This post was first written on the 21st December 2014. I had been quite challenged by my reading of Radical by David Platt and Crazy Love by Francis Chan, which were the cause for writing this post.
Radical Christianity. What springs to mind at those words? We all know where our mind goes when we think radical Islam. What about Radical Christianity? Is it the Westboro Baptist “church” parading around holding signs proclaiming God’s apparent hatreds or picketing the funerals of men and women who have died for their freedom that comes to mind? Or is it the KKK and their racism against people of colour? Is it ‘Christians’ in Africa resorting to violence against their Muslim neighbours who have oppressed them or Australian leaders who fail to show compassion to the needy?
When it comes down to it, we need more radical Christians.
I say this after listing these examples because I firmly believe that the people and organisations I have listed are not radical Christians. In fact, and I will say it, I believe that they are very poor examples of what it means to be Christian.
To be a Christian, or as the koine Greek would call us, “Christianos” , literally means ‘a follower of Christ”. I’ve heard it said before that it means “a little Christ”. Everyone who has a basic understanding of who Jesus is knows that parading around with hateful signs or fostering racial discrimination was never a part of His agenda for His followers.
All throughout Jesus’ ministry, we hear messages such as these, which are by far at odds with what the actions of these examples exemplify.
“(35) And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. (36) “Teacher, which is the great commandment of the Law?” (37) And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (38) This is the first and greatest commandment. (39) And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. (40) On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
~ Matthew 22:35-40
“(27) But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, (28) bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. (29) To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. (30) Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. (31) And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”
~ Luke 6:27-31
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbour as yourself. Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you. It is pretty clear that His agenda is love.
However, Jesus said some pretty radical things, things which shocked many ancient near eastern people and some of which are still shocking to us today. This includes:
(19) “And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” (20) And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head”. (21) Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father”. (22) And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead”.
~ Matthew 8:19-22
“(26) It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, (27) and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, (28) even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life for the ransom of many.”
~ Matthew 20:26-28
“(34) And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (35) For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. (36) Foe what does it profit for a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? (37) For what can a man give in return for his soul? (38) For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father and the holy angels.
~ Mark 8:34-38
“And Jesus looked at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
~ Mark 10:21
“(21) Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (22) On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do mighty works in your name?’ (23) And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
~ Matthew 7:21-23
“Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God”.
~ Luke 9:62
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
~ Luke 14:26
Love wasn’t the only agenda. Total devotion to Him, love for God and abandonment to self are prominent. Jesus tells people to leave behind everything they have to follow Him. He preached to the commoners of Israel, healed and forgave the sick, the dying and the sinful. He told people then, and possibly even applicable to us today to give all you have to the poor. He had the nerve to tell people they aren’t fit for the Kingdom of God. Take up your instrument of torture daily and follow me, which He Himself took up as the example. He said to hate your family (i.e love Him more than) and even your own life, or you cannot be His disciple. These are some radical things, and drives it home that Jesus is looking for those with radical abandonment for the Kingdom, not searching for those who have ticked the box with their perfect church attendance.
Julian the Apostate, a Roman emperor around 360AD, said this of Christians, after observing the decline of the Greek religion:
“Why then do we think that this is sufficient and do not observe how the kindness of the Christians to strangers, their care for the burial of the dead, and the sobriety of their lifestyle has done the most to advance their cause?”
“For it is disgraceful when no Jew is a beggar and the impious Galileans [Christians] support our poor in addition to their own; everyone is able to see that our coreligionists are in want of aid from us. Teach also those who profess the Greek religion to contribute to such services, and the villages of the Greek religion to offer the first-fruits to the gods.”
He saw that the crazy love of the Christians, their sobriety and kindness and their selfless giving was advancing the Kingdom of God. So much so that he expressed the opinion that if the Greek religion was to survive, they had to step it up with charitable giving and a lifestyle of purity.
The life of Jesus and His early followers are distinctively marked by radicalization, and by an intense love for the people of this world. They gave to the poor, looked after the orphan and the widow and eventually toppled the Roman empire from the inside.
Radical Christianity is founded directly upon the commands of a radical Saviour to love with a radical self abandon.
Jesus was a radical, and as we are followers of Jesus, then what is our excuse? His early followers lived and died with total abandonment to Him, radically loving and selflessly giving of their time in service and resources in generosity.
In our Western culture with all of our affluence, all of our belongings and all of our wealth, we all seem quite content doing the church thing on a Sunday and serving on a Friday night in our local youth group, or on Sunday in kids church, almost as if that absolves us from helping the homeless people who are freezing and starving in our communities. Almost as if that absolves us from bringing the love of Christ to the people who need it the most. Almost like that excuses us from the children dying of poverty and disease in third world countries. Almost as if that absolves us from the fact that people are dying without ever hearing the gospel once.
Every time I read a book such as “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan, or “Radical” by David Platt, I feel convicted. I feel like there is so much more that we can do to be the salt and light of this earth. I feel like there is meant to be so much more to Christ and to the church then how we currently live it. This is a conviction that has kept with me since first writing this and has since translated into greater generosity and a faith that acts. I am convinced that the Holy Spirit convicts us for a reason and I am thankful for the work He has done in bringing me to this place over the years.
Our Saviour loved us with a radical love and died a radical, public, humiliating death. His followers lived radical lives for Him, dying for His glory. For the last 2000 years, Christians have been generously giving to the poor, humbling themselves, and believed that the Kingdom of God, the rare jewel in the field, was worth every last cent they had. Do we truly live like the Kingdom is worth everything we have?
I hope this inspires some thought in you. When we truly live out our faith in radical obedience, we find ourselves heading places we never would have thought. It’s what kept me moving on towards Nepal, and no doubt what will continue to keep me going towards the challenging, radical faith growing experiences yet to come.