Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
There are lots of opinions out there. And, now and then, someone is going to pummel you with theirs.
A young friend talked to me about a conversation she’d had with a coworker. They were discussing a current social issue when the coworker stated bluntly her opinion was the biblically correct one. So if my friend disagreed with her, “She probably isn’t a Christian,” the coworker said.
I guess that’s one way to shut down a conversation. “You disagree? Enjoy skiing as you vacation on the Lake of Fire!” Boom.
So my young friend wrote to me and asked, “Does disagreeing on this issue mean I’m not a Christian?”
The word “Christian” is perhaps the most loaded in existence now…with the possible exception of “intolerance” or “hate speech”—both of which are used often to describe Christians. It means so many things to so many people that it almost means nothing anymore. People who believe things completely foreign to the Bible and Jesus’ teachings regularly refer to themselves as “Christians.”
I’ve noticed that the generic way people used it in years past, as catch-all terminology for anyone trying to be a “good person” or live by the Golden Rule, has now been replaced by another loaded word: “spiritual.”
Many of us now say we’re spiritual because to say we’re Christian might somehow be seen as an offense against someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus. And this is important because, in this culture, it is offensive to say you disagree with anyone. To be seen as tolerant, I must pretend whatever you believe is just as valid as what I believe, even if I think it’s nonsense…
…which means we all believe in everything now.
…which means we really believe in nothing.
But on the other hand, I truly can’t stand the type of “Christian” my young friend described in her coworker. You know, the ones who try to add gravitas to their own personal opinions by bringing their big brother Jesus to the philosophical street fight. They get into arguments, not in hopes of helping people find Christ, but to beat the other person into submission.
Beware of those people who want to be right. Their Jesus is just a tool they use to bully the unbelievers. A large hunk of lead pipe would be just as effective.
And do be careful if you think Jesus has your back in those kinds of acrimonious debates. You may turn around to find that your backup has backed out and gone.
Ultimately, there’s much more to being a Christian than just believing things about God or Jesus. The book of James warns that demons believe in God as well. So a mere intellectual assent to the teachings or historicity of Jesus is inadequate at best, dangerous at its worst.
No, real Christianity at its heart comes down to a few very strategic choices. As in Frost’s poem, there are really only two paths to choose from in life: your own and God’s. The choices are simple yet utterly profound in the depth and breadth of their repercussions.
To become a Christian, it all comes down to a few critical choices.
I choose to believe the Bible. I may not actually like everything it says, and I certainly don’t understand all of it. But I choose to believe it is God’s Word for me and that he’s communicating directly through it.
I don’t like it when the Bible says there’s a place like hell. But I know Jesus warned people about hell more than he ever talked about heaven, so I have to believe it…though it may trouble me.
I choose to believe in Jesus. I believe God came in a physical form so that I could start to understand him.
He did what we say every great leader should do: don’t just tell people what to do. Model it for them by doing it yourself. So instead of just telling us how to please God, he showed us through his own example.
I choose to stop pretending I’m good. We all do it: our pride demands it. We spend our whole lives sending out press releases about our own virtue, all the while knowing we are unconscionable liars and fakes.
To put it in the vernacular, we are full of it.
I choose to admit I cannot fix myself. I am irreversibly broken. No amount of self-help positive thinking will undo the damage I’ve done to myself and others.
I don’t just sin. I am a sinner. And I do not possess any remedy for my corrupt tendencies.
No, I don’t pretend to understand how it all works. I choose to accept Jesus’ death as God’s payout for my sins. Yet, I believe that there would either be a hell for me or a cross for him.
I will not expect God to “write off” my sins and say all I’ve done is somehow just okay. My wrongs and those of humanity demand an epic sacrifice, the size of which only an epic God can pay.
I choose to give him control of my life. I will stop fighting for my rights and my way. What an arrogant mess I’ve made fighting for those things.
Each day will be a new experiment of choosing his way over mine and seeing what wonders come. It’s ironic, but the more I give up my desires, the more he fulfills them. The more a slave to him, the freer I become.
So instead of arguing who wins the good citizenship badge for life, I giggle to myself like someone who just won the spiritual lottery!
I have nothing to brag about and no goodness worth comparing to someone else’s. Instead, I breathe a sigh of existential relief at how fortunate I am to be loved so much by such a wonderful Father.
His love makes me look at other broken people who are like me and see them only with eyes of love and compassion. The last thing I want to do is judge them. What I hope is that by some miracle, they might see a little of my Father’s joy beaming through me and decide they want it, too. But I can’t force them, and I certainly won’t get them there by winning some religious argument.
Today, I’m a Christian not because I’m good or better than anyone. I’m a Christian because I’m lucky as hell (hopefully, you will pardon the terminology).
I’ve grabbed the cross of Christ running at full speed and made out like a bandit.
I’m Oliver Twist, getting adopted into undeserved wealth at the end of the novel.
I’m George Bailey, surrounded by friends who save me from the wrath of Old Man Potter.
I’m Jean Valjean, amazed at the forgiveness of the Bishop who should have judged me.
I’m Forrest Gump, accidentally falling into the riches of life through no fault of my own.
All this from just one choice at the divergence of two roads. And that’s all it will cost you, as well.
But that’s the road that makes all the difference.
Dave Gipson is a husband, father of 4 adopted children and one biological child, former foster parent, and pastor at Naples Family Church of Naples, FL. An author, Dave's new highly acclaimed book, "The Seven Surprises: Everyday Epiphanies on Being a Better Human Being," is now available. He also contributes regular commentaries to the Naples Daily News as well as other international publications. He has served churches for the last 25+ years, from Florida to the inner-city of Chicago. Rev. Gipson holds his ordination in the Southern Baptist denomination, and has two earned Masters degrees in Religion and Divinity. Read more at http://davegipson.net.Follow him on Twitter at @realdavegipson.