I have noticed a problem in many Christian circles.
They emphasize belief in Jesus.
That statement may surprise you, but “belief” in Jesus has become a major problem in Christianity. I run into so many Christians that love to quote John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
“There it is,” say many Christians. “You must believe in Jesus or you are going to hell for all eternity.”
But actually, we know that belief isn’t enough. After all, as James 2:19 tells us, even demons believe in Jesus.
The point I want to make is summed up in Matthew 7:21, where Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who *does* the will of my Father in Heaven.”
Much of Christianity has emphasized “believing in Jesus” so much that we forget to do what he calls us to do, which is follow him in doing the will of God.
Whenever Jesus meets his disciples, he calls them to “follow” him. The point of following him is to imitate Jesus as our model and to do the things that he does. That’s why Matthew chapter 10 states, “Jesus called his disciples to him and gave them authority to drive our impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.”
Jesus drove out impure spirits and healed every disease and every sickness. And Jesus calls his disciples to do the same.
The problem is that Christianity has become so obsessed with believing in Jesus that we have forgotten to follow him. We have neglected to do the things that he did.
I don’t want to demean “believing” in Jesus. I believe in Jesus. But if believing in Jesus is our only goal, then we have missed the point because Jesus calls us to follow him in doing the works of God.
In John 14:12, Jesus states, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”
If I were to tell many Christians that they are called to do even greater things that Jesus did, there’s a good chance they would accuse me of being a heretic. After all, the main belief system for many Christians is that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, and no one can do the things that he did because he is the Son of God.
But Jesus didn’t believe that. If we take Jesus at his word, your “belief” in him should lead you to not only do the works that he did, but to actually do greater works than the works he did.
But it seems that much of Christianity would rather just believe in Jesus than do the things Jesus did.
During the 1930s in Nazi Germany, a man named Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a book titled, The Cost of Discipleship. Unfortunately, many German Christians, including pastors and seminary professors, supported the Nazi regime. They were caught up in Hitler’s scapegoating of the Jewish people. As we have seen recently, Christians who hold “belief” in Christ are not immune from also believing in politicians who channel anger and resentment against scapegoats.
Bonhoeffer knew that *believing* in Jesus wasn’t enough. The church in Germany had forgotten to *follow* Jesus.
Mere belief in Jesus is what Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” According to Bonhoeffer, “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” (The Cost of Discipleship, 45).
Cheap grace is the Christian mentality that all you need to do is believe. This mentality is cheap because it lets us off the hook from actually following Jesus.
In contrast to cheap grace, Bonheffer wrote about “costly grace.” He wrote that costly grace, “is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life” (The Cost of Discipleship, 45).
This is not “works righteousness.” Works righteousness is not just the belief that our works make us right with God. It’s the idea that we earn salvation because we are such good people who have done good deeds. Works righteousness might be better understood as “works self-righteousness.” We can start to think that our good works make us better than those other people who don’t do anything. This form of religious judgmentalism is another form of cheap grace because it puts us in rivalry with others. Defining our sense of goodness or righteousness in opposition to others is another form of cheap grace.
Belief often works the same way. When we emphasize believing in Jesus, it can make us self-righteous by comparing our great belief in Jesus with someone else who might be struggling to believe or who doesn’t believe at all. “Belief” in Jesus then becomes another excuse for us to feel superior to others, missing Jesus’ whole point. Jesus flips our notions of superiority upside down when he says that “the last shall be first and the first shall be last” (Matthew 20:16).
If your belief in Jesus inspires you to follow him more closely in doing the things that he did, then by all means, please continue believing in Jesus.
As Bonhoeffer states in his book, ”follow me” were “the first and the last [words] spoken by Jesus to his disciples” (45.) And so if belief in some doctrine about Jesus is your only goal and it prohibits you from following him and doing the things he did, then please, stop believing in Jesus.