Why Religious Activity Misses the Goal of the Christian Life

Stained glass window of Jesus. Loving like Jesus is the goal of the Christian life.

Why do you go to church, read your Bible, or pray? Why try hard not to sin? To feel better? Because you’re scared not to? How’s that working out for you? What’s the goal of the Christian life, anyway? What is being a Christian supposed to do for a person?

What are you after when you look for a spouse, or want a friend, or have a child? Isn’t the core of what you’re looking for love? You want to love and be loved, with all the varieties of what love means.

That’s because God made you in His image. God is love. And when He made you in His image He was seeking to love you with a generosity as great as the universe and to receive your love in return. Hence the first and greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).

And receiving His love and loving Him in return is designed to result in the follow-up: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

Hence the goal of the Christian life. We are “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). In other words, we are to become like Love Himself.

Ouch! How well are we humans doing in that endeavor?

Not very well. Not well at all.

Therefore, we can think of the Christian life as Lessons in Learning to Love Well.

Doesn’t that put church, Bible study, prayer, trying not to sin, in a whole different light? It’s not about a list of things you’re supposed to do but about who you are becoming on the inside.

Jesus as the Example of Love

Oh, most people like this idea. Remember the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) wrist bands a few years ago? Jesus loved everybody. “Meek and mild.” Gave Himself on behalf of others. “Offer the other cheek.” “Seek and save the lost.”

But that’s a Westernized sanitized version that bears only partial resemblance to the Jesus we read about in the gospels. Those phrases are not untrue, but we’ve grossly distorted what they truly mean.

Jesus was the most disruptive human ever to live on this planet. If the way He lived was what Love is like, we’ve got a lot of Love Lessons still to learn.

Can love be angry? Can we agree that Jesus was Love Incarnate? He did everything out of love. Then put yourself in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Unfriendly eyes are watching Jesus as He is teaching. A man is there with a deformed hand. And Jesus gets angry! But what does His anger look like?

“And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored” (Mark 3:5).

This is no sappy sentimental tolerance. Love hates what harms its beloved. And it takes action.

For Jesus, humans are His Beloved. You are His Beloved. And He fights for you, all the way to Hell and back.

Is that how you love?

Looking Like Jesus 

Since we are to be “conformed to the image of his son,” becoming like Jesus, it would help to consider what that would look like. What would it mean for you to think like, talk like, work like, feel like, “smell” like, love like Jesus?

Among other things it would mean:

  • Having nothing to hide, “living in the sunlight,” no hidden agendas
  • Being unconcerned about your own rights even while standing tall as a son or daughter of the King
  • Never being hurried, but being fully being present with God or with the people around you
  • Living in rhythms of both solitude and deep connection with people
  • Having a goodness that was attractive, appealing, that invites people to come closer
  • Experiencing and expressing every human emotion including anger, sadness, distress, joy, etc. without being controlled by any of them
  • Having an internal response of love toward your enemies without having your identity defined by them
  • Being unchanged by either applause or censure while deeply understanding the hearts of those around

If that’s what it looks like to be truly human, how far we have fallen. And how far we have yet to grow.

We sure need those Lessons in Learning to Love Well.

How do you Learn to Love Well?

If you’ve been a Christian for any time at all you know that trying harder to “be good” or to love your enemies only wears you out. You might “do better” for a little while, and it’s OK to be grateful for the growth you have experienced that way. But white knuckling it just doesn’t work very well or for very long. There must be a better way.

Humans learn how to be human from other humans. You learn most quickly when you’re a very young child. Some things you learn are helpful. But the humans you learned from were also unfinished broken sinners. And even though they were likely trying their best they failed you.

The good news is that your brain can change. It may change slower now than it would have when you were a toddler, but science proves it can change. You can learn to be a Fully Alive human.

You can learn to love well.

But your brain needs to be connected to other humans for that to happen.

That’s what marriage is supposed to be about. That’s what Jesus designed church to be. And yes, our human examples fall far short.

So we also must not only know about God, but we must deeply connect, heart to heart and person to person, to the most Fully Alive human being ever to live–Jesus, God with us. We must be with Him. That’s how we become changed.

And next time we’ll explore what Jesus Himself taught about all this.

Your Turn: What have you seen as the goal of the Christian life? How does seeing it as Lessons in Learning to Love Well change your perspective?  Leave a message below.

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