Caution: This is a spiritual blog entry...
Philippians 3:17 Brothers, be imitators together of me, and mark those who walk this way, for you have us for a pattern.
Those words were penned by the apostle Paul to the early church of Jesus Christ some 2000 years ago.
There is a temptation among those in the church to deify the apostles and other biblical figures - or at least make them into mythological super humans. When Paul wrote that the people of Philippi should be imitators of him, he was urging them to adopt the level of belief, faith and trust that he had come to know in the Creator. He wanted them to live their lives in accordance with those beliefs. Fast forward 2000 years. A typical church service today will spend an hour trying to convince "Christians" that if they don't start living their lives differently, the "non-believers" will not come to know Christ and will spend an eternity in hell. They see the great commission as some sort of traveling Lincoln-Douglas debate in which evidence is mounted on one side to counter the evidence of the other side. At the end of the debate, the non-believing foe will either concede defeat or will somehow manage to present evidence that the believer was unprepared to defend against, and the believer will concede that the unbeliever has "rejected God". Then this pseudo great commission goes on, and another debate partner (potential convert) must be found. In this scenario, the believer's mission is to get the non-believer to admit that Jesus really did live, really was God, and if he prays a prayer that says he believes in Jesus, he's "saved", an event which, depending upon which church the evangelist/debater belongs to, may or may not be able to be undone...and the new convert will now be assured a spot in heaven. God forbid the non-believer actually be allowed to present evidence that's compelling and thought provoking, causing the believer to want to examine it. That's very dangerous, as faith is fragile and the words of our religious leaders should not be challenged lest the people be deceived.
Such is the church as I see it today. Totally detached from what the Lord Jesus was teaching - encouraging neither a true relationship with him nor a seeking heart after the truth. Instead we are told that "when we can walk on water, we would be allowed to do some of the things that Jesus did". Or we are told of our arrogance if we claim to be, like King David, living a life after God's heart, because no one can really do that until we "reach the other side in glory".
My main contention is that the whole concept of salvation has been bastardized and grossly twisted. It should be quite simple. To "believe in Jesus" is no different than somebody today asking you to believe in them. To trust in Jesus is no different than someone today asking you to trust them. The idea that salvation is an intellectual exercise that can be debated into existence is ridiculous and misguided. To trust in Jesus means nothing more than to examine what he taught, said, and did and believe it based upon the same means that we would evaluate whether or not to trust anyone else in the world. Test his message, test his statements, test his character. One simply CANNOT do that without knowing what his message is. To claim trust without doing so would merely be blind faith and blind faith in anyone or anything is unwise. Salvation, as I see it, is not when someone prays a prayer or says some words, or avows some historical facts. Salvation to me is when a person finally realizes that creator God is indeed trustworthy and they decide to submit their will and ways of understanding to the ways of God, even if they don't make sense at first. Even if they don't know of Jesus, salvation occurs when a person of any faith comes to humble their pride and submit in full to the creator God that is behind the rituals and regulations that their faith encourages them to practice (so long as those rituals actually reveal God's character). This is a way of being, a lifestyle. And while the decision to submit one's life may occur in an instant the experience of proving it out through personal testing cannot be taken away nor can it be debated away, because it is something that develops bit by bit over time. It is not some silly script from a biblical scholar.
Paul encouraged people to act like him. We are told that to say a similar thing would be arrogant and completely out of line. But I tell you that those "Christians" who cannot say to you that you should act like them (and believe it in their hearts) are liars and do not know the God that they say they have a relationship with. They use the cloak of imperfection as an excuse to remain lazy and unaffected by God. They claim that Paul was a superhuman man of faith and we will never achieve his stature - after all, he did write half the New Testament Bible. This cop out is a damnable lie and encourages people to declare and proselytise a faith in a God-spirit that they indeed do not possess.
I want people to act like me. I've spent a number of years proving the gospel, and I now know that the laws of God are good laws, designed not for punishment, but for order, not for restriction, but for safe boundaries in freedom. The faith that I have in my God is not blind faith. I have read the words of Jesus and have tested them in my own life. They are true. Following them brings me peace, even in the midst of extremely difficult times. I have not become perfect, and I do not desire to deify myself - that's not what this is about. I do seek forgiveness, however, when I know I've wronged someone. I do not try to gain at the expense of others bit if I do, I seek to make it right. I want people to do these things. I want them to know the freedom that I know. I want them to seek the God that I have sought, and find his peace and direction for their life, and to know the depths of love that he has for us.
When I believe in, and live out (submit to) the message and teachings of Jesus, God is lifted up and draws men unto himself. THAT is the great commission. People come to God because they have seen his work in my life and want the same for their own. Not because I'm a compelling orator...not because I'm a good debater and can wow people with my facts...not because I'm something "special"...but because they can see the evidence of change in my own life. They can see the power and hope in my own life. Any other reason for coming to a declaration of faith is misguided, built on a sandy foundation, and doomed to fail.
I want you to be like me. If you claim to be a person of faith, ask yourself the question "Can I say that about myself?" If you can't, why not? Perhaps its merely a misunderstanding of the faith that you're trying to represent. Put away your list of do's and don'ts and check the condition of your heart. Do you submit yourself to the teachings of Jesus Christ because you realize that those teachings ARE life? If you do, then you have found salvation. If you don't, if you don't trust him, then no matter what words you have said, what aisle you have walked, what prayer you have prayed, you have nothing but empty religion.