If you are a regular attender of any Christian church service like I am, you have probably noticed that we talk a lot about Jesus, or at least I hope you have noticed that by now. We sing about the love of Jesus, and how grateful we are for His sacrifice for us. We sing about the power of Jesus and how we can hardly imagine what heaven will be like. We sing about being the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. We hear passionately preached sermons about becoming like Jesus in the way we think, talk, and act.
But, when we talk about Jesus, are we really talking about the One who was, and is and ever shall be? The One who was in the beginning, without whom nothing was made? The One who has the authority to judge and will judge all people? The One who is right, whether we like it or not? The One who saves us from the consequences of sin? Or, are we really talking about an image like Jesus, but that really is not representative of our Lord and God?
A couple of years ago I heard a well-intentioned yet misguided youth pastor preach a sermon where he mentioned a well known Christian social activist in the Philadelphia area. He related a story about how this individual was really being Jesus in the world in the most radical of terms when he defiantly locked arms with squatters who were about to be forcibly removed by the police. Squatting is trespassing. In other words, it’s illegal. That got me thinking. No matter where I turn in scripture I cannot seem to find a place where Jesus sided with and supported someone involved in criminal activity. So, if that is the case, then I must wonder where do we (some) get the idea that this is the very representation of Jesus in contemporary society?
This is not the only such example of someone claiming to be “doing what Jesus would do" that I could share. I am sure that many who read this could come up with example after example from your own experience when Christlikeness took the form of behavior that seemed decidedly un-Christlike when compared to the biblical Jesus. We live in a time when moral relativism and anything-goes liberalized theology have given birth to a generation or more of people whose whole concept of God is that He is love and light and kindness, and would never judge or condemn anyone. Whatever your Jesus is, that’s just as good as my Jesus, as long as your Jesus takes the same position as mine on current social issues.
This is not just confined to the laity alone. One only has to compare the theology of Rob Bell or Brian McLaren to orthodox Christian doctrines to see that there is a vast difference between the Jesus traditionally understood as the Jesus of the Bible, and the Jesus many have now constructed out of happy scraps of scripture and comfortable contemporary ideas.
According to The Merriam-Webster Dictionary (1998) an idol is:
n. an image worshiped as a god; also, a false god 2) n. an object of passionate devotion.
and, we read in Leviticus 19:3,4, where God says,
"I am the Lord your God. Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal: I am the Lord your God.” (ESV) (See also Deut. 27:15)
So, let me ask: At what point have we exchanged the biblical Jesus, for a Jesus of our own design? Does making any such exchange, change who it is we are worshiping? In other words, does customizing the attributes of the biblical Jesus to suit our own preferences transform the One we claim to worship into something other than the savior of the world as related to us in Scripture? How far can we go before our Jesus is no longer the Jesus of the Bible? Are many Christians actually idolaters?
It seems like a far-fetched idea on the face of it, but consider this - In II Timothy 3, Paul said that a day would come when people would have a form of godliness. He said that they are men who would oppose the truth, who are corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.
I believe that customizing Jesus to fit our contemporary folkways is simply the sin of idolatry playing out as one would expect in a culture that places so much emphasis on making sure no one is ever told they are doing something wrong or immoral. For a variety of reasons, and in many ways the church itself has stoked the sacrificial fires of idolatrous worship with a lack of solid doctrinal teaching and a refusal to confront the tough issues of life in our world head on.
I have written more in depth on this topic in my short book, Jesus-shaped Idols, which is available in both paperback and e-book format at Amazon.com and here on my website. I encourage you to pick up a copy today. The Amazon link is: https://www.amazon.com/Jesus-shaped-Idols-Christopher-Catalano-ebook/dp/B075Q2K722/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1530411890&sr=8-1&keywords=Jesus-shaped+idols