect them all. To act like we have it all together and bash other people on the head with our self-righteousness. Or, to attend church and profess faith but treat our employees like animals or treat our spouse like hired help and be bitter and angry about everything in our life.
How does this transformation from jerk-hood to freedom occur? It happens through John 8:31-32:
Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’
Growing up and moving out means becoming less of a jerk for the sake of showing the world a free, beautiful, and overflowing life. It means listening to Jesus and letting Him determine what’s important and what’s not, and free us to live as if we believe those things are important too. If this is still muddy, let me try and clear it up for you with something from Paul.
Jesus’ teachings are given to us through Scripture but also through His Spirit that teaches us what it means to be like Jesus here and now. The fruit of that is listed in Galatians 5 – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5 (and really the whole letter) has one central theme – freedom – that seems to make sense here.
The fruit of the spirit are very un-jerk-like traits. They are the kind of traits that fly against what most people see as survival tactics, even as Christians, for combating the world around us.
So, when debating evolution or abortion – are these fruit coming through or do we slip into political rants and personal attacks?
When debating prayer being removed from schools, do we express faithfulness and peace in knowing that whether we pray in school or not, the important thing is to pray?
The world needs to see less jerks, especially from the gang that follows Jesus. Plus, as we work to let these fruit come out of our lives then we will grow in our faith in ways that we couldn’t imagine.
So are you a jerk? I am still working through my own jerk-ness, but I hope to let this post affect me in that area today.